Does Service Like THIS Give You Any Ideas?

(Sorry for the delay in posting, but was in the process of upgrading the blog to a brand-new and far more stable WordPress theme. I know it looks very similar but that was one of the challenges. Hope you like!)

Okay, so this isn’t a commercial-writing customer service story, but as an impressive example of Unexpected Outstanding Service, it’s a great lesson for anyone running a business, including commercial freelancers like us.

A few months back, my car went temporarily kaput (ignition-coil issue). As an AAA member, I called for roadside assistance, but due to a roughly 24-hour outage in the automated roadside-assistance system (they weren’t having a good day, either…), members in the affected areas had to pay for their tows up front, and then submit the bill for reimbursement.

A bit of a hassle, but given AAA’s historically tight ship, I didn’t mind all that much. I had a check in hand in a few weeks. And I promptly forgot about. But they didn’t…

A few weeks later I got a letter in the mail from AAA. After explaining the unfortunate string of events on the day in question, here’s a screen shot of the operative paragraph:


Wow. As noted, I’d forgiven and forgotten, and the incident would have weighed on me not at all come renewal time. So, this mighty magnanimous gesture was quite the breath of fresh air. They didn’t have to do it, and I wouldn’t have held it against them. And that’s the point, and what made it so unexpected, and, by extension, so special.

You can guess what I did when I got the letter: Yup. I shared the story with several friends, and, needless to say, thought enough of their gesture to give them some additional publicity on this blog.

I have no idea how many AAA members were affected in those states during that period, but I have to imagine it wasn’t a trivial number. But they unhesitatingly took a likely sizable financial hit, in the interest of doing the right thing.

As freelance commercial writers, offering up a similarly impressive and unexpected act of service would likely cost us far less, while still buying us a more-than-healthy measure of goodwill and client loyalty.

Sure, we can’t give away free stuff all the time, but assuming were talking about a good commercial copywriting client—one that pays us well and keeps hiring us—a periodic affirmation of their decision to work with us is never a bad idea.

Have you ever delivered an unexpected bonus to your clients – either to make up for a mistake, or as simply a random act of kindness?

If so, what happened as a result?

Can you recall a time when you should’ve done so, but didn’t?

Does this story give you any ideas?

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10 replies
  1. Lori
    Lori says:

    What a great story! It’s a super reminder of why customer service really does make a difference to business success. I’ve been on the fence over the AAA membership, but your story, Peter, has me writing the check.

    I have given bonuses in the form of a smaller invoice if the work was easier than expected; additional content at no additional cost (sometimes those sidebars just beg to be written!), and; gifts for the holiday. Every time I’ve given clients a bonus (on my own, not demanded by them), they’ve rewarded me with loyalty and more work.

    There was one time in the past that I could have given a bonus and didn’t (and I use the word “could” on purpose). The client was pushing for me to do extra work without pay, and it was a situation of her own making that put her back to the wall. The way she’d directed me (not asked) to basically donate four hours of my time because of her screw-up was why I didn’t. I lost her as a client, and I was glad for it. Wasn’t the first time she’d botched something and leaned on me to be her rescuer (for free, of course).

    The idea I get from this is to find ways to reward good clients. One example is to give the one who funnel the most work to me a discounted rate — maybe cut an hour of time off the bill, or handle a small revision for free. Or even send out gift cards to those who are great to work with. The basket of cookies at holiday time is okay, but I think a mid-year reminder of how much I appreciate their business is in order.

    And I know the ignition coil problem well — my old Jetta had a history of faulty coil packs. Luckily, they’re easy to replace without a mechanic. 🙂

  2. Cathy Miller
    Cathy Miller says:

    I’ve always said good customer service isn’t rocket science; however, we sure seem to lack scientists. 😉 For long-time clients, I have provided services outside the scope of the project at no additional cost. I have also done complimentary assessment reports of websites or marketing material.

    I also like to surprise them with an unexpected gift from time to time. Like a Build-a-Bear in surgical garb for a client who was having knee surgery. She worked for a health care organization and loved it. 🙂

  3. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Thanks ladies!

    Great ideas, Lori! Nothing beyond the imagination of most people, but things most of us don’t do very often. AND, which can truly keep the pipeline full and flowing from a given client. Not to mention, out-of-the-ordinary gestures like these can have a client suddenly realize that it’s not just a business transaction, it’s two human beings relating.

    Especially in cases like Cathy’s build-a-bear story, which would absolutely take a business relationship to a whole new personal level. And bottom line, people do business with people, and the more that other person sees you as a person (not just a “client” or a “vendor”), the stronger and more enduring that relationship can be.

    And Lori, I sure wish I knew that ignition coils could easily be replaced easily, before spending a tidy sum to have other people doing it…. 😉

    On another note: Is the new blog showing up OK to everyone? I had someone tell me the format was really wide and that she needed to scroll back and forth to read everything. Just shoot an email to and let me know if it looks OK to you!

  4. Jake Poinier
    Jake Poinier says:

    At my last corporate job, one of the most (maybe only) worthwhile components of our weekly company-wide meeting was when people would share customer service stories that were unrelated to our own company. There’s a great deal to learn from organizations that go the metaphorical extra mile.

    Here’s a good one that I’d recommend to all freelancers: Sign up for a HARO ( account. I earned a lifetime of loyalty by connecting one of my clients with a reporter who needed a SME in his area, and it got him interviewed and featured on He was SO happy, and all it took was an email from me, saying “Hey, check this out–you’re perfect for it.”

    Blog looks great, by the way. Having been through the Blog Transition last August, I know the monkey-wrenching that happens behind the scenes!

  5. Jennifer Polk
    Jennifer Polk says:

    Newbie here, and newbie as a commercial freelancer, having officially launched in August last year. I had a situation recently with a repeat client, a web developer. It was my fault; he asked me to estimate a job for him on the fly over the phone. I had not yet seen the site or his notes; he described it as being a “little more” work than the last site I had done for him.

    Well, you know where this is going…turns out, it was over double the amount of work. I did the work (and it was very good work), then when it was time to bill, explained the situation to him. I said if it had just been an hour or two I would have written it off, but since it was more like 5 additional hours of work, I hoped we could work something out on it. I offered the option of splitting the difference and/or making up for it on future jobs, said I never wanted to hit anyone with a bill higher than discussed on the front end but at the same time, if he was happy with the work (he was), then it wasn’t unreasonable to acknowledge the amount of time that was required to do it and work with me on it – even though it was my mistake for estimating without having all the information. We ultimately split the difference. I got an affirmation from him that he saw the value of my work, and in return, he got a cut rate on what was good work. He’s already had me do another couple of jobs since “the incident,” which was well worth writing off a couple of hours of my time.

  6. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Great idea, Jake, to share good customer service stories. It’s one of those things that people might not think about on their own, but if they’re constantly reminded, it can’t help but cross their mind the next time they’re in a situation that calls for “above-and-beyond” service.

    And you’re right about HARO – I’ve turned many clients onto opportunities that they might not have known about otherwise and it’s always appreciated. Thanks for the reminder; I’ve gotten lazy about not looking at them with when they come into my email box!

    And good job, Jennifer! You turned a situation that could potentially have been very low-paying, and made it work for everybody. Far better than not saying anything (which is what a lot of freelancers might have done), and which would have sent the wrong message: that this caliber of copywriting only cost this little amount of money.

    Or worse—what a lot of small business people do—just present a higher bill as a fait accompli, as if they bear no responsibility for being thorough in their estimating process. And which, by definition, is going to set up all sorts of resentments and possible conflicts with your client.

    Good stuff!

  7. Shari
    Shari says:

    Yes. For longstanding clients, I offer perks now and again. I recently just wrote a blog for one of my best clients for free as a bonus for them. I’ve also gone above and beyond the scope of a project a few times for clients who truly appreciated the extra mile and followed through with repeat business or recommendations that have led to new clients/work.

  8. Robin Halcomb
    Robin Halcomb says:

    This makes me think of the other side of the street; the customer service agents who go the extra mile to help customers, but ultimately have little or no control over what they can do. I’ve worked there, and you can’t believe how far a simple “thank you” goes, especially when the agent hasn’t been able to resolve the issue.

    Back on this side, clients do take notice when you deliver more than asked for, per The Well-Fed Writer. I received my first gift card along with a thank you note from a client this year. Definitely raised the loyalty flag on my end!

  9. Star
    Star says:

    Interesting. I have been trying to think back. When I was doing more client work, I usually sent clippings and little notes I thought would be of interest. I remember after a long dry spell, I got the contract to write the Jane’s catalog–and went back and forth on my advance with the Jane’s people in their little warrens in London–they were not used to advances. Then they said, it would be easier to give you the whole amount now–$15,000. I was um, gobsmacked–and wrote four versions of one section for diff audiences without batting an eye. But that isn’t what you mean… I also like buying from eBay–because the eBay sellers often put in free samples, a cute note, a smiley face, something personal. It does wear well.

  10. William Reynolds
    William Reynolds says:

    Many new, not-so-well-fed freelancers are understandably hesitant to give away much of anything right off the bat. But there’s one goodie you can always afford to give, and that’s referrals. If you’re writing for a chiropractor, for instance, why not offer to introduce that chiropractor to other medical practitioners in your client list who might be good networking partners. You could even recommend the chiropractor directly to clients of yours who might benefit from treatment. Hopefully your chiropractor will reciprocate, not just with undying loyalty, but by sending referrals to your copywriting business!

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