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A well-caffeinated tale


A colleague of mine recently reminded me that good user interface design is all about user experience, but user experience is about more than just having a good user interface. This is a story about an often overlooked but necessary aspect of good UX: customer service.

The Internet is littered with customer service horror stories, from rude sales associates to botched orders to apathetic, canned bureaucratic responses. This, however, is not one of those stories. This is a tale of how 37signals (the company behind Basecamp and other web-based collaboration apps) got it right. In fact, they downright nailed it.

coffee beansBack on January 18th, Basecamp went down. It was a relatively brief failure, but it’s remarkable how reliant we can become on a single software or application. I killed the time by sending off a quick tweet about it. I then got up from my desk, brewed myself a cup of coffee, and took a few moments to straighten up the counter in our office kitchen. (I’ve since decided that this little routine makes a good opportunity to stand up and get the circulation going—now a regular part of my afternoon.)

A few moments later, I went back to my desk, hit the refresh button on my browser, and—huzzah!—Basecamp was back in business. Not quite ready to dive back into work just yet (Don’t judge me—we’ve all snuck in the occasional Twitter break), I darted off another quick tweet: “Thanks, @37signals for that unexpected coffee break. And now I’m glad it’s over.” Not three minutes later, @37signals responded: “@perronemj Sorry for the interruption. I hope it was a good cup of coffee!”

Now, I know this sort of rapid-fire customer service response isn’t groundbreaking. I’ve addressed more than one issue with my bank through such rapid replies. Once or twice, I’ve even tweeted about a vendor problem before calling customer service, just to see if the company was keeping an eye on such things. In this day and age, frankly, it should be mandatory. There is one more piece to my 37signals story, however.
A few days ago, I received an unexpected package in the mail. Inside the box were two one-pound bags of gourmet, whole-bean coffee. The note on the packing slip read, “Sorry for the Basecamp interruption, Michael! Have your next coffee break on us. – 37signals support”

And that, folks, is how you build customer relationships.


Now, this company did more than buy me coffee beans. Someone on their staff took the time to figure out who I was (I’ve never owned an account through them) and found a mailing address for me. They went out of their way to forge a connection with me.

For my part, I passed this story along to the owner of my Basecamp account, all of my work colleagues, and anyone who sees me on Facebook. I’m now passing it along to you, and no doubt I’ll share it with clients in the future.

No, this company didn’t just buy me coffee beans—they cemented my loyalty as a user and earned themselves the kind of advertising that money just can’t buy. Word of mouth is invaluable, and positive word of mouth can be hard-won.

I know there are other companies that are getting it right, and I’d love to hear about them. What examples have you heard lately of customer service that didn’t just meet expectations, but over-delivered?

Author Michael Perrone

Michael believes that an organization’s voice is only as powerful as the vehicle used to present it. His knack for messaging and content development and his meticulous attention to detail are the real value-adds for his clients.

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