Lagniappe - The Secret To Customer Excitement

When I was a young boy, I remember working with my father at his butcher stand in the heart of New Orleans, Louisiana. He was neighbors with a dozen other butcher stands -- Dad could reach out and shake hands with his competition. Despite the overwhelming competition, my father was the number one butcher in that retail market because be knew how to turn customer satisfaction into customer excitement. Dad had been in the business so long, he could reach into the meat case and grab exactly one pound of ground meat - except he would always add an ounce or two at no extra charge. He would then hand-wrap the package carefully, hand it to the customer and say, "lagniappe," a Louisiana Creole term meaning "a little extra."

Dad consistently excited every customer who visited his butcher business because he always gave a little more than the competition. I learned from him that we must never give the customers what they expect -- we must give them more than they expect. How can you give the customer a little more than your competitors? How can you develop a loyal clientele who are first to recommend you?

An Apple a Day

The Leo Burnett Company, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world with 55 offices in 49 countries, hasn't let size interfere with good old-fashioned customer service. If you visit the reception area at any of their offices, you'll find a basket of shiny red apples to which customers, employees, clients and suppliers are welcome to help themselves. Offering a piece of fruit during the course of the work day may seem like a small idea, but the effects add up. I spoke with Joe Silberman, public relations associate at Leo Burnett, and he said they gave away 444,000 apples in Chicago alone last year. That adds up to around 1,500 apples a day! Every day 1,500 people leave Leo Burnett feeling satisfied and pampered.

Have you ever thought of serving coffee and cookies in your lobby? Think of customer service ideas that will appeal to many senses. Serving fresh-baked cookies will appeal to your customers' senses of smell and taste -- and bring back nostalgic memories of Mom. Form a customer service committee made up of a team of employees whose mission is to brainstorm for creative ways to service the customer better -- ways that will set your company apart from the competition. Act on the resulting ideas and everyone will end up a winner -- your employees will feel they have contributed to the success of your business and customers will see how much you care.

Thank You Notes

On a recent trip to Alaska, my wife Carol and I decided to visit Nordstrom department store because they have a reputation for excellent customer service. We arrived at the store at 8:15 in the morning but the sign on the door said the store was scheduled to open at 8:30. I was sure the employees inside would pretend not to see us waiting outside in the Alaskan cold because it was not yet opening time. That didn't happen. The manager saw us standing outside and much to my surprise, he opened the door with a warm smile on his face. Upon entering, we were promptly and courteously greeted by several other employees.

Carol purchased a robe in the lingerie department and the salesperson gave her a coupon for a free pair of stockings that could be redeemed in four weeks. Noticeably disappointed, Carol gave the coupon back saying she lived out of town and could not take advantage of the offer. She received a package from Alaska six weeks later containing an elegant pair of free stockings. The attached hand-written note read, "Dear Ms. Bonura: Thank you again for visiting with us at Nordstrom on your recent trip to Alaska. I knew you wouldn't be able to come back to pick up your stockings so I've sent them to you. Please come see us again on your next visit to Alaska." The sales clerk went out of her way to make Carol feel special.

Invest a little effort in writing handwritten notes to customers. I know a local food server who writes thank you's to all her guests. She now has more regular guests than any other server in the restaurant. When you go out of your way to let customers know how thankful you are for their business, they remember you and continue to come back.


A smile says so much about your business. It communicates you enjoy what you do and you are happy the customer has chosen to come to you for help. People are starved for positive attention and you have an opportunity to give them that attention every time you make contact.

The easiest, most cost-efficient way to make customers happy is to smile. If you see customers in person, use your body language to communicate you care. Give direct eye contact and smile sincerely. If you work over the phone, smile anyway because the customer on the other end can hear whether or not you are smiling. Have you ever heard a smile come through the phone line? Your intonation, volume and energy levels become more powerful when you curl up the corners of your mouth. Keep a mirror by your desk for a "smile-check" if you tend to forget.

Personalization or Automation

A friend of mine once told me he was in line at a grocery store watching the cashier abuse customers with her indifference. He was so enraged by her attitude that after the clerk bad checked him out, he indulged his urge to ask, "Well, aren't you going to say 'thank you'?" The clerk immediately pointed to the receipt and replied condescendingly, "Look here at the bottom -- it says THANK YOU."

Unfortunately, with the onslaught of technology, many people view customer service with the same automated attitude. Voice mail systems and computerization are sometimes the only link between the customer and your organization. Although these can be important to your business, put real human beings on the front lines when possible. Have you ever gotten caught in voice mail twilight zone? It's such a relief to know you can press "0" and speak with a person. Automation has its place -- just don't let it take the place of personal customer service.

Worth the Shirt off My Back?

I recently purchased five new dress shirts from an excellent salesperson. I was not only impressed with his sales skills, but the crisp laundered look of his shirt. He gave me the name of his dry cleaner along with his business card, telling me to use his name. The owner wasn't in when I dropped off my shirts so I left my salesperson's business card.

When I picked up my shirts a few days later, one of them had a blue stain on the sleeve. I asked to speak to the owner -- he was out again. The young woman who waited on me said she would let him know about my problem.

Three days later, after hearing nothing from the dry cleaner, I returned to see if they had been able to remove the stain. The owner was out again and the blue spot remained. The young woman said she would talk to the owner again and when I returned, she said the owner would pay for the shirt if I supplied them with a receipt. On my next visit, the young woman said the owner wanted to give me the check personally. He stormed up to the counter, threw the check at me and said, "Here!"

I never inconvenienced him again. He had the golden opportunity to win me over as a lifetime customer by turning a problem into a plus, and threw it away for a $30 cotton shirt. If he had treated me with courtesy, I would have spent thousands at his business.

It All Adds Up to Lagniappe

From my advertising agency experience, I discovered that after we ran an ad, it cost the client $100 or more to get a customer through the front door. Imagine every one of your customers carrying a $100 bill. Each time you forget to personally greet him, each time you won't admit he's right, each time you forget to smile -- each time you tear up a $100 bill. Ouch!

You now have the secret to turning that $100 bill into $1000 bills -- Lagniappe. Each time you greet the customer warmly, each time you admit your mistakes and take steps to correct them, each time you go out of your way to give a little more -- each time you have multiplied the amount of money in the customer's hand. Suddenly the customer has more money to spend and he wants to spend it all at your business. Add a little lagniappe to everything you do and your customers won't just be satisfied -- your customers will be excited! Excited customers return again and again.


About the author

Joe Bonura Bonura Business Development Group, Inc. 12931 W US Highway 42 Prospect, Kentucky 40059 (800) 444-3340 toll free (502) 292-2814 phone
Learn more Customer Service Skills


home| Dream Job | Resume Writing | Job Interview | Communication Skills | Customer Service Skills

Presentation Skills | Leadership Skills | Self Confidence | free ebooks | Contact us | Privacy Policy