Photo: Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters

This being my last column of the year, in the heart of the season of goodwill, I’m devoting it to a few examples of companies getting customer service inspirationally right.

Many readers felt motivated to share their “wow” service experiences with me on reading last month’s Consumer Watch column about SAA pilot Michael Blanchard, who went to extraordinary lengths to reunite a Joburg passenger with the cellphone and car keys which he’d left at King Shaka Airport.

Here are three of the best:

Chris Graham of Randburg’s story began earlier this year with a common source of consumer frustration – the need for a spare part for an old-model paper trimmer, which his grandson had damaged.

He contacted office product supplier Rexel SA and was told as he was not one of their “commercial” customers, he should contact a retail outlet to handle his request.

“That I did and was advised by the retailer they would get back to me. After several days I had heard nothing, so I googled GBC – the manufacturer’s name on the damaged unit – and found only an Australian supplier address.

“Desperate, I e-mailed them in Australia with a plea for help.”

A few days later, Eva Mohlala from Rexel SA’s Crown Mines office called him. She said she’d seen his Australian e-mail and asked what he needed. He filled her in, and what happened next is truly astonishing.

“She called me back in five minutes to say she had arranged for the damaged machine to be collected, saving me a trip to their offices.”

The unit was collected about an hour later. “I had no proof of purchase, the machine was way out of warranty, and the damage was caused by my grandson and in no way at all attributable to manufacturing defect.

“So this was not even remotely a warranty claim.”

But the next day a new machine was delivered to his door with the cheery news that there was no charge.

“I had no expectation of, or right to, a replacement, and am completely blown away by the response to my call.”

I bet. Many consumers battle to get that kind of service when they are entitled to it – and paying a lot for it.

Here’s one that falls into the “exceptional honesty” category.

Rae Gordon of Kleinmond wrote in about how his wife Ann had unwittingly been shortchanged at the Shell garage in the town’s Main Road.

Some weeks later, he visited the same service station, in the same car, to fill up.

“Just before I could drive away one of the team, a young lass by the name of Charlotte Vaaltyn, came out to me, said they owed me R50 and handed me the cash.

“Apparently my wife had been there three weeks earlier and asked for R150 worth of petrol.

“The attendant, Bothwell Zhuwawu, put in R100 worth. My wife paid him and drove off.

“Only after she had gone did Bothwell discover he had received R50 too much.”

So he and Vaaltyn kept a lookout for the car – for three weeks. The moment it returned to the service station, they rushed out to refund the R50. We think this act of honesty is tremendous.”

So do I.

The last story came from Howard Lilenstein of Plumstead, Cape Town, whose car was financed by Absa in 2005 and then refinanced for the residual amount last October.

The deal was apparently conditional on Lilenstein taking out a mechanical breakdown insurance policy.

But when the car broke down in August, requiring the replacement of parts, he’d completely forgotten about the policy, so he had the car repaired by his regular repair company, without notifying Absa.

About a month later, on noticing the insurance premium amount on his vehicle finance statement, he wrote to Absa.

“I fully understand I have forfeited any rights to the insurers’ responsibility by not getting prior authorisation,” he wrote, “but I’m asking for a goodwill response to my predicament.”

Absa responded by saying it outsourced its vehicle insurance to the Motor Delivery Innovation Group.

Shortly afterwards, the company’s Enoch Katebede contacted Lilenstein with a request for his repair invoice and other details.

“Within a short time they paid out the full R8 000 for the repair. How is that for a lovely human touch to the normal business proceedings?”

And on that lovely note, I wish you all a very happy new year. - Pretoria News