The Ripple Effect: When a highly visible act or behavior that is talked about and retold many, many times, causing reverberations throughout an organization. Moments like these are, indeed, also good for business.
In 2009, WOW! CEO Colleen Abdoulah received a three-page letter from a customer named Karen that praised WOW! but then went on to say that when the technician had come to her house to do the installation, her cat of ten years went missing. A couple of her neighbors told Karen that they suspected the cable installer of stealing her cat.
Abdoulah knew the technician and knew that he’d never do such a thing. She thought about throwing the letter in the garbage, but then she realized that she could do something even better. And so Abdoulah asked a couple of employees to go to the technician’s house to see if he had Karen’s cat. He didn’t, of course, but he did feel very bad, thinking the cat had gotten out the door when he was coming and going during the installation.
So Abdoulah phoned Karen and told her that she sent people to investigate the technician’s home and he did not have her cat. Karen thanked Abdoulah for taking her seriously and looking into the situation, because the kitty meant so much to her, and she said she hoped she hadn’t gotten the technician in trouble because “he’s such a nice young man.”
Then Abdoulah walked the proverbial extra mile. “I told Karen that he’s not in trouble and that I’ve had cats and dogs and I love both,” she recalled. “I said, ‘If it would help to get over this loss, we would like to buy you a cat. What kind would you like?’ Well, Karen started crying and said, ‘You would do that for me?’” But she declined the offer, saying she had just gotten laid off from her job, already had a dog and another cat at home, and couldn’t really afford the expense of veterinarian bills and food for a new pet.
Two weeks passed, and Abdoulah received a phone call from Karen, who said, “Colleen, I want you to know that my cat came home. He’s thinner, and he has frostbite in his paws, but he’s home.”
Abdoulah expressed her happiness and then listened while Karen explained that, a week or so previously, the technician bought Karen a month’s worth of cat and dog food and hand-delivered the pet gift basket. “He told me that he was sorry that the cat had gotten out and that hopefully the food would help with my other cat and dog for the next month or so,” Karen said, through tears. “Anyway, thank you for caring, Colleen.”
End of story—almost.
Abdoulah’s leadership in this moment, the technician’s concern and subsequent pet food delivery—all translated into revenue generation. That is, Karen’s daughter and a few of her neighbors left the competition to come to WOW!
That human experience doesn’t happen unless you’ve got front-line employees who are committed to making the customers’ experience better than they could get anywhere else in the marketplace. This requires a willingness to go the proverbial extra mile, to make a commitment to listening, to following through.
I’m guessing that the installer who bought the pet food felt the ripple effect. After all, he knew that his CEO took time out of her day to read Karen’s letter and make the difficult call to have his house checked out, looking for the lost cat. Abdoulah said she thinks his action was motivated more by the work environment that WOW! had in place. “When you feel something, it’s okay to act, and the installer felt very deep remorse about the cat getting out, and he wanted to act on that. It was his natural instinct, and the culture we created supported his decision to help Karen. We celebrated feeling and behavior like that. We expected it.”