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The Service Attitude
By Orvel Ray Wilson   Printer Friendly Version

Michael LeBeouf, in his best-seller, The Greatest Management Principle in the World , says that any behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated. Guerrillas build a "fifth column" of customers, a loyal underground of followers who fight for the cause by rewarding them at every turn.

As the customer turns to leave the stereo shop, the guerrilla adds, "Oh, by the way, you're going to need a pair of headphones, especially when your teenagers get their hands on this new system. Here, take these with my compliments."

"Wow! Thank you for all your time and help, but the headphones, this is wonderful!" No buyer's remorse here! This customer is excited about the new stereo system, and grateful to the guerrilla for selling it to him.

Guerrillas know that this last step in the NaB & CaPTuRe selling track is the most critical, and the one most often overlooked by the competition. Rewarding customers involves keeping something extra in reserve, congratulating your new clients, then delighting them by "throwing it in" at the last minute.

Once guerrillas have given the customer the reward, they disappear into the sunset like the Lone Ranger. Hurry on to your next call, help another shopper, or go hide in the stockroom. You want to be remembered for the reward, so give the customer something special to remember you by. Be warned: your customers will be so pleased they'll want to continue the conversation. Be polite, but break it off.

The objective of the Reward is to leave the new customer feeling special. One of our clients runs a very successful office supply store and is devoted to promoting environmentally responsible products. After writing up the order for a new copier, the clerk thumps his forehead and says, "Oh, I almost forgot! You're going to need some paper. Let me throw in a case, no charge. I'd like for you to try this recycled copier paper; it's a bit more expensive than virgin stock, but it has a smoother finish, and besides, I don't want to mess up my paperwork."

No matter how hairy the negotiations may have been, no matter how remorseful they might feel about spending the money, even if they think they could have wangled a better deal elsewhere, the last thing the customers are left with is a feeling of surprise and conquest.

Mike Lavin runs the Berkley Design Shop and two other sleep and kid's furniture stores in the San Francisco Bay area. When a customer purchases a complete bed set -- mattress and platform frame, and the purchase has been completed, the salesperson who wrote up the order says, "Oh, by the way, why don't you go over to our linen display and pick out a set of sheets. They're on us." He could have bundled a sheet set with the package, but that would defeat the objective. For the reward to be effective, it must be something beyond the customer's expectations.

Part of this is gratitude, an expression of appreciation for the business. But frankly, Mike knows that the average American keeps a bed for nine years, and if he treats them right, they'll come back to buy all their future linen at the Berkley Design Shop.

From a weekend at a resort to a free order of fries, guerrillas have learned the power of giving customers something extra when they make the sale. But make sure that the customer knows it's a bonus. A guerrilla copy shop offers a courtesy telephone, marked by a large sign that says "For our Customers' Convenience," and a mail drop with a sign that reads, "We'd like to save you the trip." A lumberyard gives every customer an oversized flat carpenters' pencil, imprinted with the stores name and number, but before putting it in the bag, the clerk always mentions, "These are usually a dollar, but today it's just our way of saying 'Thanks.'"

Everyone loves to win, and everyone loves getting something for nothing, especially when they don't expect it. So guerrillas send every customer away feeling as though they just hit the jackpot. It feels like winning the lottery or getting a call from Publishers Clearing House. In the Reward Stage, guerrillas secure their position with customers by always rewarding them for their business.


One of the most powerful ways to reward people who do business with you is to pay attention to them. Even something as simple as a hand-written thank-you note can be a reward. It's an old-fashioned custom that's seldom used in business, but it differentiates a guerrilla from a competitor by showing you care.

The travel industry has put the reward tactic to work as competition for the business traveler heats up. Amenities like shampoo, hair driers and mini-bars used to be found in only the best hotels. Now, even low end properties pamper guests with a complimentary basket of goodies. Frequent patronage is rewarded with free upgrades and limo service, complimentary cocktails, coffee, newspapers, and breakfast, or even credits toward catalog merchandise.

Airlines have established special clubs and lounges where they lavish their customers with VIP check-in, comfy chairs, big-screen TV, workstation-size phone booths, desks, conference rooms, fax machines, snacks, and a private bar. Customers pay a substantial annual fee for the privilege of being pampered, and will endure long connection delays in order to fly their airline of choice. And all because they're members of the Club. Rewards win customers and keep them coming back.

The Right Attitude

Approaching the Reward Stage with the right attitude is essential. Contrast the attitudes of two major airlines, as reflected in the way they administer their frequent-flyer programs. Both companies compete for lucrative business travelers in every major market in North America. Both programs reward customers with a free round-trip ticket after they've flown 20,000 miles.

The first airline restricts how the free ticket can be used: you must fly Monday through Thursday, stay over a weekend, and book the trip at least seven days in advance. Holidays are blacked out as well, and once the ticket is cut, it's non-negotiable. They feel that they're giving you a free ride, so you really can't complain. Their attitude is, "You're a freeloader. We don't care, because we don't have to."

The second airline allows their customers to use the free ticket any day of the week, without restriction (except for some holidays) on a space-available basis. You can book your trip as close as one hour before departure, and if your travel plans change, the ticket is completely negotiable for up to a year. Their attitude is "We want to do everything we can for you. You're one of our most valued customers."

Both airlines are giving away an identical seat, but the perceived value of the reward in the customers' minds are quite different. An attitude of gratitude is what matters. Perhaps that's why the first airline is losing millions, while the second just placed orders for 40 billion dollars worth of new aircraft.

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