With my body aching from head to toe and hands covered in fresh blisters, the thing that hurt the most was my pride.
I tried to hide the pain from my two sons. But they could see right through my stiff posture and a fake smile.
Anybody could have.
When you run out of strength and have to ask for help, it hurts.
When you hear people laughing at you, it hurts more.
When you realize that you were rowing a boat with the anchor dropped while dragging 75 pounds of seaweed through the mud, you feel like a complete and total dunce.
3 Hours Earlier…
Just three hours earlier, in the remote city of Ocqueoc (pronounced ah-kee-ock) Michigan, we had rented a fishing boat. My boys, six and nine years old, tagged along. The oldest was excited to carry his shotgun-style fishing pole, the youngest excited to be carrying live worms.
The rental facility was a single-owner small business run by a sweet old lady who stopped everything she was doing to help us out.
We chatted about the weather, her lake, and the boats for a few minutes before I paid up. $50 for a half-day rental, and she walked us down to the dock.
With uncanny foresight, my six-year-old son recommended we take the motorboat. He was looking for a Fast and Furious style experience. I was looking for a something a bit more rustic. So, I overrode his pleas for gasoline-powered fun and his warnings of getting stuck. We (I) rowed to the middle of the lake and dropped anchor.
10 minutes later, with one child getting seasick and the other bored out of his mind, we turned back to shore to end our fishing expedition before someone threw up or started whining.
Now don’t laugh at me…
Being the land-grubber I was, it never occurred to me to pull the anchor up, so I just started rowing.
It was hard—hard as hell.
I felt the wind at my back and rowed harder. The boat wasn't going anywhere, so I rowed harder yet. The kids complained, and I rowed harder still.
I rowed with the 20-year old cracked wooden oars until my back ached, my hands blistered, and my arms gave out.
30 minutes later, having traveled only a quarter of the distance to shore, I threw the oars in exhaustion and took stock of our situation (never realizing the anchor was still down).
That’s when I heard the sound of sweet relief.
When fear, embarrassment, and pride collide…
Two guys had seen my struggle, hopped in a rental boat of their own (they correctly chose one with a motor), and came to assist. I was in no state to turn them down so they hooked up a tow rope and headed toward shore.
No sooner had we started moving did these kind gentlemen point out a rope dragging behind our boat.
“Hey bud, did you pull up your anchor?”
Fear, embarrassment, and pride all collided in an instant… and I realized the error of my ways.
I wish now that I had snapped a pic of what came up out of the water. If you can imagine a rope connected to a hunk of metal wrapped in seaweed like a ball of twinkle lights from the movie Christmas Vacation, you’ll have a good idea of the state of our anchor.
After a brief tow, and now safely back on the dock, their faces were too far away to see as they motored away… but I could hear their laughter.
I was happy to be back, but immediately felt the pain of the entire experience (both physical and emotional).
I had committed to never coming back, until she did this…
The business owner had come down to chat, eager to hear why returned so soon. I didn’t have a good excuse, so my boys told her the whole story.
Though my bad experience wasn’t her fault, she did something only a small business owner would do. She pulled out $50 and gave me my money back!
I told her I couldn’t take it, but she insisted.
Without asking for anything in return—not a referral, not a good review on Google, not even to come back next summer—she just returned my money and apologized for the terrible experience (again, not her fault!!!). In her own sweet way, she wished me a good day and better luck at my next fishing hole.
It was then I thought, “you know what, this was a one-time hiccup will probably never happen again… maybe I will come back.”
There’s a lesson in all of this…
It would be easy say that the only lesson I learned was to pull the anchor up before rowing across a lake again.
That’s a good lesson, for sure. But the bigger lesson is what that small business owner taught me:
- That as a small business owner my ultimate goal is giving my customers an outstanding experience.
- That my customers’ happiness can be turned around in an instant with empathy and caring.
- That I can bring joy to my customers through my work… joy that they’ll spread to others… joy that they may take home and write about.
She didn’t have to walk me down to the dock. She didn’t have to meet me there when we returned. She didn’t have to listen to my sob story. And she definitely didn’t have to give me my money back.
In the grand scheme of things, her gesture may have been small. But it turned a sour experience into a positive one for me. Ultimately, she’ll get far more than $50 from me because I’ll go back again and again… and I’ll recommend her business again and again.
A Case Study (Pun Intended)
So that you don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting the only way to give your customers a great experience is to refund their purchase. In fact, here’s an example of a modern company bringing a small amount of joy to my wife and I just this week…
Without meeting us in person.
Without talking to us on the phone.
All the while taking our hard-earned cash.
A small company in Indiana, Loopy Cases, creates unique smart phone cases that we’ve grown to love (“Case Study,” get it? Ha). After ordering her iPhone 8 without Apple Care, we thought it would be good to invest.
Their cases are excellent against drop protection, have a loop on the back so you always have something to hold, and are quite stylish.
But that’s not what brought us joy.
When the package arrived, we knew instantly it was from Loopy Cases. Though it was in a standard yellow shipping envelope, they had hand-written “Stay Loopy :-)” on it with a big red marker, filling in the o’s with little eyes.
Extra points for making us smile.
Inside the package we found a sticker, a hand-signed letter from their founders, and a receipt with the name, phone number, and picture of the customer service representative we could contact if we needed assistance.
Super bonus points for the hand-signed letter and a picture of the customer service rep. How personal!
Each one of those additions cost them almost nothing… maybe 30 seconds of their time. But in total, the impression it left us was effective and lasting. I’m now considering getting a Loopy Case of my own, and am highly recommending them right here in this article to anyone that owns a smart phone.
What joy can you bring your customers?
There’s a reason I told you this story.
And no, it’s not to tell you how to row a boat (clearly, I’m no authority).
Ever since the Ocqueoc Michigan Rowboat Incident of 2017 I’ve been asking myself, “how can I bring joy to my customers like the small business owner in this story did for me?”
And you know what? It’s a damn hard question to answer. But I think it’s a worth asking.
It’s too easy to get lost in the numbers… revenue, bookings, expenses. It’s too easy to worry about your next product release or spend days researching your competition.
Instead, take a few minutes to ask yourself:
- How can I bring joy to my customers today?
- What can I do to make my customers feel heard, cared for, welcomed, and loved?
- How can I give my customers a memorable, surprising, delightful experience?
I bet if you had answers to those questions—if you really sat down and thought it through—those revenue and bookings numbers would start to take care of themselves.
PS If you’re looking for a peaceful fishing experience on a beautiful late, here’s where we went. The small business owner there will bend over backward for you. Grab your gear and go rent a boat. Just make sure to rent the one with a motor :-).
About the Author
CO-FOUNDER | TECHNOLOGY, PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT, MARKETING, AND SALES
Michael Mehlberg helps small businesses owners achieve their goals and live their passion. His approach to technology, corporate strategy, product development, marketing, and sales is both practical and highly effective, and has helped multiple small businesses grow into the company their owners envisioned. Reach out by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or learn more on our About page.