The Amazing Side Effect of Make-It-Right Customer Service

I thought I was getting ahead of the blizzard, After all, the snow wasn’t supposed to start until Friday morning. But apparently I wasn’t the only one thinking Thursday morning was a good time to slip out to our local Trader Joes. Every register was open and the every line stretched all the way to the back of the store. I had to give them credit–they had clearly planned for the onslaught and called in reinforcements.

Knowing that customers weren’t happy, the manager was getting on the microphone being a merry as possible.

“Hey everybody, oh my gosh, did you hear it’s going to snow?”

 A few minutes later she was back on the mic.

“Okay raise your hand if you are number 7 in your line.”

We all worked together to count. Nice distraction.

“Wow! Just wow! Today is your special day! Everyone of you in the number 7 spot gets a candy bar.”

She approached the #7s behind me, “Can you share?” The skinny 70 somethings behind me looked at her longingly and she caved, “Okay here’s two.”

She was clearly trying, and empowered.

After about 45 minutes, I was next in line. The woman in front of me tried to pay with her smartphone and it completely crashed the computer register in my lane which I had already observed was lane 8, #justincasetherewasanothercontest. At this point I was hungry.

They had to call headquarters IT. After 10 minutes of trouble shooting, I turned to the candy-bar-crunching 70-something- number-7s behind me.

“Okay, they were doing great, but now this is a fiasco.  I’m a leadership and organizational effectiveness consultant, here’s what I think they need to do next… I’m so ready to go give them some free consulting. Do you think that would be rude?”

They were all ears on my plan, so we began chatting about how I could offer to help in the spirit of being useful vs. obnoxious.

As it turned out no intervention was necessary. The jolly manager once again grabbed the mic.

“Okay, so this happened…. we have a lane down, so here’s what we’re going to do. If you’re in lane 8 raise your hand.”

We were all ears in lane 8, and eagerly raised our hands in surrender. Everyone else just rolled their eyes.

“First of all, if you are in lane 8, Steve here is going to come by and ask you what your favorite Trader Joe’s item is. He’s going to go get it for you and you will get that for free.”

But here’s where the rest of you come in. Some of these folks in lucky lane 8 have been waiting for nearly an hour just like you. So, you don’t have to do this, but if you would be willing to let them step in front of you, raise both of your hands (yup, that’s how many feet of snow we’re getting), and you too will get your favorite Trader Joe’s item for free. Raised hands all around, and the people began chatting and moving in an orderly fashion.

Her plan trumped mine by a landslide.

The lady next to me kindly let me step in front. We both got our steaks for free.

As my new cashier was ringing me up, she was all smiles.

“How great is this?” She questioned. “Can you imagine ANY OTHER grocery store that would respond this way?

We both knew the answer.

“This is why I work here.”

Posted in Customer Service, Winning Well and tagged , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. You told a recent story, let me tell you an old one. Back when I was in my twenties, worked too much and ate too poorly, I ate at a fast food restaurant near my home at least twice per week. I recognized all the employees and managers from the shift when I usually patronized the store. One evening when I arrived the shift manager was actually the one taking orders on the register. When I went to pay for my food I realized that I didn’t have my wallet with me. Now the easiest and most “correct” thing for her to do would be cancel my order and get on with her day. But instead she looked at me and said. “This is on us.” With that short sentence she said so many things. She recognized that I was a regular customer with a problem that she had the power to solve. She showed that she was willing to go the extra mile with her authority to help a customer. She also saved me the embarrassment of being a customer that couldn’t pay for a fast food meal. And although she couldn’t solve my biggest problem (where was my wallet?) she did what she could to make my day suck less. It has been more than 20 years but I still remember the choice she made to provide above and beyond customer service.

    I will also add that reading about your discussion with the people behind you about offering advice to the company on solutions reminded me that I do the same thing. I also find myself not offering up those solutions because it would seem rude or condescending. Thank you for sharing with us.

    • Bonnie, GREAT STORY! Thanks so much. Great customer service experiences stay with us. So powerful. I appreciate you sharing it with us.

    • Steve, Oh, yeah give them another shot. Great healthy choices, low prices, fun atmosphere. Love your story!

  2. One of the things I seriously miss about living in the USA is Trader Joes. When my children were little I dreaded going to the store. I’d get half way before they were ready to go or started begging me to buy something I really, really didn’t want to buy but would always end up throwing in the cart (still happens). Trader Joes hid a stuffed animal monkey in the store and when your child found it they got to go to the treasure chest and pick out a treasure and a coloring page. After the prizes, you and your children had to hide it for the next child to find. Brilliant. Love when creativity, empowerment and a vivacious customer-focus culture come to life.

    Oh, and I loved their Turkey Jerky. You should pick it up sometime! Would have been my free item.

    ~ Alli

    • Alli,
      Yeah the stuffed monkey game is brilliant! Haven’t tried the turkey jerky…. I’ll put that on my list 😉

  3. What a fun article…after a horrible experience! And a great question…

    I went on-line and ordered an item from Neiman Marcus. They order went through but then about two days later I got a notice from them saying that the item was no longer in stock. And then they issued me a 10% off next purchase certificate to apologize that the item was no longer available! I thought that was great customer service and has made me a loyal Neiman Marcus customer.

    • LaRae, NICE! Great story. Thanks so much for sharing it. I’m loving all these positive examples.

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