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My title at work is Chief Change Architect and I focus on helping organizations through the why, what, and how of change – I love my work and I love change. The same is true in my personal life. For example, I’ve moved so many times that my closest friend refers to me as an army brat. And I often say, “I’ve changed everything about my life many times except for my wife and kids, and the kids are negotiable.” But through all the moves, changes in furniture, physical changes – from glasses to contacts, from clean-shaven to scruffy, from fat to thin to fat again, from young to old(er) – through all that, I’ve slept on the exact same goose down pillows for 32 years (they were a gift from my brother in 1986). I love these pillows! I know. It’s gross.

According to, experts suggest you replace your pillows every couple years. Laying my head on the same pillows for more than three decades doesn’t support my story of being so comfortable with change but, alas, it was time. They had a stellar run and it was time to move on. My wife already had one foot out the door to head to Bed Bath & Beyond to get new ones, but I said… “Hold on a minute. These lasted us so long for a reason.” And I wanted to keep that momentum going. I needed to do some research to find pillows. Not just any pillows. At 54 years old, If I keep these pillows for another 32 years, then these next pillows will likely be the ones that carry us through our next phase of life and will likely be the last ones we buy until the day we die. Dramatic? Maybe. But the first batch stood the test of time, so I think I’m on to something.

I spent the next few weeks researching everything to become a pillow expert. Seriously, if you have any questions, I’m your guy because my pillow prowess is on point. I researched materials, features, and companies. And guess what I learned? I’m not an off-the-shelf pillow guy. I needed a custom pillow. I mean, I know how obnoxious that sounds, but you have to remember, this pillow is the one that I’ll be resting on in my coffin, so…

After researching, I settled on a custom pillow manufacturer in Texas for my coffin pillow order. I placed the order online and received a note from someone named David in customer service thanking me for my order and telling me that I’d receive a notification when my pillows shipped. Well, because we live in the age, I thought I’d get the update the next day about my order processing and even receive shipping information. But none of that happened. I’m so used to instant gratification with online retailers (we all are, really) and my expectations have been boosted based on that. This was different.

After a week with no updates, I sent a note and received a message back from David in the shipping department that the pillows are made to order and take about 10 days. The note went on to say that they could try to expedite the process if I’d like. While not the usual customer experience from an online retailer, especially from the shipping department, they were responsive and made it happen. Though it would’ve been nice to get an update before I had to ask for one.

My new custom pillows arrived in two separate boxes, one of which got wet and ruined during the shipping process and smelled really bad. So I emailed the company very early on a Saturday morning. I told them my issue and received an automatic response from David in problem resolution thanking me for my email and assuring me that they would get back to me on Monday. Much to my surprise, my phone rang a few minutes after I sent my email. Yes, my phone rang at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. “Hi, Gary, this is David. That smell is mildew. Goose down can’t get wet.” He asked me to take a picture of the damaged box and send it to him so he could forward it to the shipper. He said he’d work with them on Monday to have the box picked up. I told him we lived in a cozy city condo and the mildew smell was irritating my wife. David offered his empathy and we ended the call.

As soon as we hung up, David called back and said, “Gary, I have a wife too and I don’t want you to have a bad weekend with her being irritated.” He offered a creative solution. David told me he’d email me a prepaid shipping tag that day, and he also sent me the name and address of a shipping store close to my condo so I could get it out of my house quickly. He then said he’d make my new pillow on the fly and get it to me in the next few days. It dawned on me there and then that David in customer service, David in shipping, and David in problem resolution were all David the owner. David the owner thanked me for allowing him to help me with this problem. David the owner formed a personal connection, solved a problem, and created a fan from the ashes of that problem. That’s a kick-ass customer experience delivered by the owner.

What if all our frontline people in our businesses acted like owners and had the power to make a kick-ass customer experience in the shadow of a customer complaint?

This whole example is important because it demonstrates what it’s like to be a true retailer – forging those connections that create loyalty. What if all big box companies could act like this micro business? During all my online research, I found a provider and the site looked like a big retailer, so I was expecting that big retail experience. What I didn’t consider was that old-school owners still exist. Owners who take tremendous pride in their service. Owners who think your satisfaction as an individual is a priority. They have no call center and no emails floating around in cyberspace. It’s good, old-fashioned customer experience delivered by an owner and it’s alive and well. I know because David showed me!

Are you empowering your frontline employees to act like David? To act like owners? What if you did?