The Cost of Surprising the Client

Surprising customers with something they weren’t expecting doesn’t have to be expensive. In many cases, it can be very inexpensive or even free

For example, surprising a couple with a cake and candle when they are celebrating at a restaurant costs a tiny fraction of the meal but greatly impacts the evening.  

For years, I’ve shared the story of a cab driver who surprised his customers with a newspaper, a bottle of water and a side trip to see a famous local landmark. That side trip cost the driver nothing but a few minutes of time. And the newspaper and water cost him far less than the extra tip he received for adding these surprises to the experience.  

Even though I have covered this concept before, it’s worth resurrecting. What inspired me to do so was an article by Chip Bell, my friend and fellow customer service expert, who recently wrote a Forbes article titled The Magic of Serving with Radical Generosity. His main example of this happened at the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel in Boston. He checked in late for a one-night stay. The front desk clerk upgraded him to one of the grandest rooms in the hotel.  

The front desk clerk recognized Chip as a loyal Marriott Bonvoy member and knew the surprise of upgrading him to the nicer room wouldn’t cost the hotel any more than the regular room he was booked in. The result was a deepened sense of loyalty and sharing the story with others—in this case, thousands of readers of Chip’s Forbes article. The goodwill and word-of-mouth marketing the hotel received was far more than the upgrade cost, which was virtually nothing. 

But the surprise is nothing if there isn’t a supporting cast, as in the employees who make what Chip calls Radical Generosity come to life. The cast member’s role is to do more than just surprise the customer—it is to create a positive experience that transcends the surprise.  

In my restaurant example, if all the server did was set a slice of cake in front of the guests and begrudgingly say, “Happy anniversary,” the experience would be tainted by the lack of enthusiasm for the moment. The guest might say, “That was nice, but …” It takes more than one positive moment to make the experience.  

If you like the idea of surprising a customer, share these examples at your next team meeting. Then, kick off a discussion that starts with this question: What’s our version of a hotel’s room upgrade or a surprise slice of cake?

Related: 21% of Customers Admit to Cursing at Customer Service Agents