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The Professional Caterer
Magazine of the National Assoc. of Catering Executives
Sometimes Customer Service is A GIFT!

Customer service comes in many forms: state-of-the-art call centers operating 24/7, talented legions of customer service representatives available for face-to-face problem solving, and elaborate training programs to develop the sensibilities and sensitivities of employees previously uneducated about customer service principles.

Yet at times customer service can be as simple as handing someone a map when they're lost, giving them a smile when they’re down, or a pat on the back when they’re in need. The right act, however small, at the right time, can have lasting impact.

This month we consider the ways in which simple gifts and token presents not only represent customer service, but also do as much or more than vaunted company-wide programs designed for mass consumption.  Indeed, sometimes the definition of customer service is…a gift!

Common Cents

Recently our postal rates went up.  While the increase was just one cent, its cost in inconvenience carried a far greater price tag. One service-oriented vendor anticipated this increase with her customers in mind.  The week prior to the rate hike her envelope arrived in customers’ mailboxes. She has sent a simple reminder, along with a new postal rate card, and a dime's worth of one-cent stamps! Her cost: minimal. Her impact: priceless! Beyond the money she saved clients, the convenience and free time she delivered meant that, while the rest of the United States was standing in line for 1¢ stamps, her customers could focus on their business at hand for a week. She had bought them time, and good will. Needless to say, her timing was impeccable.

No Strings Attached

Over the holiday season most stores hands out attractive bags with purchases.  One retailer also hands out shopping bag handles that attach to the drawstrings of heavy, packed bags, to facilitate carrying them.  The handles work on all retailers' bags.  This gift made life easier for the retailers’ customers, during a season when shoppers carry around a number of bags. Again, the cost was minimal, timing impeccable, and since they alone were offering this gift, countless shoppers made sure to visit this store, for their bag holders and more.

Consider the California vendor who sent his clients promotional key chain flashlights. During a period of recent electricity brownouts this gift anticipated customer needs and provided them a measure of safety, underscoring the idea that this vendor had customers' best interests at heart. Timing, thoughtfulness and creativity makes these gifts so powerful from a customer service perspective.

Seeing through the Customers' Eyes

For years we've known of upscale restaurants offering house neckties and sport coats for underdressed patrons, so as to maintain their dress code and help underdressed diners feel comfortable. Now restaurants are offering other services too. Consider the posh restaurant that offers its diners who need them a pair reading glasses for better viewing of their menus. While this is a temporary gift, it nonetheless serves a need at the precise time the need arises. It’s timing is what makes the gift so useful.

Presents for the Present

For restaurants with large walk-up patronage, their waiting areas soon fill up with hungry and impatient people, staring down seated diners.  Some restaurants give clients a temporary pager so they can window shop in the neighborhood, and yet be promptly notified when their table becomes ready. While the pager is not a gift they can keep forever, its use, when they need it, is a present that enhances their overall dining experience.

It's Your Turn

The aforementioned examples from different industries to give you some ideas about little, token gifts whose thoughtfulness far exceeds their cost. 
Now it's your turn.

  1. Look at your customers' experience and find ways to make it more enjoyable and fun for them
  2. Ask yourself "what gift can I give my customers that will put a smile on their face?"

Your objectives are straightforward. Ask yourself:

  1. "How can I make my customers feel special?"
  2. "How can I help them save time, money, or avoid headaches?"
  3. "What will help make my customers’ interactions more fun and pleasurable?"

Great Gift Ideas

Kristy Rogers, Owner of Take Time To Care in San Jose, CA, and author of What A Great Gift and creator of Party in a Card™, explains it well: "We find a little effort in gift giving tells your customers 'you're important to me.' That’s an essential message to transmit."  Rogers' products and services help others reassure their customers that their business is valued.  She sums up her company's philosophy succinctly: "all of our products, services and ideas are designed to make people feel special."

Kristy’s Party in a Card concept is brilliant in its simplicity. Whatever the occasion, her company has a celebratory card. She then supplies customers with a kit to adorn each card: colorful trinkets, favors and doodads that reinforce the card’s theme. For instance, one line of cards is the "thanks for the referral" card, which contains stickers that say "thank you" as well as confetti, a smiley face and even an individually wrapped jelly-belly. Together the impact of the card is greater than the sum of its parts. Her company even has a Mail-It! Service to send these custom parties in a card. For more on Kristy Rogers' gift ideas call 1-408-288-8484.

Another great gift idea that combines tastefulness with customization, is that of gift baskets.  Everyone loves the variety of gift baskets. What makes gift baskets service-oriented is when they’re stocked with the type of items that make life easier for recipients. Darryl and Cynthia Wynne, co-founders of Fantastic Baskets of Alameda, CA, specialize in constructing gift baskets with custom items of great significance to their recipient.  Basket themes vary from pampering to housewarming to corporate and gourmet gifts. Past customizations have included baskets whose themes included favorite ingredients (coffees and teas, or a chocoloholic's survival kit), favorite colors or locales (the San Francisco Treat, Tropical Tahitian Experience).  A typical basket may contain lotions, soaps and perfumes, candies and nuts, or golf paraphernalia. 

Thank You Very Much!

"Thanking your customers for their business with a branded gift is a win-win situation! Everybody loves to receive a gift that makes them feel valued and appreciated." So says Shannon Peddar, principal of Brand: Creative. She continues, "plus you have the benefit of having your name in front of them over and over again while they use and admire what you have given them. I always like to suggest an item that is hot at retail because your customer can immediately get a sense that you are plugged into the market and the perceived value of the gift." 

Peddar's three favorite items right now: a reusable tote for shopping at the Farmer’s Market, a travel mug and a steel water bottle. Peddar adds, "If the cool factor is high, they will use your gift over anybody else’s and have you to thank!  You can always tie the gift into a promotion as well, if they bring the tote bag into the store, you’ll give them a discount on their order for not using plastic or paper bags."

Shannon and I agree: As you look for ways of enhancing the customer service you deliver, remember to make sure all your customers are gifted!

As you look for ways of enhancing the customer service you deliver, remember to make sure all your customers are gifted!

Give your team, workgroup or department the gift
of a fun customer service program
"The Lighter Side of Customer Service"

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