Think About Surprising Your Customers Every Day of the Year

The holiday season provokes companies to put on their thinking caps: How can we surprise and show gratitude to our customers? Yes, an important part of the holiday season is surprising customers and demonstrating appreciation for their business, but that practice should be the standard all year long.

Customer satisfaction is just the minimum; loyal customer relationships are built around surprise and delight. Customers crave human interactions that leave them feeling special, and nothing conveys specialness better than surprise. By one estimate, adding some degree of surprise to any experience intensifies that experience by 400 percent. When something nice is delivered as a surprise, it's four times as memorable and exciting as the same thing minus the surprise. Consider that whatever you can do for your customers, you can make four times as much impact by adding the element of surprise.

Surprise and delight rank high among the most effective marketing tools because they speak to some very basic truths about human nature. Studies by neuroscientists suggest that human brains are designed to crave the unexpected. Surprises introduce us to new stimuli, and new stimuli encourage learning, which can result in customers being more receptive to buying new products, upgrading service, and more.

Here are my suggestions for surprising customers every day of the year:

Send handwritten thank you notes or greeting cards.

Contact center associates speak to more customers than any other department. The reps not only speak, they listen too. They hear about happy customer experiences like weddings, graduations, new babies, moving into a new home, promotions, etc., and sometimes sad customer stories about a loved one being in poor health or even passing. When associates properly engage with customers, they hear what's going on in their lives, which could be totally unrelated to their reason for the contact. When associates take the time to send a customer a note or card, it can make a dramatic impact and put a smile on any customer's face.

Educate your customers.

Send customers a link to a how-to video or a landing page on your website that provides additional and useful information. People like to learn new things. Have your department develop a list of videos, reports, infographics, etc., that help educate customers. Customers will be appreciative and remember.

Feature customers in newsletters.

Everyone likes to be recognized. It's human nature. When customers relate how long they have been a loyal customer and perhaps the unique or innovative ways in which they use your products or services, ask them if they would like to be featured in one of your company's periodic newsletters. When they show the article to their friends and family, it will make your company look especially good.

Send good customers a free goodie or a surprise gift.

Recently, a friend told me about a company that sent a small package of chocolate mints to a customer who had experienced an issue with it. The customer was expecting reimbursement, which was received. But, the chocolates were the icing on the cake.

Make a donation to a charity.

Offer to make a donation to a charity of the customer's choice. It could be a small amount, but when the charity receives the money and sends the customer a thank you, the customer will continue to thank you every day.

Invite customers to a meet and greet or special event.

My wife frequently shopped at one store and one day she was invited to attend a book signing by the company founder. She not only got to meet the author and company representatives, but made some new friends as well. For companies with national customers, think of events you can do regionally to touch your customers.

Send a discount coupon or a free upgrade.

Sending an unexpected upgrade for a new technology product or an extra discount for your service is also a nice way to show appreciation. But you should try to time the reward with the transaction's anniversary date; it could be a month, three months, or a year. People appreciate the awards, but if they are tied into a specific reason or date, the surprise will have even more meaning.

Reward your social media fans.

Many companies offer customers rewards for visiting their Facebook pages or sending out a retweet about their interaction with the contact center. Encourage customers to engage with your social media platforms. It will make them feel special.

Ask customers for their opinions.

This works well in any business, and not only will the customer be surprised that you want to know what he thinks, your organization will be surprised with the number of great ideas.

Be aware.

Before you decide to deliver a surprise, also consider the risk. It could be that the surprise is unpleasant and unwanted. In other words, do your homework. Lands End, the clothing retailer, once partnered with the publisher of GQ magazine and sent complimentary copies of the magazine to its male customers (female Lands End customers had received copies of Glamour or Vogue in the past). Unfortunately, the magazine that month featured a scantily clad image of the model Emily Ratajkowski. Lands End executives apologized profusely and announced that in the future they would send out issues of Condé Nast Traveler, which would have been the safer choice from the start.

The holiday season is traditionally a time to give presents, extend appreciation, and make people feel special. Thinking of ways to surprise customers every day of the year will not only make customers delighted, the contact center associate who delivers the reward will feel fulfilled as well. Try it! You and your company will be pleasantly surprised!

Happy holidays!

Richard Shapiro is president and founder of the Center for Client Retention.