How to create good surprises? Baby steps.

Surprise...

Recently, a couple of real estate transactions provoked me to write about surprises.

In that piece, surprises were not a good thing.

Yet sometimes, surprises are exactly what you want to deliver. So how do you decide which surprises are good and which aren’t?

You need to find a difference to choose a good one – but how? Try substituting a different word for “surprise”, such as “delight”.

Now ask yourself, what would delight your customers?

You might think lower prices would delight them – and while they might appreciate that, you need to think harder.

We’re looking for things that your customer would talk about the next day or week – and remember long enough to influence them to come back.

If you aren’t sure – think about the last time you found yourself delighted by something a business did. Think about how that felt. With that experience in mind, you’re ready to start looking for places to tweak your customers’ experience. So where do you find them?

Baby Steps

I think one of the best ways to figure out these little tweaks that transform your customers’ experience is to walk through the process of doing business with you in little, tiny steps: Baby Steps.

Walk through the process with each type of customer. Start with the acquisition of the lead – even if that’s a cold call from them to your business. Continue through the entire purchase and delivery cycle, identifying places where trouble could occur, where little touches would transform the experience and where little failures could sabotage the whole deal.

You should keep client expectations in mind as you follow the baby steps looking for tweaks. Expectations will differ depending on the size, type and culture of the client, as well as between business and consumer clientele.

Expectations differ by client size

When looking for things to change for a business client, consider the size of their business. You’ll want to adjust what you do based on their size because size alters how they operate.

For example, small business clients might handle invoicing, payment and receiving themselves – or a single bookkeeper/accountant may handle it. At a large client, you could easily involve dozens of people, depending on what you’re delivering. The experience – and the baby steps – should differ substantially.

Consider building a unique process for each substantially different size of client to avoid making your tweaks into the wrong kind of surprise.

For example, if your billing process is designed to make things easy for a small business bookkeeper, that process won’t likely go so well when implemented with large corporate accounting and receiving departments. Likewise, the reverse will just as likely be annoying to large clients.

Expectations differ by client culture

Client size isn’t the only factor that can alter what you do to delight them. Client culture is just as important.

For example, if you’re a wedding photographer or planner, you’re likely to handle the wedding of a Manhattan couple differently than you would a couple in the rural South or any other place substantially different in culture from NYC. Keep client mobility in mind. Even in the smallest of towns, you may find yourself working with clients from Paris, NYC or London.

It isn’t just about big cities vs. small towns. Internal culture can differ widely from the suits and ties at IBM to t-shirts and Xbox at Google. As a result, your processes and the tweaks you implement should consider how things work internally at your client, as well as how they don’t.

Expectations differ by service level

If you want to fine tune your customers’ experience and put a fence around them that no one can break through, we’re not done yet.

One set of processes for businesses and another for consumers, if that fits your business, isn’t enough.

One process for each size of client isn’t enough.

One process that fits the culture for each client isn’t enough.

You’ll want different processes for each service level your clients purchase: Good, better, best.

How do I get all of this done?

Finish one process at a time, then move to the next.

You”ll want documented processes with systems to make sure they’re done every right time. High tech isn’t necessary. A wall of clipboards works better than going from memory.

Making it easy on them doesn’t have to be hard on you.