Be Careful With Extras

We're taught to always go the extra mile. You can't go wrong with giving a customer a little extra, right?

Well, sometimes you can.

  • A free dessert at a restaurant can backfire if the guests are already stuffed or watching their diet. Do they eat something they don’t want or reject such a nice gift?
  • An upgrade to the deluxe package at the car wash can backfire if the customer is in a hurry and finds the smell of air freshener to be sickening.
  • Upgrading an airline passenger's seat to an exit row can backfire if it separates her from the rest of her family.

Try to see things through your customer's eyes before giving your customer a little extra. And, when in doubt, ask them first. 

It shows you care and it might help avoid an uncomfortable situation.

Find Your Lagniappe

Marketing expert Stan Phelps wrote about the concept of a lagniappe in his book, The Purple Goldfish

Technically, "lagniappe" means a small gift given to a customer at the time of purchase. Phelps broadens this to mean an "unexpected surprise that’s thrown in for good measure to achieve product differentiation, drive retention, and promote word of mouth."

Here are just a few examples:

  • Customers at Jason's Deli can always treat themselves to free ice cream.
  • Any part under $1 is given away for free at Zane's cycles.
  • When you buy a suit at Men's Warehouse, you can always get it pressed for free.

So, what low cost and simple lagniappes will delight your customers?

Email tip: what do they want?

Email can be very convenient, but it can also make it difficult to understand what a customer really wants without a lot of back and forth. 

Here are two very simple tips to avoid misunderstanding a customer's needs via email.

Tip #1: Before responding, take a deep breath, slow down, and ask, "What do they really want?"

Tip #2: If it takes more than two emails to figure out a customer's needs, pick up the phone and call.

Win the moments of truth

Providing outstanding service that exceeds customers' expectations requires us to win the moments of truth.

What is a moment of truth? It is a situation that represents a crossroad in the customer's experience. Go the wrong way, and the customer will have a very unpleasant memory. Go the right way, and you may earn a customer for life.

Here is an example of a moment of truth that earned American Airlines my loyalty for many years:

I was checking in for my flight home after a long business trip when I learned that my flight had been cancelled due to bad weather. There wasn't another flight out until the next morning.

The ticketing agent told me that the airline wasn't required to provide hotel accommodations for passengers if the cancellation was weather related. However, he also told me that weather wasn't yet officially listed in his computer system as the reason for cancellation. He decided to bend the rules and handed me a voucher for a nice hotel that night. 

I wasn't getting home, but at least I had a comfortable place to stay!

Add some extra shine!

I learned this tip from one of my clients, a plumbing company whose plumbers use a very effective customer service technique. They always take care to clean up the area surrounding their repair work so it has a little extra shine. This small step creates a positive impression for three reasons.

  1. Plumbing repairs are often necessary because of a leak or some other mess, so this extra service saves their customers some effort.
  2. Plumbing problems can be very stressful, so putting some extra shine on the repair helps the customer quickly feel better.
  3. Cleaning up the area spotlights the plumber's high level of workmanship, giving the customer the confidence that the repair was done correctly.

Not all of us regularly clean up messes as a part of our job, but there are ways we can put some extra shine on the work we do. Find that opportunity and you'll stand out too!

Paraphrase to confirm understanding

Misunderstandings can and will occur in customer service. Even if you heard what a customer said, that may not be exactly what he meant! A misunderstanding may start small, but it could lead to wasted time, frustration, or even a lost customer.

A good way to avoid miscommunication is to confirm your understanding by paraphrasing. First, listen carefully to your customer. Next, provide a short summary of what you just heard. Finally, ask your customer if you got it right.

Set appropriate expectations to avoid getting burned

Our customers' perception of our service is influenced by whether we meet, exceed, or fall short of their expectations. When we get a chance to help set a customer's expectations, we should be careful to set ourselves up for success.


Let's say a customer asks you to do something that takes 30 minutes for you to do. You probably tell your customer you'll get it done in 30 minutes, right?

This is actually a very dangerous promise with no upside but a potential downside. It takes 30 minutes, so you won't be able to do it sooner and exceed expectations. It might take you 30 minutes exactly, in which case you've simply met your customer's expectations. Even worse, something unexpected might come up and you end up needing an hour to get back to the customer. Yikes!

A better approach is to set expectations that provide you with some wiggle room while still being acceptable to your customer. If you agree to get back to your customer in an hour, you now have a potential upside while limiting the possibility of falling short of expectations. Getting back to the customer after 30 minutes will exceed their expectations. If something comes up and it takes you an hour, you've simply met your customer's expectations and nobody is upset.

Remember the platinum rule

Gold used to be the king of precious metals, and 'the Golden Rule' of customer service was a popular reminder. "Treat customers the way you want to be treated," seemed like great advice.

Today, platinum has taken the top spot on the list of coveted metals, and the 'Platinum Rule' has replaced the golden rule as sage customer service advice.

Platinum Rule: Treat customers the way they want to be treated.

The key to applying the Platinum Rule is to avoid making assumptions about the way customers like to be served. Find out what's most important to each individual and then strive to deliver that type of service.

Master the art of handwritten notes

Handwritten notes can make a huge impression. Customers appreciate them as a thank you for their business because it's personal and the sender obviously put a little bit of thought into it. Most of us default to the convenience of an email or a form letter, but there are a few simple steps you can take to make note writing almost as easy.

  1. Keep a box of note cards handy. This way you can write the note as soon as something good happens.
  2. Be brief, but descriptive. A good note is only a few sentences long. Just make sure you use those sentences to describe why you appreciate your customer.
  3. Deliver the letter the sooner the better. Speed is good.

I send out at least one handwritten note per week. I've often seen them on a client's desk weeks after I sent it. I bet my competitor's email was simply read and filed!

VIP treatment for everyone

You can make every customer feel like he or she is getting the VIP treatment by pointing out something you are doing just for them.

Here's an example:

I was on a business trip and checking into the hotel after a long day of travel. Chris, the front desk associate, welcomed me with a warm smile and proceeded to check me in. He appeared to be looking at several room choices on his computer while he said to me, "I want to make sure we put you in a really good room." After a few seconds he said, "Here's a good one!" and finished the check-in process.

When I got to the room I was blown away. It was a very nice, two-room suite!! Now, that's VIP treatment. It was only later that I learned that all the hotel's rooms were two-room suites. I didn't even care because Chris made me feel great.

A few months later I returned to the hotel on another trip. Chris was working behind the counter again and I got in his line even though the line for another associate was shorter. Chris went through the same routine of trying to find a great room just for me. I was on to him this time, but I didn't mind. I still felt like a VIP.