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Matt Douglas, Founder and CEO of

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Free Cake! A Story of Remarkable Customer Service

From the very beginning of Punchbowl, I made the decision to try and stand out from the competition by offering remarkable customer service. Since the day we launched the site, my personal cell phone number has been listed on the site (yes, it’s still there). In the past, I’ve written about why I keep my cell phone number on the site, and those reasons are more true than ever today. In addition, our email support team responds personally to every message received. In most cases, you’ll get a thoughtful response from us in 24 hours or less. As a company, great customer service is in our DNA.

As a result of our close attention to customer service, I try to pay attention to examples of great customer service when I interact with various businesses. While this blog post is well overdue (the story happened last year), the lessons for any company are as important as ever. Here’s the story…

Last year, I had to take a one-day trip to Chicago. I scheduled the meeting so that I could go back and forth to Boston in the same day. It was a bit chilly in Boston that late October morning, so I brought along my favorite fall jacket. I was very fond of this jacket, and wore it all of the time. I was given this jacket as a gift while I worked at Bose Corporation. Its versatility, warmth, and fit was something I couldn’t easily replace (although the jacket has a label that says Charles River Apparel, it’s not readily available).

After my meeting in Chicago, I met a friend of mine for late lunch at the Corner Bakery Cafe on North Lasalle Street. We found a nice booth in the back section and I enjoyed the panini I had ordered. After lunch, we said our goodbyes and I jumped into a cab to head back to the airport.

On my arrival back at the airport, I exited the cab and made my way into the security line inside the terminal. As I entered the terminal and began preparing for the security screening, I realized that I didn’t have my beloved jacket. It was one of those ‘Oh shit’ kind of moments. Did I leave my jacket in the cab? Did I leave it at lunch? I ran outside, but the cab was already gone. I glanced at my watch – there was simply no way that I was going to be able to make it back to the city and still catch my flight.

Luckily, I had the receipt from lunch, and within a few minutes I called and spoke with a helpful woman at the Corner Bakery Cafe. She had my jacket! Woohoo! I asked her if I could pay to have the jacket shipped back to me, and she said that she would get in touch with the General Manager and have him call me. I was thrilled.

Imagine my surprise when only ten minutes later I got a call from the General Manager. He didn’t hesitate and offered to Fedex the jacket back to me in Boston. When I offered to pay, he simply said “I’m glad to have you as a customer, so it’s no problem for us to pay for the shipping. I hope you’ll come back and see us again soon.” Delighted, I boarded my plane back to Boston.

A few days later, I received a Fedex box at my office. I was excited as I opened the box, happy to be reunited with my favorite jacket. But that wasn’t all that was in the box. In the box was a large Cinnamon Cream Cake. I was — and still am — completely blown away. Not only did they pay for shipping my favorite jacket back to me, but they included a cake. Wow, wow, wow.

Are you providing this level of customer service in your start-up? Think about your interactions everyday with your customers. Do you delight them? Are you creating brand loyalty with each interaction? What’s the equivalent a free cake in your business? Delight your customers, and they will be loyal for life.

(Special thanks to Alex O’Hara, the General Manager of the Corner Bakery Cafe on 200 North Lasalle Street in Chicago. I can’t wait to be back in Chicago so I can thank him in person. I’ll be eating lunch at the Corner Bakery Cafe).

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©2019 Matt Douglas