LAST SUMMER, during one of those record-setting heat waves that year, I pulled into a conveniently-located Mobil service station right of the highway near Andover, Massachusetts to get some gas. I dreaded getting out of my car’s air-conditioned interior bliss to pump my own gas in the extreme heat, but since it was a self-service establishment, there was no other option. Soon, my creature discomfort increased considerably as I discovered the pump was not working properly, requiring that I had to venture inside to “pay before pumping” as the hand-written sign on it clearly read. Normally not the biggest of deals, but on this withering day it meant a short trek across an asphalt frying pan going both in and out of the store. No sooner had my sweaty and miserable self made it inside, I was standing in a rather lengthy line with just enough time to figure out at whom to vent my rising temperature and frustration. While not exactly boiling mad (pun unintended) on this blisteringly-sunny afternoon, I was feeling quite disagreeable right up to the moment it was to finally be my turn to pay and complain…and that was when I noticed another hand-scrawled sign that read “Free-Please Take One” taped to the top of a huge cobalt-blue bin of ice-cold plastic water bottles.
When I, temporarily taken aback, managed to stammer out the words to ask the cashier if this seemingly-to-good-to-be-true offer was actually for real, he not only said yes, but went further and quite-congenially said (and I quote) “Sure, take a couple, it’s really hot out there today, isn’t it?” Forgetting immediately all about my former protestations, I quickly and willingly agreed with him and added a hearty thanks for the refreshingly-cool liquid prize he had awarded to me. At that moment, precisely before having to head back out onto that parched pavement to fill my tank and knowing how hot and miserable I was about to instantly become once again, the offer of two free ice-cold bottles of H2O was more attractive to me than a hot date (pun intended) with SHANIA TWAIN.
I don’t know if the decision to make that offer came down from Mobil corporate (less likely), or if the local station manager called an audible that day once he learned how hot it was to get (more likely), all I do know is that by extending the smallest token of courtesy and compassion to their sweaty customers, my miserable self included, that somehow the previously huge, impersonal and faceless Mobil Oil Corporation became a friend…simply because it acted like one. Mobil no doubt garnered so much goodwill and customer appreciation on that long, hot, otherwise forgettable summer workday in New England that it will result not only in greater brand loyalty and customer retention, but also a healthy increase in overall business as scores of occasional-turned-advocational customers like me delight in telling and retelling when…right in the middle of expecting what we each thought was to be the worst customer experience possible…we were all pleasantly surprised by a small and relatively inexpensive financial sacrifice, but one which was also an extremely meaningful and effective gesture of human kindness…B2C-style!