How often have you been given extra packets of ketchup at a drive-through, and gone home to find yourself surprisingly pleased whilst you dig through your bag of warm goodies? It’s the same French fries and cold soda that you’ve always enjoyed, but those extra two packets have just made this lunch the best one since your mother sent you turkey and gravy in a Tupperware container. Weird, huh? Something so seemingly irrelevant has just made your experience with this restaurant more enjoyable than you ever thought possible.
Now, imagine the same situation, although this time you delve into your fast-food bag only to find the drive-through attendant failed to provide you with the condiment so critical to the meal. You’re now contemplating either driving back to the restaurant or knocking on your neighbor’s door begging for spare ketchup packets. You see, it’s not really the meal itself that makes you happy. Of course, the meal must taste good. But if two meals both taste relatively similar, for a relatively similar price, it’s the little things that make you loyal to one over the other. You want to do a good job at building customer relationships? Good customer relationships? Start with the little things. Put a smiley face at the end of your signature. It might seem silly, small, stupid, and simple…but you never know who might appreciate it.
This idea holds true across all elements of business. Do the little things – make your customers happy.
In a world filled with barbers dishing out haircuts, the ones who give you a free comb are the ones who last.
There are a few fun, little technical terms called order winners and order qualifiers. that will help to illustrate this point. If you sell umbrellas in Times Square, your product is an order qualifier if it stops the rain from ruining your customers’ expensive haircut. It does the job, and that’s about it. Your product is an order winner if it works well, looks good, costs little, and lasts a long time. It does the job, and so much more. I told you they were fun! The difference between stores that put out “Closed Forever” signs and those that put out "Come In, We're Open!" signs is that the first store qualified to make the sale, the second one won your business. Interestingly, a wonderful example of an order winner comes from a company that is a family favorite on game nights and football Sundays, Dominos.
Domino’s became the first pizzeria in America to offer delivery, giving them a clear, distinct advantage over their competitors. Soon after, other companies followed suit. Today, delivering pizza is no longer an order winner, it is now an order qualifier. Perhaps in today’s pizza industry, an order winner would be something like providing a satisfaction guarantee or serving unbeatable specials on weekends. Which brings up another important point regarding building customer relationships. Just because your claim to fame does the job today does not necessarily mean that it will be a diamond in the rough six months down the road. That is why it is exceedingly important that you continue to evolve your brand, making sure that you do not soon fall behind, becoming a thing of the past.
Pretend for a moment that you wish to open a new automobile dealership. You’ve been playing with matchbox cars since you were three years old, and your father owns a 1955 Cadillac that he lets you practice driving on the weekends, so it only makes sense. Local competition is stiff, but you are confident that you can win customers if you provide them with an experience unmatched by the current dealerships. You go to your main competitor for a little behind-the-scenes, friendly research, and find uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room, an old coffee machine, and a broken air conditioning system making you feel like you are in the basement of an old 19th century brewery. After thirty seconds in the waiting room, you have just figured out how to beat the competition. Comfortable chairs, a state-of-the-art coffee machine, and an air-conditioned showroom for potential clients will make the experience at your dealership seem like seven minutes in heaven when compared with the run-down showroom across the street that seems to be stuck in the sixties. Toss in a play-place for kids to enjoy while their parents browse and a table full of fresh bakery items, and you’ve got yourself a business that is here to stay! Who would have thought that a cup of decaf coffee and a cinnamon babka would put your bright, shiny smile and brand new haircut on the cover of the business section of the local newspaper?
When I first began shipping t-shirts
to customers who had placed online orders, I did what you would expect. I put the t-shirt in an envelope, addressed the envelope, and shipped the package. I didn’t think there was too much to it. The package got there on time, the shirt inside was folded neatly, and I never, or rarely, had a customer complain about the order. However, I then started to think like the customer. How thrilled would I be as I opened my brand new package? The shirt arrived, yes, but that’s what I expected. The shipment certainly qualified, but the show seemed to stop there!
After days of brainstorming some cost-effective transformations that I could apply to my shipping practices, I soon formulated a shipping strategy that would make my bland, drab shipments of yesterday be a distant, painful memory. I wrapped the shirt in brown paper and slapped a sticker on each side of the package. I wrote a note, by hand, personally thanking the customer for supporting the brand. I put in basketball cards, a few stickers, and once in a while, random buttons and pins. Opening up a package from Check Your Six was no longer a boring task of tearing apart an envelope, it was a game of what will come out next! I can honestly say that I have had more customer responses complimenting the added packaging gifts than I have had complimenting order processing time or design quality. For an extra 50 cents per shipment, I was making a lot of people smile
. Furthermore, I was differentiating my brand from the dozens of competitors vying for sales from the very same customers.
On a trip to visit a store in Chicago who carried Check Your Six, I meandered around the shop browsing at shirts and making small talk with the owner. We talked about the brands that they carried, how they priced their items, and what kind of inventory process controls they had that helped manage expenses. After perusing the product selection for a few minutes, I was hit by a realization that seemed to hit me like a sack of pennies. As unique as I consider my brand to be, when it is sitting on a shelf next to twenty-five other brands, it can actually appear quite similar to those I am trying to compete with. I wanted to change that.
I talked to several store owners about several strategies that might be helpful in differentiating my brand from others in the shop, and came up with a perfect solution. In each store that carried Check Your Six
, I created a small display piece that briefly described the brand and its background. Suddenly, the customer was no longer simply purchasing a t-shirt. They were able to get an understanding of what the brand was all about, and hopefully, in one way or another, identify with what we were trying to do. A cheap plastic display board and a single sheet of paper certainly wasn’t much, but it has been incredibly helpful in creating a contrast between my brand and the top competitors.
It is essential to understand that your business won’t get ahead by performing the tasks people expect. A pizza should show up warm, on time, and with green olives and pepperoni meticulously placed atop fresh layers of cheese, just as you ordered. This is something you expect. A warm pizza might be the perfect accompaniment to a late night episode of Seinfeld, but it won’t get you telling your friends the next day how amazing Giovanni’s Pizza is. You do not expect the delivery boy to compliment you on your sweater, and tell you that if you have any complaints with the taste of the pizza you can call his personal number and he will deliver a replacement within the hour.
Little things, big results.
Running your business with a focus on the little things will transform your business from run-of-the-mill to state-of-the-art. It’s the key to building customer relationships – the right kind of customer relationships. Paying attention to the little things day in and day out, and making the act a habit, will help you position your brand as an industry innovator here to stay.
by Matt McManus