On a Saturday morning in March 2023, my brother John passed away. His crisis came on quickly and ended after two agonizing weeks. Everyone involved did what they could, but it was simply his time to go. There is no easy way to die. Not for the person dying or for the loved ones left behind. The lucky survivors find meaning in death. I have not found meaning in his. What I did find on my journey to be with John’s family was kindness. This is a story about how simple acts of kindness can make a difference in a situation like mine, if only for a brief moment.
When I arrived at the Redmond Municipal Airport in Oregon, I went to the Budget counter to pick up a car. I had reserved a Toyota Corolla or like size vehicle in the intermediate size category. My younger brother from LA , who is 6’4” and north of 200 lbs, was also flying into Redmond and I was picking him up. As I envisioned him getting into a Corolla, I wondered how comfortable a ride that would be for him. That was until the uber friendly Budget customer service agent said, “You know, I think I’m going to put you in a Toyota Avalon.” An Avalon is in the full-size car category. I didn’t ask for an upgrade, so I asked why. She told me, “Because I have it in the lot, it’s available, and you’ll be more comfortable in it.”
Wow, what great reasons! I’ve always had good experiences with Budget, but this one was exceptional. A simple act of kindness made my day a little better.
My younger brother and I checked into a Hampton Inn and decided to stay in the same room. It would give us more time to talk, catch up, remember, and heal from our older brother’s passing. Hampton Inns are one of my favorite places to stay. They’re comfortable, clean, quiet, have a complete fitness room and provide a wonderful breakfast buffet with great coffee. Great coffee and chain hotels rarely appear in the same sentence!
The next morning, I went downstairs for breakfast. It was my birthday, a day I typically celebrate the gift of life. Not this birthday.
As I prepared my usual meal of oatmeal, fruit, and yogurt, I noticed there were no bananas. Bananas are one of my favorite breakfast fruits. I asked the person who was servicing the buffet if they had any bananas out back. She said that they did not. The most recent shipment from a new vendor had arrived overripe, so it was decided not to put them out. Another shipment was expected to arrive in a couple of days.
Then she said, “I’ll go to the local grocery store when I get off of work and pick up some fresh bananas so you can have one tomorrow morning”.
What’s that you say? You are going to do this act of kindness on your own time so that I will have a banana tomorrow at breakfast? This was another “wow” moment that I didn’t expect.
I thanked her and told her it was my birthday, and her act of kindness made it a little better. She did not know about my brother’s passing. She was doing what excellent customer service professionals do. Go the extra mile for the customer to make them happy.
The following morning, I went for breakfast at the Hampton Inn buffet and saw a bunch of perfectly yellow bananas sitting on top of the fruit bowl. One banana was set aside on the buffet with a sign on it that read, “Happy Belated Birthday Banana”. Now buying the bananas locally so I could have one with my breakfast was excellent customer service. Adding the birthday sign goes way beyond that. It made me smile. I mean, who does this for a customer? Apparently, this customer service professional does! I suspect I am not the only customer she does random acts of kindness for.
My brother and I took that evening to have dinner, just the two of us. He selected a restaurant called Hola! in Bend, Oregon. The atmosphere was vibrant and warm. The food was excellent and so was the service. Our waiter had the perfect balance between being attentive, but not overly attentive. He knew not to interrupt while we were talking, and yet was able to attend to our needs seamlessly. He was friendly, but not overly so. He understood that he was an important part of our dining experience, regardless of how good the food was.
My younger brother is a connoisseur of fine sipping tequilas. We decided to toast our brother John. He made the selection and asked for two shots, which is a pour of 1.5 ounces each. What we got was closer to two ounces, or two neats. This was not an accident. It was an ounce of tequila on the house!
The presentation of the food was beautiful. The timing of the servings was impeccable. The waiter was always there when we needed him. When it was time for dessert, we decided to split a flan. Rather than presenting us with one dessert and two forks, he served the dessert on two plates, each plate with a chocolate drip surrounding the flan. Both flans were perfectly round. Even though we were splitting one dessert, the waiter presented it as two desserts. I have never experienced this before, and I was impressed!
Our evening having dinner together was important. It was a time to focus on each other, to remember, to mourn, and to celebrate the life of our brother John.
The next morning, we checked out of the Hampton Inn to head home. I had intended to pick up the hotel expense, but my brother wanted to pay for half. So, when I presented this request to the customer service agent, to divide the bill between us using two credit cards, she was not sure how or if she could do it. A few minutes later there were three people working on this, including the manager. They did it with smiles and kept apologizing for how long it was taking (it took about five minutes). It was another act of exceptional customer service, done with kindness.
The customer service professionals in my story did not know about John's passing or about my sadness. What they did wasn’t done out of sympathy. They were acts of kindness. It is how we all should treat each other every day.
My brother John's passing left a void in my life. He was a kind person, a good father and husband, considerate to those around him. I don’t remember John and I having a fight or a serious argument. Fairly amazing for two brothers! We spent most of our adult lives separated by the vast geography between us. I wish I had spent more time with him. I guess I was under the illusion that there is always tomorrow… until there wasn't.
“Only time heals what reason cannot.”
To learn more about how to deliver exceptional customer service experiences that drive customer satisfaction, loyalty, revenue and profit, please visit Bass Harbor Group’s website at www.bassharborgroup.com.
Patrick Sandefur is the Founder and Managing Director of Bass Harbor Group / Customer Experience Solutions. His 30+ year career in Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Product Management and Business Development has given him a unique perspective of what customers want and expect when interacting with a brand.
Read more from Patrick Sandefur by clicking on recent posts below