The Anatomy of Viral Service Stories


Anatomy of Viral Customer Service

We’ve all seen (and coveted) the fantastic customer service stories that have crawled their way around the Internet until they become famous. What makes the difference between great customer service and viral customer service?

Taking seven of the most popular stories, I’d like to pick apart the individual pieces and see what commonalities they share.

(These are in no particular order, please add your own favorites to the comment section.)

  1. Super Happy Kids: Many, if not most, of the greatest stories involve kids. Take the recent story from Lego. Seven year old Luka Apps had taken his new toy on a shopping trip and lost it in the store. After writing to Lego describing what had happened, he received a replacement along with a letter saying, “…I told Sensie Wu that losing your Jay minifigure was purely an accident and that you would never let it happen again.” When the kid would have been satisfied with an answer of “no”, or happy with a replacement, he was instead delighted with a customer service rep who took time out of his day to buy into the entire story.
  2. Buying into the Bigger Story: Along the same lines as the Lego story, the Ritz-Carlton bought into a much larger story when a small guest left behind a favorite stuffed giraffe. Before mailing the toy home, the staff took pictures of the giraffe all over the property running the front desk, laying at the pool, and riding in a golf cart. Buying into the whole story of “Joshie” (the giraffe), the hotel staff played to the imagination of the child and the delight of anyone who hears the story.
  3. Highly Personalized: Every one of the viral stories highlights extreme personal attention to the customer. Zappos, a company well-known for it’s customer service, went viral with a story about a woman trying to find a pair of shoes for her mother, who had received medical treatments that left her feet numb and sensitive to pressure. After ordering many pairs of shoes, the woman sent those that didn’t work back with a letter explaining why she was returning so many shoes. Zappos responded by sending flowers and well-wishes to the mother, and upgrading the family to Zappos VIP Members. The reason behind this company’s solid service reputation is, simply put, their extreme attention to the customer as an individual.
  4. Over-the-Top: When networking and social media expert Peter Shankman jokingly tweeted, “Hey @Mortons – can you meet me at the newark airport when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :)”, he expected nothing more than a few laughs from his followers. Instead, he was greeted at the gate by a tuxedo-ed Morton’s server bearing a 24 oz. porterhouse with all the trimmings. Not every interaction with a customer can go this far over the top, but this is a safe move to make if your service department never disappoints.
  5. Letters: This reminds me of “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” While back in that day, letters were a preferred method of communication, the written word has a timelessness that helps to lend to the viral nature of these stories. When a small girl visited a Sainsbury’s in the UK, she noticed that their “Tiger bread” had markings that more resembled a giraffe. She wrote a letter regarding that fact, and received a reply that, again, bought into the bigger story, and they even renamed the bread “Giraffe bread”. Whether the medium is paper and pen or email, taking the time to acknowledge a customer, without the use of a form letter, and treat them as a fellow human being is always a win.
  6. Assuming Responsibility: Amazon is one of my favorite companies to work with, and much of it is due to their ability and willingness to fix a problem, even if it is not their fault. One of the most talked about Amazon story is their replacement of a PlayStation (without even charging shipping) for a customer who’s package had been stolen from their front porch after delivery.
  7. Humor: When you don’t have a cute little kid or a giraffe to work with, humor is the next best thing. In May, Shane Bennet posted a request for a free phone to Samsung. He included a picture of a dragon “he drew just for them.” Samsung kindly turned down his request, but attached a picture of a kangaroo on a unicycle. This post went viral after Shane shared it on Reddit, and Samsung ended up receiving so much positive attention for it that they eventually did give Shane his phone – personalized with his own original dragon drawing.