When it comes to effective customer service, small changes can have a big impact.

One of the most critical periods of the process is the follow-up after purchase: making your customer feel like they've made the right choice as soon as they've bought from you goes a long way to developing your relationship with them.

In this regard, we have a lot to learn from a service position that you might not expect: waiters and waitresses.

Not only do they interact directly with the customer, research has found that their "follow up" (post purchase) actions can greatly effect the customer's perception of their service, and accordingly, the tip that they leave them.

The Power of ... Mints?

Of all the things that waiters/waitresses (henceforth just referred to as "waiters") could do to increase tips, how important would you place "giving mints" in terms of effectiveness?

It turns out, you and I probably greatly underestimated the psychological process behind mint-giving, as the way (and amount) in which mints were given was shown to increase tip amount by up to 23%!

In a study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, researchers tested the effects that mints had against a control group (where no mints were given) in order to measure their effectiveness in increasing tips.

The results were surprising to say the least.

  • The first group studied had waiters giving mints along with the check, making no mention of the mints themselves. This increased tips by around 3% against the control group.

  • The second group had waiters bring out two mints by hand (separate from the check), and they mentioned them to the table (ie, "Would anyone like some mints before they leave?"). This saw tips increase by about 14% against the control group.

  • The last group had waiters bring out the check first along with a few mints. A short time afterward, the waiter came back with another set of mints, and let customers know that they had brought out more mints, in case they wanted another.

This last test was where waiters saw a 21% increase in tips versus the control group.

At first glance, the last two groups seem very similar: two mints (per-person) were brought out, and the waiter mentioned them.

So, what was different?

Personalization is Powerful

In the last test, the only difference was that the waiter brought out the second set of mints after some time had passed, and mentioned that they had done so in case the table would like some more.

Researchers concluded that this "personalization" aspect (even if the waiter did this for every customer) was what set off the increased tips.

This follow up post-purchase with the seeming genuine concern for the customer ("I thought you might like more mints...") connected with customers much more than the additional pieces of chocolate mints would imply.

This is good to know, because it means that it's applicable to businesses outside of restaurants (not all of us can send over bonus mints with each purchase! :))

It was the surprise and the perception of the waiter's willingness to "follow up" post purchase that made customers so happy.

So, how can your business utilize this knowledge?

From Buyers to Brand Supporters

First impressions go a long way, from the first time customers hit your webpage (or even your brick & mortar store) to the first time they buy something from you, your initial impression counts for a whole lot.

That first purchase is especially critical, and the process of creating supporters out of customers doesn't just end with making a great product.

Given what we know about the power of following up, what can online businesses do to create a similar kind of customer satisfaction that waiters were able to do with mere mints?

Obviously that follow up freebie (chocolate mint or otherwise) works very well, but what kind of follow-up can be offered?

Some of my favorite examples from past experience include the following:

  1. Free product training and support (includes things like access to a private forum)
  2. Free widget or guide that is product related (and not mentioned on the sales page)
  3. First time buyer bonus (can literally be anything semi-related)

The thing to takeaway here is that it doesn't necessarily have to be a grand gift: mints were responsible for a large tip increase, even after the customer just received a bill for the meal.

The "nicer" the gift, the better, but just like mints, the goal here is to leave people on a high note, confirming their purchase as the right decision.

If a simple mint can do this for customers who just paid for a full meal, you can definitely offer some value for free post-purchase, no matter what you're selling.

Don't miss our free resource consisting of 75 customer service facts, quotes, and statistics? Consider it our free mint to you! ;).

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Gregory Ciotti

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