June 20, 2012

The Art of the Frugal Wow - How Small Acts Create Big Loyalty

The Art of the Frugal Wow - How Small Acts Create Big Loyalty

One of the big benefits of living in a city is that there are a myriad of options to choose from for almost any product/service you could desire.

One of the fields where there are a huge number of competing offerings is the classic barbershop. With so many to choose from, I still go to the same one, every single time. We all have that "favorite spot" of ours that gets all of our business for a single purchase type, and sometimes it's hard to define just what it is about that business that keeps us coming back (outside of "they do a good job"). Of all the barber shops in my city, I've tried a few, and I've figured out just why I keep coming back to the one I do, and I believe I know why you go back to the places that you return to as well.

Just what are these businesses doing to get us to come back so often?

Simple: they've mastered the art of the "frugal wow".

Today you're going to find out just what that means, and how you can implement it to earn happy customers.

Nobody Raves About “Average”

With some business offerings, it's easier to get people talking simply because the offering itself is unique or "fun". While all businesses strive to be a "fun" experience, there isn't anything particularly trendy about a classic barber shop (this isn't a luxurious hair salon!). So how is a business like this supposed to generate customer discussion, outside of delivering great haircuts?

This is where the art of the "frugal wow" comes in, and it's biggest advantage is that it allows businesses to leave a lasting impact with minimal expense. What if you were able to please a customer so greatly, that this customer went on to constantly discuss your service in their popular talks around the nation? That's exactly what happened when the service that Marriott provided was so excellent, that 6-time Emmy winner & customer service champion Ross Shafer now consistenly includes her story in his talks on customer service management:

With a single act of going "above and beyond", this woman left an impact on somebody that will be shared and talked about for a long time. A business that can bring this type of satisfaction to it's customers in this "frugal wow" manner has the opportunity to build a tremendous amount of goodwill with very little expense.

Let's take another example, this one coming from Fred Reichheld, a Fellow at the management consultancy firm Bain & Company:

One of my favorite examples of this happened at Rackspace, the managed hosting and cloud computing company. An employee on the phone with a customer during a marathon troubleshooting session heard the customer tell someone in the background that they were getting hungry.

As she tells it, "So I put them on hold, and I ordered them a pizza. About 30 minutes later we were still on the phone, and there was a knock on their door. I told them to go answer it because it was pizza! They were so excited."


When service seems so passionate and just plain "nice" that you say 'Wow!' to yourself, without having received it, you know a company is on to something good. Speaking of pizza (hope I'm not getting you hungry!), there are a few other great examples of "frugal wows" that appear on Reddit almost every week.

Redditors constantly post pictures about customer service (a good indication of what really pleases people), and one of the running jokes on the site is to make "art" requests on pizza boxes, to see if the pizza place will actually heed the request. Pizza boxes with good responses usually get "upvoted" quite highly, with praises in the comments like, "That's how you keep me coming back, I can get pizza anywhere, but when you make it memorable, I'll buy from you." I have to hand it to the pizza stores too, some of the finished requests are pretty impressive.

It doesn't end there though, "random acts of kindness" from other business mediums are often posted and rewarded, like this one from an auto-body shop which got 1300+ upvotes and hundreds of thousands of views:

Body Shop thank you cardSource: RedditThe thing is, frugal wows aren't dependent on the mobility of smaller startups. Even big companies can win people over! The customer support email below from Zappos is now famous across the web, showing how a little enthusiasm can go a long way to putting a smile on someone's face.

Zappos Customer Support EmailSource: Reddit

How Frugal Wows Earn New Customers

The thing about "wowing" people on the cheap is that because of it's flexible nature in being inexpensive, frugal wows can be used to generate new customers as well. There are plenty of examples of brands going above and beyond to do nice things for prospective customers, but no story resonates with me (and hopefully you) as well as the tale of Sweetgreen, and their simply fantastic way of brightening people's day:

To keep their brand aligned, Sweetgreen likes to hire people who don't necessarily have experience but are super passionate. One of those employees came up with what the company calls "Random Acts of Sweetness."

Sweetgreen's street team randomly hands out gift cards to recognize other people doing good in the community. When it rains, they'll sometimes put a shower cap over bike seats with a gift certificate tucked underneath. They've been known to slip gift cards on car window shields alongside a city-issued ticket to offset the downer of returning to a parking violation.

Again, 'Wow!'

That's a fantastic unique selling proposition if I've ever heard one: not only does Sweetgreen target a unique customer for it's healthy offerings, it's brand of marketing goes hand in hand with the image it's trying to create. While their efforts may seem like a "shot in the dark", the sheer kindness shown is enough to get the psychological effect of reciprocity to play a role in customer's perception of the business. Additionally, Sweetgreen is targeting customers in their ideal area, and the numbers tell a better tale than any speculation could:

Business has grown 300 percent year-over-year since the inception with revenues now reaching $10 to $15 million, and Sweetgreen plans to expand into Philadelphia in 2011.

Even as a marketing guy, it's hard not to love the example of Sweetgreen and just how "sweet" they are in courting new customers.

The Most Important Point

If you notice, there is one underlying theme in both of these forms of "frugal wows": from customer retention to new customer acquisition, there is one thing that you just can't mess up... That "thing" is the importance of personalization.

We've covered a study before on how waiters were able to increase tips by 23% just by using mints, and the researchers found in the study that it wasn't the mints doing the work, it was the personalized aspect of receiving them. Essentially, patrons liked when waiters would come out a second time to check to see if anyone needed an extra mint, and would tip 7% more than when waiters would just bring out two mints right away, and 23% more than when waiters brought out no mints.

It's not the gift that counts, it's making people feel special.

From ordering a pizza on a long support call to drawing a special request on the box, to brightening peoples day with free gift-cards to writing a personal note to a new customer: it doesn't take a large expense to make people feel good about your service. All it takes is a quality offering, and a "random act of sweetness" that shows you really do care about each and every customer.

What My Barbershop Does Right

I know you've been waiting with bated breath to hear just how a barbershop in a small city gets the pleasure of cutting my hair every couple of weeks ;), but unfortunately, they aren't engaging in any sort of marketing magic, they're just using classic "frugal wow" techniques that keep me coming back.

Here are just a few things I noticed about how they conduct business (on my first appointment there):

  1. A great effort is made by the employees (and even the store owner) to learn your name correctly, and I'm greeted by name every time I walk in (people love hearing their own names).
  2. I received a 'free' comb after my first visit (a small gesture, but remember reciprocity plays a role no matter how small the favor is).
  3. They asked for my email at the end of my first haircut, and upon returning home I found a message thanking me for my business (this goes to show that quality service trumps "quick" service).

Overall, customers obviously won't deal with a business that sells faulty widgets, but when you are competing against other businesses that also sell quality offerings (and who doesn't?), the key differential can be a minor gesture to show the customer you value their time and expense at your store.

Over To You

Whew, thanks for making it all the way to the bottom of this post! Now I have a few things you can do, if you'd like...

  • Leave a comment naming an example or two of when a business went above and beyond to make you happy!
  • Tell me how you include (or plan on incorporating) "frugal wows" to win over your customers.
  • As a special thanks for reading the Help Scout blog, feel free to download our free e-Book on 25 Ways to Thank Your Customers, consider it our gift to you!

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you in the comments!


Written by Gregory Ciotti Greg ciotti

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Adam Jun 25

Great stuff Greg! A very thorough post with a great message.

So many businesses, small and large, think that WOWing customers requires heavy capital investment, but there are so many ways to WOW customers that are not expensive and that still make an impression. Frugal WOWs are the perfect way to take consistent service execution to the next level.

Love the Zappos email, btw!

Erin Jun 26

Love this post! Thanks Greg!
Kudos to Zappos.
When my coffee maker was on the brink, Keurig took the time to walk me through a few trouble shooting steps and immediately sent me a whole new coffee maker. Since then, I've bought 2 more as gifts, recommend it frequently, and tell all my relatives/friends that have a Keurig what great service I received. It was definitely a positive ROI for them. Good customer service is like compounding interest - a small investment up front can really pay off in the long run.

Gregory Ciotti Jun 26

@Adam Thanks so much for the kind words, and for stopping by Adam!

I agree 100%, you could say the "ROI of Frugal Wows" is an insane value for all business, and certainly worth the effort to pursue.

Glad you liked the post!

@Erin Thanks for stopping by Erin! :)

Your Keurig example is a perfect illustration of a frugal wow moment in action!

I agree with you on that compounding interest comparison, the rewards for making someone's day even one time can pay back for longer than most would imagine!


A nonny mouse Jun 27

"bated breath"

Nick Francis Jun 29

@a nonny mouse - fixed, thanks! :-)

aelena Jul 2

Thanks for this inspiring piece. It's monday morning here, so getting this inspiration just now is great!

Not so frugal maybe, but my local audi dealer gave me an unexpected 2500€ discount after I had already decided to buy a new car from them.
It was an awesome surprise and I always recommmend them to anybody that will listen...

have a nice day

Hans Jul 16

A secondhand bookdealer always has a cup of coffee (or tea) ready. You can browse through the books while sippung your coffee. Also he will call when he gets something in store and he thinks you're interested.
My comic book dealer knows my taste. She's capable to advise friends and family who come to buy me a present. The result of years of discussions about comic books. She just takes time for her customers.

Zarah Jul 22

this is a really great read. it's hard to find genuine customer service that's personalized, and i feel it's something inherent and cannot be placed there with training. you just got to have it. i'm thinking of the behavior to have it and the closest i can think of is humility. i guess at the core of service is knowing that your sole objective is to make things better. and most of the time, if not all the time, that entails you to get your hands dirty.

Norbert Cardenas Aug 25

I really enjoyed your ideas. As the owner of a new start up it forced me to think creatively rather than using the same old methods.
I have so many animal lovers as customers that I may thank them by sending them mints and their dogs a treat as well. Customers with children may get animal crackers!

scottstucker Oct 11

Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a bit,
but instead of that, this is great blog. A fantastic read.
I will definitely be back.

Eshe Nov 14

Great Read! People will read as long as it takes when it is something good!

I intend to do them all!



Ginny Dec 2

Excellent article. I always remember the people's names who I don't need to know - the admin, the tech support, and others without whose help I couldn't do a successful presentation. I also send random notes when I find something the client has mentioned - horses, surfing, grandchildren, etc. I like them to know that I listen to them.

Georga Mar 7

I just wanted to thank you. This is a great article but in truth all of your articles are. I never feet that I have misused my time by reading your posts. They are as engaging as they are informative. One more reason to love Help Scout!

Leon D'Silva Apr 16

Thanks Guys for the 'Frugal Wow ' ideas. I simply love the simplicity of a humble barbers shop ! that is earning him loyal customers.
Thanks again

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