Why the mint on your pillow matters

Stephen MostromBy Stephen Mostrom

Unless you spend a lot of time in Louisiana, you likely haven’t heard the term “lagniappe.” But this Creole aphorism has the power to transform your business. Defined as “the gift” or “to give more,” lagniappe represents the potential to turn customers into your largest sales force by exceeding expectations.

As Stan Phelps, Founder and Chief Measurement Officer of 9 INCH Marketing and author of What’s Your Purple Goldfish – 12 Ways to Win Customers and Influence Word of Mouth, explained in his talk at the Center of Services Leaderships’ 24th Annual Compete Through Service Symposium, we are coming out of a market economy. The market economy revolved around the exchange – “I give you money, you give me service” – and as long as basic expectations were met, customers would return.  But as competition increases and customer expectations shift, it is no longer enough for a company to provide adequate service. To stand out, you have to over-deliver.

Welcome to what Stan calls the goldfish economy. The goldfish economy is defined by exceeding expectations in small, but powerful ways. And therein lies differentiation. If asked, we each can produce countless stories of service failures, but stories of service success are harder to come by. It is this rarity that impacts a customer – it is this rarity that turns a customer into an advocate.

Stan began his talk by telling a powerful story of a young man who had a dying grandmother. The young man visited his grandmother in the hospital, and she asked if he would do something for her. She asked if he would get her a cup of clam chowder – not the miserable stuff from the hospital cafeteria, but a cup from Panera Bread.

The problem was Panera Bread only serves clam chowder one day each week. Not wanting to disappoint his grandmother, the young man placed a call to Panera – and they told him to drive over. A cup of soup would be waiting for him upon arrival. After enjoying soup with his grandmother, the young man went to Facebook to announce his appreciation, and his post went viral. It garnered over 800,000 views and thousands of comments. Do you think a few of those thousands went to Panera Bread after reading the post? Do you think they told their friends? I’m sure of it.

How do you exceed customer expectations?

Stan outlined two ways to exceed customer expectations: maintenance and value.

Maintenance – how can you make your service more convenient for the customer, or make them feel appreciated? For example, the CEO of retailer Mitchell’s writes thousands of hand-written thank you notes each year to customers expressing his gratitude for their patronage.

Value – what are the little benefits you can add to your service? For example, during the early days of Disney, Walt Disney decided, against the recommendations of his accountants, to develop the Disney Parade. “But they are already inside the park,” the accountants said. But it didn’t matter to Walt – he had a dedication to the customer experience.

But your company already exceeds expectations?

No company aims to barely scrape by, only delivering the minimum. Yet, customers continually perceive good service as a holy grail – often talked about, but rarely seen. According to surveys, up to 80% of executives believe their company provides superior service, whereas only 8% of customers believe the same. The difference is perception. To quote the keynote speaker, “You can’t read the label when you are inside the jar.”

Ok, companies need to exceed expectations, but how does this impact you upon return to the office tomorrow?

In two ways.

First, in order to overcome the gap between executive perception and customer perception, you have to be in a constant state of renewal. Stan’s renewal method comes in three parts: 1) Discover, 2) Design, and 3) Deploy.

Second, in order to successfully exceed customer expectations, you have to embrace the fact that every customer is different, and that true lagniappe comes from all levels of the business – from the soup-ladlers to the CEOs. Standout employees can do the little things that leave an impression, but if you want over-delivering to become a core competency of your company, the principle must be baked into your culture and employees must feel empowered to go the extra mile for the customer.

So as you return to the office, take a minute to consider how you and your employees can add that little extra something – that mint on the pillow – to the customer experience. And for hints, check out Stan’s book.

Stephen Mostrom is a JD/MBA candidate at Arizona State University. His interests, like his degree choices, are eclectic and include yoga, life hacks, and the Green Bay Packers. Upon graduation, Stephen hopes to land a position consulting, where he can continue his lifelong pursuit of knowledge.

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