How Small Things Make A Big Difference

About 12 years ago I worked in a one of the large chain bookstores. Part of the job entailed working at the information desk, answering questions and directing people to where they might find a book. On one particular day shortly before Christmas a customer came in and when I looked up the book she wanted it was out of print. The customer might have gone home disappointed, however, as luck would have it that day there was a win-win-win situation that resulted in the customer, the bookstore, and myself all coming out ahead.

The luck in this win-win-win was me. I owned a copy of that out of print book. It was a $5 paperback that I had bought and never read and it was neatly tucked away in a box somewhere at home in the exact condition as it was when I first bought it.

No sooner had I mentioned to the customer that the book was no longer available when I told her I could make it available to her. I wasn’t quite sure which box it was in, but I knew I had it. I asked her to call the store the next day and ask for me and I would let her know if I was able to find it.

In another bit of luck that makes you believe in Christmas miracles I went home that night, opened a random box of books and found what I was looking for sitting there on top of the first and only box I opened. I had expected to spend an hour opening boxes before finding it, but instead it took all of 30 seconds.

The next day the woman called and later came back to the store. She handed me a $5 bill and I handed her a book. Win-win-win.

For this woman the win was getting the exact Christmas present she was looking for even though it was no longer available. For me the win was getting my money back on a book I had no intention of reading. For the store the win was an increase in the loyalty a customer felt for the store.

Why the Small Things Matter

The point of the story isn’t to let you know what a wonderful person I am, but to show you how little things can make a big difference>. Imagine yourself as that woman. You’re looking for the perfect Christmas present only to be told you can’t get it anywhere. Maybe you’ve already been in an out of three other bookstores without being able to find the book you knew someone on your Christmas list had specifically asked for.

Odds are a $5 paperback wasn’t the big ticket item under the tree. Chances are Christmas wasn’t going to be ruined for this woman or the recipient of her gift if she couldn’t find it. But think about how much of a difference it made to her to have someone go out of their way to help.

How would you feel after finally acquiring the perfect gift for someone? What kind of experience would you associate with your trip to the bookstore? Would you shop there again? Next time you were looking for a book which store would you go to first?

Next week, next month, or whenever the opportunity arises spend the extra few minutes it takes to make someone happy. It might mean working an hour on a Saturday to finish something for a client. It might mean looking up the answer to a question you see posted on a forum. It might mean helping a customer carry a package to her car.

The little things do make a difference. They contribute to a positive experience that’s associated with your brand. The little things lead to happier people who become loyal customers.

What did you do today that you didn’t have to in order to make someone’s day a little easier?

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7 comments

  1. You sly devil … I half expected that to turn into the story of happily ever after.

    Unfortunately people going even an inch out of their way for strangers is rare enough today that it really does make a lasting impression. More important than that lady’s repeat business, she probably told the story half a dozen times, sending more customers the store’s way.

  2. I’m saving the happily ever after for my next story. Maybe have the bookseller and the customer walk off into the sunset together. What do you think?

    You’re that going out of your way is rare, which is why it can make such a difference. I’ve told the story a few times myself over the years. Sadly the whole thing was lost on my employers who never seemed to think it was such a big deal. Maybe that’s why I work for myself now.

  3. I’ve had negative experiences with just about every bank I’ve ever dealt with. Almost a decade ago, I got fed up and moved my business to Fidelity, which is not a bank. They have check writing and a debit card, so it’s close enough. ( You can’t deposit or withdraw cash, being the major limitation. )

    They don’t jerk their customers around. The account has only one fee, and they waive it if you get your notices by email instead of on paper. Better yet, whenever I’ve had to go into the branch and talk to someone, it’s incredible. In almost ten years, I could count on one hand how many times I’ve had to wait “in line” – which means in a big comfy chair until a rep comes and gets me. They have free coffee, and usually cookies, for their customers. They even let you use their bathroom if you happen to be passing through the neighborhood. A few weeks ago, an ATM machine took money out of my account without actually dispensing it to me. A Fidelity representative spent an hour on the phone with me and with the manager of the store the ATM was located in, until she was able to see the transaction reversed.

    Even without being able to deposit greenbacks, I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d stop being a customer of theirs. I can’t count how many entire lunch hours I’ve spent in line at Wells Fargo or WaMu. It’s less important that BofA has ATM machines everywhere, than it is that Fidelity treats people like, well, people instead of account numbers. I think a lot of that is that as an investment brokerage, they’re used to dealing with very rich people, and just treat everybody well. But you’re right; the small things here build a lasting sense of loyalty.

  4. they’re used to dealing with very rich people, and just treat everybody well

    That’s the key – they have a policy of treating all customers well. Without that you can go to the trouble and expense of treating a customer well, and still not get the customer relations benefits.

    My wife had an early Nikon D50 camera that started acting up when it was less than a year old. It was sent off a total of 4 times over the next 2 years without ever fixing the ever worsening problem – extremely long shutter latency in indoor lighting – up to 3 seconds, but unpredictable. Fortunately she had the ($100) 4 year extended warranty which promised to repair or replace the camera for any problem.

    After much jacking around, Best Buy finally agreed to replace the camera, but now they said that they would replace it with a current model that has “comparable features”. This translates to “we will replace the camera that you paid $899 for with one that costs $450”. This deal wouldn’t have been all that bad, but the model that they wanted her to accept wouldn’t work with her collection of auto focus lenses – the lenses would work with it but not in auto focus mode.

    Finally an employee who was a “camera guy” convinced the manager that this deal would be a real suckfest, and they ended up doing the right thing (IMHO) and credited the original purchase price toward a (hopefully) more durable D80 model. Which was what we understood the extended warranty was for to begin with.

    The thing is, even though they ended up doing the right thing, the whole experience damaged the store and product brands for us because it seemed so arbitrary. My wife and I have both used Nikon cameras for a long time. I have an F2 that is over 35 years old and is as reliable as a tank, and as heavy as one. But now I’m afraid that they’ve cheapened their brand to hit the Wal-Mart price point. We’ll see though this is just one camera.

    We ended up benefiting from an employee (Like Steven in the bookstore) who went out of their way to insure good service, but I don’t know if corporate America really gets it anymore.

    PS – The moral is always buy the extended warranty on expensive technology.

  5. I just give you one story. This is one of my favorite stores about my Dad.

    One thing you have to know about my Dad is he is meticulous about his things and he saves recipts and original boxes that products came in. He has recipts for things he bought 20 years ago, and he can still find those receipts should he need them.

    Now Dad is also a devoted fisherman. About a year ago, he broke part of a favorite fishing rod, one he’d had for about 20 years. Now, for most people, 20 year’s use out of a rod would be more than enough, but Dad really liked this rod, and what’s more, he had the original paperwork from when he’d purchased the rod.

    Dad, being Dad, figures he has nothing to lose, so he contacts the store where he bought the rod, tells them he has a broken rod and the original reciept from when he bought it 20 or so years ago. Can he get a replacement part for the broken part of the rod, he asks, because he really likes this rod.

    The store could have laughed him off. The rod was 20 years old, and there was no way anyone really thought they would still have replacement parts in stock. My Dad, however, is an excellent customer of this store, and had been for many years, and he had the original paperwork.

    Someone from the store took it upon themselves to research the rod, and found it wasn’t even made anymore. They did further research and found the rod with which the original rod had been replaced. They boxed one up and sent it to my Dad.

    Needless to say, Dad is now even more loyal to this store than he was previously. He also tells this story all the time. Given that Dad has given this particular store a large volume of business over the years, the cost of a new rod and the time they put into research was well worth the payoff.

    O.k., that went on a little longer than I planned, but I think it is a good story.

  6. Great stories everyone.

    @Forrest – Amazing how you feel when someone goes out of their way for you. I’m actually happy with my bank. Used to be Bank One, but they’ve since become part of Chase. I can usually do most things online or at the ATM, but here the lines at the teller aren’t too bad. Probably more to do with where I live than the bank itself. What I like about my branch is the people remember me. I opened a business account and then didn’t need to go in for about a year. When I did the person I dealt with asked me questions about my business to let me know she remembered me. I was impressed given I’m not exactly making the bank rich.

    @David – Interesting how the experience has left you feeling. It’s hard to know if you got a bad camera or if Nikon isn’t putting in their usual quality. Hard to believe all the trouble you had to go through to take care of things. What companies don’t seem to get is it would have been worth it to give you your money back and a new camera if it meant keeping you as a loyal customer. The money they think they’ve saved now is only going to be lost many more times over the life of your relationship with them.

    @Kristine – Great story. I do save receipts, but I’m lucky if I still have them 2 years later unless it’s a really big purchase. I’m guessing the store is a local one. I have a hard time seeing one of the larger chains going to all this trouble, but I’m sure some would. Again look at what happens when someone goes out of their way. In this case your dad would probably still have remained a customer, but think of how much more loyal he is to them now. How many more times will he recommend the store over the years as he tells the story

  7. This is your good personality. Majority works for quantitative activities and you have shown qualitative personality behaviors.

    If you practice good behaviors you can make happy in every day!!!

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