Best Practices

A Lesson in Customer Service from Thomas Cook

Christopher Tuttle

How to Supply Excellent Customer ServiceBob Farrell is well-known for founding Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlors. For the past three decades, he has offered corporate seminars and provided motivational speaking on the topic of customer service. He famously recounts a letter he received after he sold his chain of ice cream parlors to the Marriott Corporation from a long-time customer.

In the letter, the customer recounted how he had loyally eaten at Farrell’s Parlor and was always found ordering a hamburger. With his meal, Farrell’s was always happy to provide an extra slice of pickle at no charge upon request. In the customer’s letter he mentioned that, for whatever reason, during his last visit to Farrell’s, he was told by his server that extra pickles were no longer provided free of charge due to corporate policy. But, if he was willing to pay a small amount he could purchase a side of pickles. The customer decided if that was to be the case he would not be frequenting the restaurant any further.

Farrell’s responded to the letter and famously took up the cause of giving the customer the pickle as being an example of the importance of going the extra mile in providing customer service.

The concept of going the extra mile to set oneself apart from the competition remains very much alive and, as a result of the viral nature of the internet, is more important than ever.

Meet Thomas Cook.

Thomas, for better or worse, shares the same name as a very large travel agency. For most of his life he has dealt with this difficulty, in his own words has said, “Thomas Cook is a huge travel agent in Europe with the slogan, ‘Don’t book it, Thomas Cook it’ and it’s the first thing people say to me when they find out my name.”

Last November, Thomas had enough of the constant teasing and decided to plead his case via Thomas Cook’s Facebook page posting: “Hi Thomas Cook. Seeing as I share the exact name as your huge company, and because I have been ridiculed since I can remember, I think it’s only fair that you help compensate for this by giving me one of your lovely holidays. A weekend to Paris would do just fine. Thank you.”

Thomas Cook, the travel agency, responded to his post with a cold message saying that they could not do anything for him but that he should see their website for great prices.

Within a week, one of Thomas Cook’s competitors, LowCostHolidays.com, messaged Thomas with an offer. “In Thomas Cook’s time of crisis we thought it was about time we stepped in to offer a helping hand to customers like yourself who have found themselves, as we like to say ‘Thomas Crooked,’” the marketing team at lowcostholiday.com wrote. “How about we send you on that weekend to Paris? In fact, why not make it a week for you and a friend? What do you say?”

The story has now gone viral with Thomas Cook UK receiving tens of thousands of increased visitors to their Facebook page with hundreds of posts wondering why Thomas Cook dropped the ball.

Today they posted, “Welcome all first time visitors to the TC Facebook page!!! We’d love to have helped him out (along with all the other ‘Thomas Cook’s who write to us!), but we’d love to help out ALL of our other loyal customers too… so unfortunately we can’t give freebies to people who just happen to have fantastic names!”

The small cost of giving Thomas Cook the pickle is already paying dividends to lowcostholidays.com with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of publicity being generated over their zealous customer service and creative marketing department taking the opportunity to promote their product when their competitor dropped the ball.

How has going to extra mile helped you generate loyal customers? Leave a comment in the comment box below.

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