It’s Friday night and you’re still waiting for the package to arrive. The missing pterodactyl puzzle kits are the crowning jewel of tomorrow's dinosaur party. You’re annoyed. Angry even. The puzzles should have been here three weeks ago. Backorder emails, numerous phone calls, and genuine apologies aside, you need the dinosaurs tonight. Otherwise you'll face a very disappointed birthday boy in the morning. You’re about to give up when the doorbell rings.
You pull open the door and step back with a gasp, as this is not the UPS man. A broad smile of surprise spreads across your face. There on your front steps stands a dinosaur.
When dinosaurs roamed Pennsylvania
Lisa Glover, the founder of KitRex is inside that dinosaur. This isn’t just a friendly dino housecall, she’s here to hand-deliver the backordered pterodactyl kits. And of course, that is best done when wearing a 15-foot long cardboard velociraptor.
Glover started making dinosaurs in grad school—part class project, part Halloween costume. She tested prototypes for two years and then launched a Kickstarter campaign. The idea was to raise $8,000. The first Kickstarter ended at $110,000 with 5,500 dinosaur orders in 42 countries.
“We had no idea that the dinosaurs would go viral,” Glover recalls. “We thought we’d be able to fulfill all the orders in five months, but it took us eight. Obviously, that’s not ideal.”
The personal deliveries started out as a necessity—initially happening locally in Pennsylvania to expedite shipping time and to save on postage. But the dino-delivery method had an unexpected effect: increased customer patience and loyalty. “People were much more understanding to hiccups and customer service issues,” says Glover. “They felt they had a relationship with me. We had a connection.”
This connection made customers tell other people that velociraptors were roaming Pennsylvania. More people wanted dinosaurs, and so a second Kickstarter campaign was born.
Using service to delight
In January, online clothing retailer Zulily made the news after customer Kelly Blue Kinkel attempted to return a coat and was told by the customer service agent to donate it to charity instead. “I thought Zulily was pretty incredible before, but after today I'm a customer for LIFE,” Kinkel wrote in a Facebook post that has since gone viral. “The world needs more LOVE like that.”
When a Zappos agent heard about the flooding in South Carolina while on a call with an affected customer, she sent the woman a dozen fleece blankets to pass out to neighbors. A sticker on the outside of the box simply said, “Surprise!”
Using customer service to delight is nothing new. Companies like Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton, and Apple have based their brand promise on exceptional, sometimes surprising service.
Glover acknowledges that she didn’t set out to be a customer service differentiator. Initially, she tried to use a big-company, corporate voice so that people wouldn’t think she was unprepared and unprofessional. She quickly realized that she was turning customers off because she couldn’t deliver like she represented and she appeared disingenuous.
“It pays to be honest,” Glover says. “Never commit to a delivery you might not meet. Admit that your mom is your assistant and didn’t get the shipment out on time.”
Once she started opening up, being honest, and letting the KitRex quirkiness come through, customers became more understanding and patient. “It pays to be honest,” Glover says. “Never commit to a delivery you might not meet. Admit that your mom is your assistant and didn’t get the shipment out on time. ‘Oh, that’s so cute! Of course, that’s fine,’ customers will say.”
Have dinosaur, will travel
While Glover admits that some personal deliveries are awkward or don’t cause the intended “warm and fuzzy feeling,” most are positive. “You rarely see the face of the person who has created a product and brought it to life. That’s really special,” she says. “And it’s really special when the person is actually wearing the product. And it’s a dinosaur.”
Glover gets that the hand-delivery model is not sustainable, but she’s going to continue it as long as possible. “As long as it continues to be convenient when I am traveling, I will keep the hand-deliveries going.”
She also understands that as KitRex grows, so will the customer service interactions. That means the ‘staff’ of family, friends, and near strangers may need to change. “When I bring on someone to do customer service, I will make sure that they understand that we are real people, and that we need to handle customer transactions like we are personally invested. We are humans. We care,” says Glover. “This can never feel like a brand that doesn’t care. If we make a customer feel good, they will reciprocate and share.”
Spoken like a true human, err, dinosaur.
Sarah Stealey Reed is the editor of Relate. When she's not wandering the world, she's a loud writer of customer experiences, contact centers, and optimistic relationships. Find her on Twitter: @stealeyreed.