Small Gesture - Giant Impact

by Diane Berenbaum

I had a harrowing incident in my local grocery store. All of a sudden, in the middle of shopping, I felt faint and nauseous. I found myself slowly sinking to the floor by the deli.

Fortunately, an associate from the floral department nearby rushed over to help. She got me a chair and some water, and asked if I knew anyone who could drive me home. At that very moment, as if on cue, a friend of mine walked into the store. I pointed and grunted (the best I could do) and the floral department associate ran up to my friend, told her my situation, and asked her to drive me home. I was concerned about my shopping cart full of groceries, but the associate assured me that she would take care of them.

When I got home and what I now know was food poisoning ran its course, I could not stop thinking of MaryAnn, the floral department associate. She had gone out of her way to help me—no one else stopped by or said a word as I sat on the floor of the store. I was so grateful for what she had done that I ran out, bought a card and small gift, and brought them to the store the next morning. I also made a point of telling the manager what MaryAnn had done and how grateful I was for her actions.

Little did I realize the impact of this incident.

Although it happened over two years ago, I remember it vividly and always look to see if MaryAnn is working when I shop. Recently, on one of the few quiet days in the floral department, MaryAnn and I had a chance to talk. She got a little choked up and told me that she still had the gift and card I gave her. She was so touched that she said she would never forget what I did.

"But, MaryAnn," I exclaimed. "You are the one who saved me! I felt like I was dying and you took care of me. I was amazed at what you had done."

She insisted it was nothing. She said that's just who she is.

Clearly both of us thought our own gesture was "nothing special," but each of these small gestures was perceived to be quite magnanimous and unforgettable. What a great feeling; that something that comes naturally could be perceived as so grand.

I started thinking of the impact of these seemingly ordinary gestures:

  • I am a now a customer for life of the Wilton, CT Stop & Shop floral department. I tell friends and family about the incident and encourage them to go there as well. The store recently expanded its florist shop, and I would like to think that my referrals were a contributing factor to that decision.
  • MaryAnn always perks up and smiles when she sees me. Perhaps the memory lifts her spirits a bit during those very busy days when parents are clamoring at the last minute to buy bouquets for their children's recitals.

I asked others about this phenomenon and found that examples abound:

  • A customer service rep told me about a customer who sent her a thank you note because the rep took the time to look up some information, saving the customer the trouble of making the call himself. It took very little time or effort for the rep to do this, but it was perceived as a big benefit by the customer (and an action above and beyond the norm).
  • An associate told me of a volunteer fireman who quickly located the source of a loud alarming sound (apparently a smoke detector in a box in her basement was triggered). My associate was terribly embarrassed, but the firefighter insisted that it was nothing to be embarrassed about and it was his pleasure to help. She was extremely grateful, not just because he stopped the terrible sound, but for his gracious and sensitive manner.
  • A house cleaning service spent an extra two hours cleaning a highly allergic client's house (at no charge) out of concern for the client's health. The head of this service cheerfully noted that she loves to clean, takes pride in what she does, and wanted to minimize the dust in this particularly challenging allergy season. The client was thankful for this gesture, and felt confident about the cleanliness of his home and that he made the right choice in cleaning services!

If you don't see these kinds of gestures happening around you, make them happen. Do what comes naturally—you may be surprised at the results.
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
Before and After
Before and After
Just one "tragic" contact can influence your customers' perception of your company (and their buying decisions). Listen to the difference MAGIC® can make.