Whoops, it’s already October, how did that happen? Here’s my selection of customer service and marketing smarties who impressed me in September.

Don’t you love spreading the word about a smart business that knows how to take care of its customers? So many businesses seem to forget who pays their salaries. “Word of mouth isn’t dead,” says Alan Belniak at Marketing Profs. No, it isn’t, especially when word of mouth is turbocharged by word of mouse. Alan tells us how Roche Bros., a Massachusetts supermarket chain, exceeded his expectations on a miserable day.

Andy Sernovitz’s blog Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That, is one of my favorite sources of smart marketing stories, like this one about an Austin running store, RunTex, that understands how to build awareness in their target market while also building goodwill. If you work in sponsorship sales or if you’re a business looking to spend your limited marketing budget wisely, take a look at this story and start brainstorming about how you can do something similar.

When I read this New York Times story I immediately thought, aha, marketing genius. Concierges and waiters at several upscale hotels and restaurants in Manhattan and Hampton wear clothes provided by Lacoste. “As a consumer, you’re sitting there and Lacoste is all around you,” said Charlie Walk, a partner at RJW Collective, a marketing agency based in Manhattan that works with Lacoste. “But it’s not in your face screaming to you that there’s a branded moment here in the middle of your meal — it’s an elegantly disruptive activation.”

How can you translate an idea like this for your world? How can you infiltrate your target customer’s life in a subtle yet noticeable way like that? Where do they hang out? What other products and services do they use? Here’s an idea that’s screaming to be the seed of a good brainstorming session.

Has anyone ever asked you, “do you think most people are good or bad?” I suppose your answer might depend upon your level of happiness, personal behavior and religion. I believe we’re good and stories like this reaffirm that belief for me. Couture Cakes, a small bakery in Newport News, raised $12,000 in two days, all their sales plus customer donations, for the family of an 11-year-old boy who was killed by a falling tree during hurricane Irene. They didn’t know the family; they just felt compelled to do it. Warms my heart.

A Fast Company article about how Whole Foods “primes” you to shop has been making the rounds. It’s a fascinating look at smart, not deceptive, merchandising practices. I can’t help but admire that company, and not just because their cheese section is my paradise on earth. We make decisions throughout life, but especially during the purchasing process, based on emotions and perceptions. What are your customers seeing when they walk into your store or office? Or browse your website? How are you influencing, and, dare I say it, manipulating their perceptions and emotions?

Despite what Peter Shankman says, Morton’s Steakhouse’s delivery of dinner to his airport arrival gate is not the greatest customer service story ever told. It’s an example of great social media monitoring leveraged into a PR coup. Why not go above and beyond with a regular customer who has nearly 111,000 Twitter followers? You’d be a fool to miss that opportunity. The real message to this story is that they listened. Any kind of response would have put them in the winner’s circle, like “Sorry you’re having a bad day, next time you’re in, let me buy you a drink.” Little gestures like that go a long way, although they won’t get you as much hoopla.

And the idiot of the month award goes to….. ConAgra Foods. The absurdity of this bonehead move made me laugh, but, lordy, how pathetic. Where do I even begin with this one? Invite food bloggers to a nice Italian restaurant for a VIP dinner with a celebrity chef and serve them frozen Marie Callendar’s lasagna? Enraging. Bloggers who cook with organic ingredients, not chemicals and dyes? Blech. And film them without permission with hidden cameras? Creepy. Scott Hepburn examines all the ways ConAgra and their agency, Ketchum, screwed up with their blogger outreach.