August 31, 2008

Chocolate Flowers

Going Beyond Customer Service

While taking a break from an intense day of antiquing, my friends and I ducked into a quaint coffee shop to rest our weary bones. We each decided to order chai lattes - a black spiced tea with a coat of foam on top. The barista asked if we would like cinnamon and chocolate in the tea and, before I could raise an objection (chocolate in tea?), one of my friends responded affirmatively for all of us.

A few moments later the lattes were ready and we were summoned to the counter to pick up our fancy drinks. As I approached the counter, I was delighted to see that on top of the white foam, the barista had drawn an outline of a beautiful flower in chocolate syrup. Imagine that! It was the first time I ever felt that five dollars was actually a bargain for a cup of tea!

That simple flower was something the three of us talked about while we drank our tea, after we left the coffee house, while we shopped, and then several times over the next few weeks. It cost the store practically nothing and took very little time, but it was a charming surprise. For such a small effort, those chocolate flowers made a great impact.

That experience got me thinking. What is my chocolate flower? What is it that I can give to my clients that is unexpected, that is more than I promise, that is a pleasant surprise?

After thinking about it for quite some time, I came upon the realization that there is not one perfect answer. Each of my clients may require a different chocolate flower. And each designer may have their own unique chocolate flowers. But to qualify as a chocolate flower, a product or service must have these two qualities:

- It must be something the customer will like
- It must be unexpected - more than promised

I don't know where I first heard it said, but I always like to follow the rule:
"Under-promise and Over-deliver"

Your chocolate flower is part of the over-delivering.

As consumers and designers, we have the opportunity to interact with numerous businesses daily. Doesn't it feel great when companies provide exceptional service - going above and beyond what was expected? (Order several yards of fabric and the mill sends a memo sample for our client file; Buy new tires and the car comes back washed.)

Let's talk about some ways to serve chocolate flowers:

  • At the completion of a design project, give your client a board with samples of all their paints, fabrics, and trims attached, so that they can bring it with them while shopping for coordinating items.

  • If you are designing a baby's room, make a diaper bag out of leftover fabric scraps.

  • While you are up on the 16-foot ladder installing a window treatment, dust the chandelier, clean the window, or replace a light bulb.

The Benefits of Chocolate

For about two cents and thirty seconds of time, that coffee shop received the benefit of some powerful word-of-mouth marketing with much more impact than any advertising could have accomplished. I told at least thirty people about the special service I received, and those people told others. I even heard that some friends were discussing it when I wasn't around. Now I'm writing about it!

Can you imagine such publicity? Would that kind of chatter impact your business in a positive way? Could community gossip about your fabulous, unbelievable service add to your bottom line?

Of course, the answers to these questions are yes! As designers and business owners, it is up to us to create our own chocolate flowers - to find ways to go beyond what is expected of us. It can be the difference between a customer who is satisfied and one who is overwhelmed by the exemplary service and professionalism of her designer. Chocolate flowers are one of the most effective marketing tools at our disposal, and the best part about it is that it costs practically nothing to provide.