Every time I travel to Boston, I stay in the same hotel. It's not fancy and the location isn't great, but they know how to wow a customer. The way that I’m treated when I go there has always left an impression on me.
The first time I stayed there, I arrived in the dead of winter. My face was chapped, and my hands were raw as I checked in.
Ten minutes after I got to my room, guest services showed up at my door with some cookies and hot chocolate. They also let me know that if I needed anything — phone charger, blow dryer, earplugs, toothpaste, Tylenol — all I had to do was reach out and they'd supply it for me. I tested this theory, and every time they delivered.
It blew me away.
Hotels are a dime a dozen. I could probably find a cheaper hotel within a five-minute walk from the one I always stay in, so it's not about price or convenience. It's the small things, the minor details and almost invisible touches, that keep me coming back.
What seems insignificant and probably didn't cost a lot to execute has had a meaningful impact on my perception of the business — and since I've stayed at this hotel many times, I'd say these small gestures have had a tremendous return on investment.
Why wow your customers?
Wowing your customers creates deeper loyalty and delight and promotes meaningful usage for years to come. In my case, the hotel staff had other things they could be doing besides baking cookies. They have rooms to keep clean, bookings to manage, and other, more pressing things that need to get taken care of.
That said, they cared enough to go out of their way to make my experience excellent. They wanted to wow me and show me they cared.
Similarly, your support department’s main job probably isn’t sending out free swag to new or valuable customers. If you asked them, they'd say their job was to support customers and to keep them as happy as possible while doing so.
But your support team should deliver delightful experiences just as often as the hotel staff does. The long echoed sentiment that "it's the thought that counts" comes to mind. Is it their job to send out swag? No. But would the customer be delighted to know that your team was thinking of them? Yes.
In creating reciprocity and positive feelings in other people, it is the thought that counts.
Psychologist Norbert Schwarz first made this apparent years ago in his famous "dime experiment," in which found that as little as 10 cents could have a meaningful impact on one's attitude. According to Schwarz: "It's not the value of what you find. It's that something positive happened to you."
One important thing to note about the experiment and Schwarz's conclusions on small, joyous moments and an improved mood is that surprise is a crucial component. In customer service, "surprise reciprocity" is the name of the game. Figure out what customers don't expect, and then do it.
How to wow your customers
You don't need to break the bank to create meaningful experiences. After all, my personal experience and the dime experiment show that something as small as a dime or a cookie can have a considerable impact.
To wow your customers, all you need is the drive to do so. Here are a few ways to put that drive to work.
1. Stick to your word
When you promise something to a customer, make sure that you can keep your word. Sticking to your word isn't just about under-promising and over-delivering; it's about making sure that everyone in your company knows your promises and is committed to achieving them:
Customer-facing teams should be on the same page with customer expectations.
Your CRM should be up to date on customer information.
Your product team must stay on track with their timelines.
The first step to wowing your customer by keeping your word is to set appropriate and clear expectations. Your customer should know what they are going to receive, when they will receive it, and what it will take on their part to do so.
For instance, in a restaurant, your waiter typically sets your expectations for the timeline ("I'll be back to take your order in just a few minutes"), returns to take your order and then brings your food, and the menu tells you how much money you will spend.
If any of those things don’t happen — if your waiter never comes to your table or the menu doesn’t have accurate pricing — you might be confused or frustrated. The same thing goes for any other product or software.
State your promises to your customers and make sure that everyone is on board internally so no balls get dropped.
2. Give them more than they expect
For the most part, humans love small surprises. We're not talking fireworks and a trip to Cancun, but offering a discount or a small gift card can really wow your customers.
If you are a business with a physical product, one of the best ways to do this is to include a smaller product for free with the product they ordered.
For other businesses, offering an extra might look like sending out a free ebook, a coupon for a free consultation, or a meeting as a coach or consultant. These things cost relatively little for a business but go a long way with customers.
3. Respond quickly
In a recent study by Forrester, 45% of consumers reported that they would abandon a purchase if their questions weren't addressed by the company quickly. So, if you respond slowly, not only are you not wowing your customers, but you're actively losing them.
Quickness is relative, of course. A slow response via chat might still seem super speedy via email. Analyze your answers' speed for each channel and set a goal based on where you are currently.
For instance, you may already have a fantastic chat response time, but your phone resolution times look rough. By understanding how you're presently doing across channels, you'll know where to focus on getting the most wow for your work.
4. Make things easy
It used to be that it took over 25 steps to order a pizza from Domino's. Then, they realized that the best way to earn customers was to make things easy. They revamped their website, shortened their ordering processes, and even made integrations with tools like Google Home and Alexa to make it even easier to order.
Customers were excited about it! The company's conversion rates shot through the roof, and they've continued to be able to put that revenue into making the experience even easier.
There are tons of pizza places to order from, but Domino's won over the competition by wowing their customers with ease of use.
5. Get to know them
It feels good for your customers to be known and understood. Beyond that, getting to know them can better position your products to meet their needs.
By taking the time to get to know your customers, you build rapport and trust. You learn about their interests and what they care about when it comes to business. You can then use that to custom design their experience to wow them.
Knowing a customer means that you'll also know all of their pain points and what you can recommend to address them. If you come from a place of service and help them resolve all of their problem areas in one fell swoop, you'll earn a customer for life.
With additional information about your customers and their journey, you can also be more proactive with your sales and support outreach. When you reach out before the customer even realizes they need help, it feels like magic.
6. Empower your agents
One of the founders of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company said that the company's employees "have total power, and all the resources of our organization, to create these moments, these stories, on their own, without needing to ask permission, without needing to involve management, without needing to worry that they're going too far. The time spent creating these stories isn't time taken out of their job; this time spent is their job."
As you probably know, the Ritz is royalty when it comes to customer loyalty, and it's because they empower their team members to wow their customers daily.
Let your agents be the arbiters of their destiny. They should be allowed to determine things like refunds and policies and have permission to bend or break the rules every once in a while.
Not every interaction is going to be by the book. You will run into situations where your team just won't be able to find the right answer.
Instead of making the customer wait until your team member can ask permission, give them permission to solve the issue right then and there in the way that they think is best.
7. Do regular check-ins for no reason
It doesn't take much to reach out when someone crosses your mind. Encourage your agents and customer success managers to reach out to customers that they’re thinking about and just check in.
You can set the expectation that you don't want anything from the customer and that your company genuinely cares. Consider creating a budget to send "just because" gifts. Keep the focus entirely on the customer — don't use it as an opportunity to upsell or talk about your newest feature.
8. Express gratitude
Thank the customer as often as you can: at the start of emails, at the end of emails, just because. In particular, if a customer leaves a positive review, that’s a great reason to say thank you, and it’s a great opportunity to build an even deeper relationship.
Consider it from the customer's perspective: They don't expect you to reach out after they leave a review, so do the unexpected.
9. Treat all of your users the same
Many companies tier support — trial or free users can get support via communities or forums, and paid customers get help from an "actual" support team, sometimes via email, but also over chat or phone.
Can you imagine how much it wows customers when that's not the case? It's a delight to come to a support experience expecting a pretty low bar and getting preferential treatment instead.
Buffer is an excellent example of this: They offer support, no matter what the tier. And, despite what you might think, it scales pretty well. Here's a chart from Buffer's growth, both in support and users, over the years:
If every other company offers low-bar support and yours is excellent, you'll see tremendous results, and it's not going to skyrocket your support costs, either.
Not only does it build loyalty and respect from your customers, but it also serves to generate word of mouth marketing — more customers to wow!
10. Give your employees props
When it comes to "how to wow your customers," your employees are responsible for writing the book. Reward them when they do an excellent job, and you'll continue to keep the hype train rolling.
People respond well to praise, and if you commend them for exceptional service, they'll continue to raise the bar higher and higher.
Beyond that, hire people who have the drive to do the work. Make a list of the traits that create a fantastic employee on your team:
Do they need to be technical?
How much patience is essential?
Does humor play a role in wowing your customers?
Make your list and start hiring for the raw talent. Then, once you've hired them and they are batting a thousand, make sure you praise and encourage them for their excellent work. Too often, companies fail to recognize the value of those soft skills — but they are the landscape that excellence is grown on.
You don't need a ton of money or time to wow your customers. Sometimes, even something as small as a "thank you" can get the job done. Practice the same things that you would do in a meaningful relationship:
Stick to your word.
Keep things simple and easy.
Empower the people around you.
Treat others equally and with respect.
The small things — cookies rather than fireworks — are what make the most significant impact on people.