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Posted: August 16, 2012

Give a little, get a lot

The value of a little something extra

David Sneed

Remember that time you and the missus pushed back from your meal and the waitress appeared with a dessert “compliments of the chef?” That small unexpected treat changed your perception of the whole meal for the better, didn’t it?

Well how small could the restaurant go and still elicit that feeling you got? What if it was just a tiny dish of vanilla ice cream worth half a dollar?

You know what’s weird? Fifty cents' worth of free sugar milk makes you feel important - especially if you think not everyone gets the royal treatment.

This unexpected treat is an under stressed part of customer service – giving that little bit extra.

Any company can do it. The lawyer presents a final bill with “You know, we usually charge for copies, but I’m not going to nickel-and-dime you” and an elbow nudge.  Joe Customer walks away feeling good about the transaction and his description to friends will be: “the lawyer who didn’t nickel-and-dime me.”

This smacks of manipulation so let me assure you - that’s exactly what it is. But it’s also the back half of what we’ve already discussed, setting expectations. You advertise, and that’s usually manipulative - right? Setting expectations, if done right, is manipulative. Well so is leaving a sweet taste in the customer’s mouth.

But as long as you’ve done what you’ve been paid to do, giving that little bit extra is only the final step in a smart business strategy.

My fence company will haul away those few rotting railroad ties you have lying around. Or we’ll cut down the volunteer elm trees you don’t know what to do with because, frankly, it doesn’t cost us anything and we already have the tools to do the job. Besides, we’re going to the landfill anyway, so what are a few more branches compared to a happy customer?

I could charge you and you’d probably pay, but why? I’m after more than just money, so I’ve decided I’ll trade a few bucks for the good will I get by giving you more than you’re paying for.

How much do those copies actually cost the lawyer, one or two dollars maybe? Let me ask: would you pay a client $1 to speak well of you to his friends? If the answer is yes, wouldn’t it be smart to bend the rules a little and give those copies away gratis “for such a good customer?”

At the Farmer’s Market the guy is loading up my sweet corn and says, “I noticed one was a bit undersized so I gave you a few extra ears.” Guess what? When I get home they could all be undersized but I’m still happy. He was a really nice guy and there’s exactly no chance that I’d complain. In fact, I’ll go to his stall first the next time.

So business owners pay attention: If you want an evangelist, you have to leave a sweet taste in your customer’s mouth - one that won’t come from just a complimentary calendar. Make them feel special by giving them a bonus with a wink. It’s endearing.

David Sneed is the owner of Alpine Fence Company,and the author of" Everyone Has A Boss– The Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company." As a Marine, father, employee and boss, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the benefits of a strong work ethic to entry and mid-level employees. Contact him at

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Readers Respond

Great article, brings to mind a TV commercial I saw as a kid. Can't for the life of me remember what the product was, but it featured a "general store" kind of setting with the owner talking about "Mrs. Smith," one of his best customers, and he'd occasionally put in a "pair of pinking shears" with her order. Now, I don't know how many pairs of pinking shears Mrs. Smith actually needed, but the idea was do something special for your customers now and then. Never forgot that message. By Vicki Felmlee on 2012 08 16
Great post. I really enjoyed this and definitely rings true! By Holly on 2012 08 16
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