Lagniappe - The Secret To Customer Excitement
by Joe Bonura, CSP
A Little Extra
When I was a young boy, I remember working with my father at his
butcher stand in the heart of New Orleans, Louisiana. He was neighbors
with a dozen other butcher stands -- Dad could reach out and shake
hands with his competition. Despite the overwhelming competition,
my father was the number one butcher in that retail market because
be knew how to turn customer satisfaction into customer excitement.
Dad had been in the business so long, he could reach into the meat
case and grab exactly one pound of ground meat - except he would
always add an ounce or two at no extra charge. He would then hand-wrap
the package carefully, hand it to the customer and say, "lagniappe,"
a Louisiana Creole term meaning "a little extra."
Dad consistently excited every customer who visited his butcher
business because he always gave a little more than the competition.
I learned from him that we must never give the customers what they
expect -- we must give them more than they expect. How can you give
the customer a little more than your competitors? How can you develop
a loyal clientele who are first to recommend you?
An Apple a Day
The Leo Burnett Company, one of the largest advertising agencies
in the world with 55 offices in 49 countries, hasn't let size interfere
with good old-fashioned customer service. If you visit the reception
area at any of their offices, you'll find a basket of shiny red
apples to which customers, employees, clients and suppliers are
welcome to help themselves. Offering a piece of fruit during the
course of the work day may seem like a small idea, but the effects
add up. I spoke with Joe Silberman, public relations associate at
Leo Burnett, and he said they gave away 444,000 apples in Chicago
alone last year. That adds up to around 1,500 apples a day! Every
day 1,500 people leave Leo Burnett feeling satisfied and pampered.
Have you ever thought of serving coffee and cookies in your lobby?
Think of customer service ideas that will appeal to many senses.
Serving fresh-baked cookies will appeal to your customers' senses
of smell and taste -- and bring back nostalgic memories of Mom.
Form a customer service committee made up of a team of employees
whose mission is to brainstorm for creative ways to service the
customer better -- ways that will set your company apart from the
competition. Act on the resulting ideas and everyone will end up
a winner -- your employees will feel they have contributed to the
success of your business and customers will see how much you care.
Thank You Notes
On a recent trip to Alaska, my wife Carol and I decided to visit
Nordstrom department store because they have a reputation for excellent
customer service. We arrived at the store at 8:15 in the morning
but the sign on the door said the store was scheduled to open at
8:30. I was sure the employees inside would pretend not to see us
waiting outside in the Alaskan cold because it was not yet opening
time. That didn't happen. The manager saw us standing outside and
much to my surprise, he opened the door with a warm smile on his
face. Upon entering, we were promptly and courteously greeted by
several other employees.
Carol purchased a robe in the lingerie department and the salesperson
gave her a coupon for a free pair of stockings that could be redeemed
in four weeks. Noticeably disappointed, Carol gave the coupon back
saying she lived out of town and could not take advantage of the
offer. She received a package from Alaska six weeks later containing
an elegant pair of free stockings. The attached hand-written note
read, "Dear Ms. Bonura: Thank you again for visiting with us
at Nordstrom on your recent trip to Alaska. I knew you wouldn't
be able to come back to pick up your stockings so I've sent them
to you. Please come see us again on your next visit to Alaska."
The sales clerk went out of her way to make Carol feel special.
Invest a little effort in writing handwritten notes to customers.
I know a local food server who writes thank you's to all her guests.
She now has more regular guests than any other server in the restaurant.
When you go out of your way to let customers know how thankful you
are for their business, they remember you and continue to come back.
A smile says so much about your business. It communicates you enjoy
what you do and you are happy the customer has chosen to come to
you for help. People are starved for positive attention and you
have an opportunity to give them that attention every time you make
The easiest, most cost-efficient way to make customers happy is
to smile. If you see customers in person, use your body language
to communicate you care. Give direct eye contact and smile sincerely.
If you work over the phone, smile anyway because the customer on
the other end can hear whether or not you are smiling. Have you
ever heard a smile come through the phone line? Your intonation,
volume and energy levels become more powerful when you curl up the
corners of your mouth. Keep a mirror by your desk for a "smile-check"
if you tend to forget.
Personalization or Automation
A friend of mine once told me he was in line at a grocery store
watching the cashier abuse customers with her indifference. He was
so enraged by her attitude that after the clerk bad checked him
out, he indulged his urge to ask, "Well, aren't you going to
say 'thank you'?"
The clerk immediately pointed to the receipt and replied condescendingly,
"Look here at the bottom -- it says THANK YOU."
Unfortunately, with the onslaught of technology, many people view
customer service with the same automated attitude. Voice mail systems
and computerization are sometimes the only link between the customer
and your organization. Although these can be important to your business,
put real human beings on the front lines when possible. Have you
ever gotten caught in voice mail twilight zone? It's such a relief
to know you can press "0" and speak with a person. Automation
has its place -- just don't let it take the place of personal customer
Worth the Shirt off My Back?
I recently purchased five new dress shirts from an excellent salesperson.
I was not only impressed with his sales skills, but the crisp laundered
look of his shirt. He gave me the name of his dry cleaner along
with his business card, telling me to use his name. The owner wasn't
in when I dropped off my shirts so I left my salesperson's business
When I picked up my shirts a few days later, one of them had a
blue stain on the sleeve. I asked to speak to the owner -- he was
out again. The young woman who waited on me said she would let him
know about my problem. Three days later, after hearing nothing from
the dry cleaner, I returned to see if they had been able to remove
the stain. The owner was out again and the blue spot remained. The
young woman said she would talk to the owner again and when I returned,
she said the owner would pay for the shirt if I supplied them with
a receipt. On my next visit, the young woman said the owner wanted
to give me the check personally. He stormed up to the counter, threw
the check at me and said, "Here!"
I never inconvenienced him again. He had the golden opportunity
to win me over as a lifetime customer by turning a problem into
a plus, and threw it away for a $30 cotton shirt. If he had treated
me with courtesy, I would have spent thousands at his business.
It All Adds Up to Lagniappe
From my advertising agency experience, I discovered that after
we ran an ad, it cost the client $100 or more to get a customer
through the front door. Imagine every one of your customers carrying
a $100 bill. Each time you forget to personally greet him, each
time you won't admit he's right, each time you forget to smile --
each time you tear up a $100 bill. Ouch!
You now have the secret to turning that $100 bill into $1000 bills
-- Lagniappe. Each time you greet the customer warmly, each time
you admit your mistakes and take steps to correct them, each time
you go out of your way to give a little more -- each time you have
multiplied the amount of money in the customer's hand. Suddenly
the customer has more money to spend and he wants to spend it all
at your business. Add a little lagniappe to everything you
do and your customers won't just be satisfied -- your customers
will be excited! Excited customers return again and again.
© 1997 Joe Bonura & Associates, Inc.