When it comes to customer service, this story will forever be a South 'n France Christmas classic:
In November 2007, after sending out our holiday catalogs, I received a phone call from a guy named “Beau”. He was just as charming as his name suggests. He had intercepted our catalog in the mail and hidden it so that his wife would not discover it. He told me that he was ordering bon bons as a Christmas surprise for her. While taking his order, I asked how he planned to store the bon bons until he presented them on Christmas Day. I imagined that trying to hide them from his wife in the freezer for four weeks probably wasn’t going to work well. “No worries”, I assured him, “our ordering policy is: ‘Order when anytime; we’ll ship at the right time!’ I can take your order now, and we’ll ship it so that it arrives the week of Christmas. That way the bon bons are guaranteed to be fresh and you don’t have to worry about hiding them for so long”. Beau placed his order.
In the weeks that followed, South ‘n France was inundated with orders. We worked around the clock to fulfill them, getting just a few hours of sleep per night. We packed and shipped bon bons all day, then hosted our legendary holiday parties each evening. Late Friday night, December 21st, after saying goodbye to our last party guests of the season, I slumped into our office chair. We had survived our busiest week yet. I was so exhausted my vision was blurred and my head was spinning. I decided to do one final email check before heading off for my first full night of sleep in more than a month. Here’s what I found in my inbox:
“I placed an order over the telephone with Charlene weeks ago and was told that it would be sent the week prior to Christmas to ensure freshness. She guaranteed it would arrive in time. It's now late on Friday night, the 21st and I'm getting nervous. Please give me a call and let me know what my status is. My wife and I have a 22-month-old and she is now pregnant again, so we decided not to buy any presents for each other save one small gift. This way we can put away some extra money for the upcoming year. This order is my wife's one gift and I'm praying it arrives Monday (Christmas Eve). Please let me know if the order will arrive or if I need to rush out and find something else so that I don't leave her empty handed on Christmas morning. Thanks and Merry Christmas, Beau.”
Of the hundreds and hundreds of orders we had processed, just this one had slipped through the cracks. It was more than I could take; I had a complete meltdown. I sobbed for a solid half hour. “Playing Santa” is an enormous responsibility; we don’t know the back stories behind each order, but we know that every single one is important. How could I have failed sweet Beau and his pregnant wife when our bon bons were his own personal Gift of the Magi? I did what any thoroughly exhausted, emotionally distraught business owner would do in this situation. I called my mother. And I sobbed some more as I told her the story. Beau lives just beyond Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. Normally, we would have shipped the bon bons via FedEx for an overnight delivery. But FedEx is closed on Saturdays, and Monday was Christmas Eve. The only way we could guarantee the bon bons would get there in time would be to drive them ourselves. Atlantic Beach is almost a three-hour drive from Wilmington; six hours round-trip. As I talked through this and mentally tried to sort out the logistics of finding six extra hours in our busy weekend business schedule, my mother offered to play Santa’s helper and drive them up there in her Saturn sleigh.
What did I do? I cried some more at her generous offer. I emailed Beau (it was too late to call), and assured him not to worry. He would receive the bon bons the following day, Saturday, December 22. I do not know if Beau realized that his package didn’t have the traditional FedEx shipping label on it or that it was hand-delivered by a very special elf. But I do know that his order ending up being a gift of love for his wife and for me as well. Knowing that our customer was taken care of and knowing that my Mom understood how much that means to us was my favorite Christmas present that year.