Giving Little Unexpected Extras

Gregory Ciotti | March 12, 2014

Most discussions about customer loyalty tend to revolve around what a company can do to make customers "stick"—that is, keep them around by keeping them happy.

"As marketing gets more and more expensive, it turns out that caring for people is a useful shortcut to trust, which leads to all the other things that a growing organization seeks."— Seth Godin

We like to think that GLUE, or “giving little unexpected extras,” is one of the few surefire ways to achieve this sticky loyalty that so many businesses yearn for.

It's a great mindset because it embodies what truly great customer service is all about: the details and random acts of kindness that help customers walk away happy with your product or service.

Here are a few ways GLUE can be put into practice.

Give Extra Personality

"People buy personalities and ideas much more quickly than they buy merchandise."— Napoleon Hill

Are you selling customers on your personality?

One example that is impossible not to love comes from Nuts.com, a team favorite here at Help Scout.

Each interaction with the company is something to look forward to. You'll never feel like just a number, despite their wide base of customers.

Much of this is accomplished through just a touch of personality and the use of the customer service tone. Head to their About Us page and you'll get a peek at just who helps run this family business.

Order from them and you'll get emails like this:

It’s a refreshing change from the typical all-caps mess that we're all used to seeing from ecommerce orders. (“YOUR ORDER IS PROCESSED”—does anyone else read that like you're getting yelled at by an angry robot?)

A small change to be sure, but the fact that someone immediately recalled and recommended these two emails as examples is proof of how memorable they were.

Email is still the medium where small changes like this have their largest impact. Another example that I loved coming from the bootstrapped SaaS industry is from a post called A Followup Email that Actually Works.

Written by Momoko Price, a customer of Planscope, it highlights how and why the followup email Price received made her do a double-take. In stark contrast to most of the software she's signed up for, Price absolutely loved founder Brennan's welcoming message:

"What really struck me about Brennan’s email was the amount of social consideration he put into it — a level of let-me-put-myself-in-your-shoes thoughtfulness that, incredibly, turned what could have been a stale, repellent sales tactic into a fresh, delightful one."

I've seen similar write-ups for Brennan's emails. It’s a sterling example of just a little extra personality that creates a meaningful impression with customers.

Of course, personality shines through in a lot of ways, so don't restrict yourself to email alone.

This next example is so good it's actually a bit intimidating—nobody does product updates/feature announcements like our friends at Wistia, but their introduction for Romulus, their HTML5 player, was almost too good:

The fact that a product update received nearly 100 raving comments is no surprise when it's pulled off that well.

Last but not least, that bit of extra personality is where things like branding really come into play.

In fact, I'd argue that the personality of your brand is the only thing you have direct control over.

After all, your brand, like your reputation, is what other people think of you, not what you think of you. The New Yorker has argued that brand names—outside of luxury goods—matter very little to consumers in a day where they can instantly get information on the quality of your latest product.

You are obviously responsible for quality control, but personality is that one thing you have left when it comes to pure branding. Better make use of it!

In an earlier post we covered an example from Zapier. Their brand, or what people say about them, has a whole lot to do with the usefulness and consistency of their product (check it out, it's awesome!). But their personality has everything to do with what they project, such as the superhero motif on the homepage:

Let your customers speak for your brand, but you control the outcome of your company's perceived personality.

Give Little Surprises

With a shelf full of books on human behavior, I'm no stranger to the concept of reciprocity—yet to this day, I'm still amazed at what an impact a little surprise reciprocity can have.

Remember when you were a kid and you were just as happy making a fort out of the box the present came in as you were with the actual gift itself? Small things really do matter, even if you don't have time for box forts anymore.

Speaking of boxes, I recently decided to order a watch from NFNT. I'm strangely interested in weird watches, so a bamboo watch was a necessity in my book (feel free to judge).

Just like those days way back when, I really enjoyed the box. I thought it was quite creative for the watch to be shipped in a tiny wooden crate with a "Beware of Panda" label stamped on the side:

I was interested in finding other examples of creative packaging, but Creative Guerrilla Marketing did most of the heavy lifting for me. Here are some of my favorite examples:

Well played, Nike, sending out Air Maxes wrapped in nothing but, well . . . air.

TeaPee (conceptual design) packages would play off of the name, arriving in small cardboard tee-pees.

Scanwood has won awards for their packaging, but this one is definitely a fan favorite.

These headphones are obviously playing off the use of musical notes. Very eye catching.

Nuts.com, who we discussed above, makes use of a little surprise in a different way—by utilizing the classic free sample. Since you're likely ordering something you already enjoy from their site (yogurt almonds . . . mmm) they look at retention in a different way.

They'd rather send you a sample of something you haven't ordered, in order to encourage repeat purchases and possibly a larger order. Here's the type of sample you might receive from the Nuts.com crew:

Before you know it, your next order will contain Goji berries or some other delicious mix from the site, all thanks to a small extra sample.

Of course, surprises are far from limited to the ecommerce space.

Brennan Dunn gets another nod here for his incredibly smart use of a surprise "How are things?" email, which he uses for budding Planscope customers. If you're in SaaS, this idea from Brennan is one you should definitely try:

"Another behavior email you could add to the mix: reach out the first time someone "kicks ass" with your product. In Planscope's case, when you close your first estimate or pass a certain billing amount, an automated congratulatory email (from me) goes out. My goal here is to... gently remind them that Planscope had a role in making them more money, and these emails have been *crazy* effective." Brennan Dunn

And of course, there's always the tried-and-true thank you note. Far from going out of style, in the digital age a handwritten note actually attracts more attention.

Always remember that lasting impressions are made when customers least expect them to happen.

Give Extra Attention

Take a look at any shining example of great service and it almost always boils down to paying close attention to what the customer needs, evaluating the request, and going the extra mile to make it happen.

We've covered many such examples:

...and there are countless others. But this next exchange stands out for having many great parts of an ideal customer service exchange all rolled into one.

Here's what happened: the interface for a game called Grimrock didn't have any clickable arrows. A customer asked the development team if these might be added, as he was disabled and found it easier to use them via his mouth stick.

Within a day, someone got back to him for more feedback, listened to his reasoning, and updated the game to include the requested feature. The customer was perfectly civil, the company was responsive and inquisitive, and last but not least, they were able to give the customer what he wanted! Just an overall great outcome.

Creating a great product means saying no to the vast majority of feature requests, but it was nice to see the Grimrock team value the opinion of a customer in the minority and go out of their way to make the customer happy. Small changes in software are rarely small, yet it's great to see a team make at least one customer incredibly grateful.

On another note, there's also the matter of how a company handles a misstep.

I'm always keen to watch how companies react when something doesn't happen as planned.

In this next example from MaxCDN, I actually found myself on the receiving end of some pretty stellar customer service. I'm a longtime customer, and I also use their referral program when I mention them on my personal site. Recently, there was a small glitch where I wasn’t receiving referral credits when anyone I referred to MaxCDN paid via PayPal. Here was the team's response:

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The response was so prompt I didn't even know there was a problem. To top it off, I received a bonus credit to my account, and for what? Being on the receiving end of great service, apparently. I really admire how the team handled this.


About the author: Gregory Ciotti is on the marketing team at Help Scout, the invisible help desk software. Learn how Help Scout takes the headache out of email support.