Recently, Francine went to her favorite restaurant, Pesca, on the beautiful River Walk in San Antonio. The staff was warm and friendly, and the food was amazing. While she was waiting for her meal, the manager walked up and started a conversation with her. Francine told him how much she loved his restaurant, and that after her last meal at Pesca, she had gone home and tried (unsuccessfully) to recreate it for her husband. The manager then asked her for her e-mail address. To her surprise and delight, he offered to send the recipe. Though she hadn’t asked him for it, he knew she would love to have it.
The manager wants to provide those extras that will truly delight his customers. His approach is to simply talk with customers and listen for opportunities to meet or exceed their needs. He listens carefully for the clues that his customers give him. He admits that he can’t always find the right “thing” that would “surprise and delight,” but that it works a lot of the time.

Customer Loyalty and Beyond
The days when you simply needed to meet customers’ needs to succeed in business are over. Customers are more and more informed and demanding, and the merely satisfied customer is not necessarily going to be a loyal customer. Service needs to be taken to a higher level, beyond just satisfying customers. Customers’ expectations need to be exceeded. Studies have shown that when a company does that, it is far more likely to create loyal customers.
What will get a customer to remain loyal? Better yet, what will turn a loyal customer into your best source of advertising—customers who will tell their friends and family about your products and services? Simply put, you need to surprise and delight them. The following steps will help you do that:

1. Satisfy Your Customers
Before you make any effort to surprise and delight your customers, make sure you are doing a great job of satisfying them. Too often people rush into doing all the extras before making sure they have covered the basics. Make sure you are keeping your promises and providing good basic service.
How can you be sure you are doing what you need to do to satisfy your customers? Ask them. Survey your customers to see if you are providing the kind of service they expect. A good survey can be simple to create. Make sure you make it easy for your customers to answer; four or five questions will suffice. Also leave room for comments; customers often want to tell you about issues you didn’t think to ask about. If you get a negative comment, make sure to follow up with the customer and fix the problem.

2. Find Out What Your Competitors Do
Learn everything you can about your competition. Find out what they are doing for their customers. It is perfectly acceptable to use them as a benchmark and source of inspiration.

3. Discover What Your Customers Want
Every time you get a chance, engage your customers in a discussion about what they want and need. If you discover something you can do right away, do it. If you are not in a position to do what should be done, seek out someone else on your team and see if they will help you go the extra mile.

4. Make It Your Mission to Surprise and Delight
People who provide the best customer service say that it’s their personal mission to provide great service to each and every customer. If you decide that your mission is to surprise and delight, rather than simply make another sale, you will have a much higher success rate. Write out your mission statement and review it daily to remind yourself how important exceptional customer service is to you.

5. Make It Personal
Although you can and should have some customer service procedures in place for all your customers (e.g., provide a warm greeting, listen actively, etc.), providing exceptional customer service also means creating a unique experience for each customer and finding creative ways to give them something they did not expect.

When you hear the words “surprise and delight,” perhaps you think, “Okay, what’s it going to cost me?” But if you expect that the only way to surprise and delight is to spend, spend, spend, then I have some good news: some of the most effective ways to go beyond your customers’ expectations will cost you little or nothing. All you need is the right intent and a bit of creativity. Start by thinking about the small things you can do on a regular basis. Here are some low-cost examples:

The more you know about your customer, the more personal the service you can provide, and that personal touch will make all the difference in the world. Start engaging your customers, learn what will surprise and delight them—and then just do it!

LAURIE BROWN is an international trainer and consultant who
helps people improve their sales, service and presentation skills.
She is the author of
The Teleprompter Manual for Executives,
Politicians, Broadcasters and Speakers.