Excellent customer service is vital to survival in this economy, and the task of motivating and enabling the team to execute a vision is a leader's first duty. When the proper business culture is set and representatives are motivated and enabled to act, magic can happen.

A friend recently related a story of receiving “impromptu” customer service from a laboratory he uses — a story that speaks volumes of the leadership in this company and its culture. It was a hot summer afternoon and he was driving a truck with no air conditioning. Outdoor temperatures were somewhere near 100 degrees, and the 44-ounce drinks from gas stations were not keeping up. My friend was hot, beginning to smell bad, and certainly growing older from all of the sugar and caffeine he had been pouring into his system.

One of his stops that day was at a lab, which provides analysis of meth, mold, asbestos and other environmental samples. This is a global company with a local presence in Salt Lake City.

So my friend walked in with his sample, and they did all of the things they should do. They greeted him at the door, used a smile as they called him by name, and made the usual attempt to develop a relationship. Then magic happened: In the conversation, my friend mentioned that he is almost as hot as his engine. The smell of sweat may have backed up that statement.

Without asking any further questions, our superhero customer service receptionist morphed from being just the sample taker to being the caregiver. She provided a cold drink, invited him to a cooler place to “hang out,” talked to him to make him feel at ease while all of the above is going on, and sent him on his way with a free pack of “blue ice” as he left.

Now just to back up a bit, blue ice is a gel material encased on a hard plastic shell. It is used to keep environmental samples cool while in transit. It stores more cold energy than ice and can be re-frozen. To purchase the product, a person would likely have to pay about $10 to $15. My friend wasn’t handling any samples that needed blue ice and he probably never would, but that didn’t stop the receptionist from sending him out the door with it anyway.

My friend used the ice pack to cool his chest, his back, his neck, etc. Rinse and repeat. This little pack was an oasis in an inferno and a greatly appreciated gift with timeliness written all over it. It bought a great deal of loyalty and made my friend a passionate and loyal client of this particular lab.

One might first think that this is an act of a superior receptionist who truly understands customer service. That would be true. It is also a reflection of a business culture that encourages and enables such acts to occur. For example, we can all imagine the trouble that a receptionist at another company may receive if she is caught giving free materials to clients. In many places, such an act may be cause for termination. At this lab, however, our hero knew that she could perform such an act with no fear of reprisal. Her leadership not only approved of such an act, but encouraged it. Since that time, our superhero has been promoted.

In businesses I have led, I have personally seen the difficulties involved with motivating and enabling employees. It can seem like pulling teeth, but employees must not only understand what customer service really means, they must feel empowered and motivated to bravely take action when opportunities occur. These are fleeting moments that usually don’t lend themselves well to asking the boss first.

Most employees tend to want to stay in the “safe” middle ground, where no one could be questioned for their actions. The problem is that typical “safe” actions cause no customer loyalty and no passion for the business. These routine, assembly-line responses will leave a business on the edge of failure.

No company can succeed without its own growing pool of passionate customers —especially in this economy. The same is true in any other leadership position, be it Sunday school teacher, parent or even personal leadership. Creating and growing that pool of passionate, loyal customers is a make-or-break proposition: Every opportunity to do so must be zealously sought, captured, executed and rewarded.

Garth Haslem, The Business Inspector, is the author of "Creating Passionate Customers" and a speaker and business consultant. For more information, like "Garth Haslem - Speaker and Author" on Facebook or go to www.passionatecustomers.com.