The Lagniappe Principle
Have you ever taken an airline flight where they plunk the tray of food in front of you, you check your briefcase for the Alka-Seltzer, and when you confirm your supply, cautiously dip your fork in, only to exclaim to yourself: “Hey, this stuff isn’t half bad!” Would the meal score five stars from Zagat’s? Hardly. But when you expect, well, “airline” quality food, you react favorably when the chow exceeds your expectations.
Here’s another example. You’ve just bought an electronic toy (a computer, VCR, camcorder) and you need to call the manufacturer’s customer hot line for help. You’ve seen these customer service hot lines in action before. In fact you watched one day when your Aunt Nell’s body temperature slowly sank to 78 degrees as she went into a catatonic state while on hold listening to the elevator music. You feel your body stiffening up as you prepare to play the infinite number punch game with a recorded computerized voice.
In short, we have been programmed to expect less than excellent service even with all the fancy book titles shouting The Nordstrom Way and Customers For Life.
Here lies an enormous opportunity. Your customers may not be expecting much from salespeople in your field because they have grown accustomed to, and have learned to accept, mediocre service as a way of life. To position yourself as something special, and win by that Golden Millimeter we spoke of earlier, begin to use the Lagniappe Principle.
What’s A Lagniappe?
My step-son Brian was once the best in the business when it came to detailing cars — not to be confused with de-tailing certain breeds of dogs! Detailing is when you clean the vehicle from front to back, from top to bottom. You clean in places you never knew existed and make the car look and smell showroom new.
Shortly after completing one of his $70 jobs (detailing when properly executed takes about seven hours and is worth every penny of the price) I approached, examined the car and asked if he thought his work was completed to his satisfaction. He smiled at his latest example of fine-tune cleanliness and beamed with satisfaction. He told me he had just completed the finishing touches. Yes. He was done.
I applauded his meticulous work before I threw him a bit of a curve ball. “What are you planning on doing next for your customer?” I asked. He didn’t
know what I was talking about. He repeated that he had just finished. I said, “I know you’re finished, so what are you going to do now?”
Performing the service as advertised should be expected. Quality should be a given. What you do after you have completed the job, that little something extra, is what will favorably position you in your customer’s mind. That was the message I was trying to get across to my step-son . . . the need to “blow his customers away” if he wanted to own their business for the rest of his detailing career.
In Scotland, the term for delivering something extra is Lagniappe (pronounced “lan yap”). It is the cherry on the top of the sundae.
“After completing another first-rate job, what else can I do for my customer to insure that I have an uncluttered corner reserved in his memory?”
I remember reading about a car dealership which placed a picnic basket filed with fruit in the trunk of all new cars sold, only to reveal the gift during the walk- around after the deal had been consummated and all the customer’s paperwork was signed and completed. This gesture always caught the buyer by surprise . . . and created a customer loyalty which significantly enhanced repeat business.
Your lagniappe doesn’t have to be expensive. A few ideas that come to mind (depending on your industry) are:
- car wash coupons • free drink coupons on airline flights • small plants or flowers • a box of candy • a meaningful “thank you” card • an electronic toy (there are millions of these in catalogues nowadays
- tickets to a small, inexpensive event for your clients to attend with their children
- copies of a great new book which hasn’t made the NY Times Best Seller list but is sure to help your client Become The Exception. (Do I have no shame?)
A little creativity is all it takes. Why not brainstorm this one with your troops on a Friday afternoon. A New York Travel Agency came up with the idea of giving to customers a few foreign coins apropos to the country being visited — enough to pay for a luggage cart at the foreign destination.
A Constructive Addiction
Here is a corollary to the Lagniappe Principle: Get into the lagniappe habit. At the risk of sounding like a tree hugging, social psychology degree lugging remnant of Woodstock, I respectfully suggest:
Make it your business to do something unexpectedly nice for a stranger once a day.
Not long ago I was dressed in business attire and walking to my car from the train station after a meeting in New York. Two men were digging up the sidewalk. As I detoured into the street, I caught the attention of one of the men and said “Hey fellas!” He returned a pleasant greeting and commented on what a pleasant day it was. I began to focus on what just happened. Two men laboring hard with shovels in the dirt, and me, Mr. Clean, sashaying down the avenue in wool tweed and highly polished wing tips, holding a nappy brief case filled with some very important “stuff.”
Upon reaching my car, I shifted into gear and headed for Dunkin Donuts to pick up a small cup of Jo. I bought two extra cups of coffee and returned to the scene of the sidewalk demolition. I pulled up to the digging duo and reached out of the car window and said, “I hate to drink alone. I thought you guys might enjoy a cup of coffee.” By the look on their astonished faces, they were both very appreciative of this small gesture. I must admit, I felt good for doing something nice for two hard working strangers.
Each day practice the Lagniappe Principle on some unsuspecting individual. For example, if you pass a parking meter which has expired, drop a coin in the meter and go on your merry way. If time allows at airports, try to offer a little help to women who are struggling with their bags or men who have bitten off more than they could chew. When you spot a woman pushing a stroller heading for an escalator, ask if you can be of assistance. When passing a couple staring blankly at a map, pause long enough to see if you might be able to point them in the right direction.
People don’t expect unsolicited gestures of kindness today. It is really fun to watch their surprised (and sometimes suspecting) faces. Perhaps of more significance, such acts of kindness always seem to put a little more bounce in your step as you head for the departure gate. Try it the next time an opportunity presents itself. I’m betting that it just may become habit forming.
Put Some Lagniappe In Your Face-To-Face Meetings
While I am suggesting that you always add the Lagniappe Principle to your completed service for your customers, you can carry the concept over to all direct prospect and customer contacts and face-to-face meetings. Here, the “something extra” is not necessarily a material item but rather a “gift” of extraordinary respect. People today, by and large, are not used to receiving special and sincere signs of respect in their personal business dealings. By providing such simple but important signs, you will be winning over prospects and clients in a quiet, yet highly effective way.
Here are a few suggestions intended to “grease your mental skids” that won’t cost you in time or money.
• Answer the phone like you are genuinely pleased to get the call. Sounds basic? It is. But so is a “thank you for your business” note. Become favorably programmed by the buzzer on your phone. Before picking up the receiver, stop and imagine that the caller is either (i) a prospect who has just heard you are the friendliest person in town to work with; or (ii) an existing customer who has reported to his superior that your company is the one to call when it comes to doing the impossible. Answer the phone with enthusiasm before the second ring.
• Call people back promptly (always on the same day). This is easy to do and makes a world of difference in establishing a relationship. You are clearly telling the person that he or she is important to you.
- Stand up and warmly greet any prospect or customer entering your space . . . be it a spacious office, a cubicle or a counter. On the flip side, escort the prospect to the door once your meeting has ended. Better yet, walk out the door with your customer or prospect to the elevator or the parking lot. This clearly indicates that the person is important to you.
- Introduce prospects to the people in your immediate area, office or division. You naturally perform this act of courtesy in your home when a guest arrives at your doorstep. But at the shop, this behavior sometimes becomes unfashionable for some unknown reason. If you make it a point to introduce your fellow workers, a loud and clear message is delivered. “We are proud of our entire organization, and it pleases me immensely to have this opportunity to introduce you to each and every one of our fine staff.”
- Call your customer within a week after your service was delivered to inquire how things went. The key to making this work is to actually be interested in the answer. You’ve probably witnessed a non-sincere rendition of this strategy backfire at restaurants when the waiter or waitress asks, in cyborg style, “How was everything?” (You think, “Do you mean before or after we finally gang tackled you near the bar and got you to bring out these cold, Cajun-style catfish fajitas instead of the grilled chicken we ordered?!”) You can tell the waiter was simply mouthing a company policy his boss mandated after reading a chapter on customer satisfaction in Bon Appetite magazine. Just the other day I encountered a woman behind the counter who said in a monotone, uncaring way, “Thanks for shopping Robots R Us. Come again.” This obviously scripted sign of disinterest was more of a turnoff than if she had said nothing. (I did ever so politely observe that she had a brilliant future waiting for her in the funeral industry!)
There are many other small, seemingly unimportant signs of respect you can practice to capture the attention and loyalty of prospects and customers. Add this to your Friday afternoon Lagniappe brainstorm session.