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The Stone, the Windshield, and the Army

It was turning out to be just another typical Tuesday:  up at oh-dark-thirty, in the car, on my way to a client meeting.  In this case, I was on my way to a U.S. Army post.  And then, The Stone.  I saw it coming, clear as day.  The truck in front of me kicked it up, and on a two-lane highway, there was nowhere for me to go.  And I watched in passive acceptance as the inevitable happened:  the stone hit my windshield at a combined speed of at least 135 MPH, skipped, and hit my windshield a second time a little higher up.

*sigh*

Good news: great meeting with a great team, and their excitement and “hoo-ahh” attitude was no mere show: we are moving forward together.  Better news: I had to stop to fill up my car’s gas tank.

No, really.  See, on my way off the post, I stopped at an AAFES-managed gas station. AAFES (the Army and Air Force Exchange Service) is near and dear to my heart: as a kid I lived in Germany when my father was an active duty soldier.  AAFES was our connection to all things America:  Charmin, Minute Maid, Marlboro, X-Men and Archie comics, you name it.  So, as I rolled in to the pumps, I was in a nostalgic mood.  I expected cheap gas, cheap sodas, and cheap smokes.  What I didn’t expect was to leave the station smiling like a fool.

As I got out and went through the motions of getting the car and the pump ready I was approached by a young man in a station uniform.  He asked if I’d like the windows on the car washed while I was pumping, and I said, “Sure, why not?”  Pleasantly surprised turned quickly to astonished when he came around the front of the car.  Having finished the windows on the two sides and the rear of my car, he moved on to the windshield.  He called my attention to the chips in the windshield, and I explained the events of my morning drive.  And then he asked, “Would you like me to fix those?  It’ll take about 10 minutes, and we have a station set up right over there.  No charge.”

“Riiiiiight,” I thought.  “No charge?”  “No sir.  I saw the USAA decal on your rear window, and if you still have this car on your auto policy, they cover it automatically.”

So, what do you know?  I finish up filling the tank, drive it over to the mobile glass repair station they have set up in the parking lot, and Charlie got to work.  First, he asked me to dig out my USAA card so I had my member number handy.  They he used his mobile phone to speed-dial USAA, introduced himself to Janice, the USAA rep, and provided some background.  Turns out, Janice handles these claims quite a bit, and she and Charlie speak to one another fairly often, so their exchange was quick, and I verified the situation and my member ID quickly as well.  Sure enough, Janice confirmed that I was covered free of charge for having the chips filled, and that USAA would back up the repair work for the life of the windshield as long as I owned it.  By the time I had heard this, Charlie was already done.  All I had to do was sign my name and run inside for a Diet Coke and then hit the road home.

What struck me was that the team at this AAFES station knew their customers, knew their employees, and trained their teams to be aware, professional and pleasant.  They knew that the interstate running past the post was a major trucking route, that road repair and expansion activity was underway both East and West of their exit, and that stone chips were increasingly common.  They also knew that most visitors to the post would likely be either active duty or civilian personnel, or their dependents, and that many of these would be USAA members.  So setting up the team to do a quick windshield wiping also allowed them to identify chips before they became cracks, which can yield a pretty stiff fine if you’re pulled over by Virginia police, state trooper or local law enforcement alike.  The upshot? AAFES is saving their primary audience time and money in avoided fines, court costs and windshield replacements, and preventing productivity from being impacted by travel delays, court appearances and transportation challenges.  And they saved what might have otherwise been a typically Terrible Tuesday, and instead created a raving fan.

So, what are the things we know about our customers, their environments, their marketplaces?  What are the simple things we can do to add a lot of value by doing a little thing (like cleaning a windshield)?

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