Time to Startup!

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Surprises! Your Customers Don't Like Them Either

Published on Jul 20, 2010


Read 'Surprises! Your Customers Don't Like Them Either' at 'Time to Start Up,' the small business blog by BizFilings.
jakeI was recently speaking to a class of entrepreneurs who were preparing to start their first business. It was an open discussion about customer service, and I was the guest speaker. We were brainstorming about ways to build customer loyalty. The idea was put forward that they should seek to surprise the customer "in a good way." The thinking is common among new business owners. It is a dangerous strategy and all too often has the opposite effect. Here is why it is hard to surprise a customer "in a good way."
  • Trust. Your customers come to you because they trust you. The fundamental basis for that trust is that you and your product are reliable. Or to put it another way, they trust you because you are predictable. Nobody wants a $20 steak at McDonalds. It doesn't matter which McDonalds you go to, the food always tastes exactly the same. As soon as you try to surprise your customer, you are eroding his or her trust in you and your product. Instead, build trust by increasing anticipation. Send your customer a note that a gift is coming. Not only is this one more promise delivered, most times the pleasure of anticipation will be what your customer really remembers.
  • We could do better if we wanted to. Think about it. Your loyal customers haveĀ been regular purchasers of your product. Then one day you decide to reward them for all their loyalty. You deliver a product that is twice as good as what they have been getting for the same price. And then you tell them that next month you will go back to delivering the same old product. What does that really tell your customers about how you value them? It may come across to them that you could do a better job every month if you really wanted to - rather than show your appreciation with something unrelated to your product.
  • Unearned praise. Have you ever had the experience of being publicly applauded for something you did not do? If you have not, you can imagine how embarrassing and disconcerting such an experience would be. When you surprise your customers, especially in front of their peers or employees, you may be recreating that experience. I know someone who walked away from a slot machine payout because the flashing lights and alarm brought too much attention. Most people do not like attention they do not think they have earned. Instead, make sure your customers know why they are being appreciated.
  • Diminishing returns and cost. If you really want to surprise your clients, it makes sense to make it big. I am not talking about a "new car big," I am talking about a "gift basket big." But what about next time you want to surprise them? You end up going bigger. After awhile, your customers beging to see the surprise as a perk - something they expect. Congratulations, you have just created a very expensive rewards program. A rewards program should be logical, documented and most importantly, budgeted.
Your customers deserve appreciation and a properly designed appreciation program that can build a loyal customer base. Make sure that your appreciation has the desired effect. There are great ways to keep the WOW factor. Even an annual drawing for a cruise can excite your customers as long as it does not surprise or embarrass them. Take a minute to share in the comments section as to how your vendors have successfully or not so successfully showed you their appreciation for your business. About the author Jake Hayes is a small business fanatic. He is the founder of Enterprise Launch, a development group for small and emerging business owners. In 2007 he started InSource Executives, a business advisory company and is a business advisor and professional speaker. He can be contacted at Jake@EnterpriseLaunch.com. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JakeWHayes and www.twitter.com/LaunchUSA.