I have been spending most of my time in Manhattan for the last six months. Living in a new city has meant finding new friends, new places to hang out, and a lot of new vendors to get services from. And with my unassuming new drycleaner has come an opportunity to be reminded what a difference it makes when people take the time to do something just a bit unexpected.
When you first walk inside Crown Cleaners on the corner of Park Avenue and 82nd Street, you have no reason to be surprised. It looks just like another regular dry cleaning shop with a smiling first-generation immigrant from behind the counter. You drop off the clothes just as you would at another drycleaner, noticing the large volumes of suits and shirts lined up waiting for pick-up. The surprise only comes when you come back. You are probably thinking of something else as you begin to look for that elusive claim ticket that has to be in your pocket somewhere when you get stopped in your tracks as the smiling gentleman from behind the counter addresses you by name. "Ms. Polcarova, is that right? You donít need your ticket, Iíve got your things right here."
"Wait a minute! I was only here once. How do you know my name?" I am flabbergasted. It might be something I would possibly expect in a small town in the middle of nowhere, but in the big impersonal New York City? I wouldnít have dreamed of it until my smiling drycleaner answers, "Well, Madam, the least I can do is to remember my customers. They keep me in business." Well, duh. I guess so. But that didnít stop my previous drycleaner from treating me as if they had not a clue of who I was, despite having stopped by on weekly basis for years.
Not only does my drycleaner remember my name. He also does a tremendous job at putting every single wrinkle out of any piece of clothing I bring to him. He also opens the door for me and carries my clean, neatly put together package of clothes out of the store for me. Yes, he does charge a little more for his services but it is worth it because going there is more than a service. It is an experience.
The Commerce Bank in Manhattan, a small regional bank that calls itself "the Most Convenient Bank", www.YesBank.com, seems to be up to similar tricks. I recently opened a bank account there and, sure enough, a few days later I got a personal thank you card from the teller who opened my account. What? A bank cares about my being a customer? What a novel thought. And, sure enough, when I went back to the bank, even the Wal-Mart-like greeter seemed to recognize me and welcomed me back. When "my" teller saw me, he remembered my heritage and said hi to me in Czech. I donít know whether this bank takes secret pictures of new customers and doesnít let their tellers go home until they can rattle off the right names just from seeing a picture. Maybe their management uses the same drycleaner as I do and had the smiling man give some memory tricks to the bank tellers. I donít know and I donít care. What I do care about is that I feel good when I go to visit these vendors. What the vendors get is the benefit of my business and that of anyone who will care to listen to a recommendation.
Are extras like these only in the realm of business? No, extras can be those that happen at home as well. One was passed on to me by an assistant at one of my seminars. Henrie Lund, an elderly lady told me about her late husband who, before passing away, would bring her flowers every single month on the anniversary of the day they met. He did this for fifty-five years. Month in, month out. Like clockwork. Wow. My humorist friend Scott Friedman, www.FunnyScott.com, sends funny postcards to make his clients and friends smile. He does this each and every quarter, usually using a theme for a particular event or holiday in that quarter, such as Halloween or April Foolís Day.
In our somewhat impersonal world, I believe that all of us crave for something a little more personal and a little less mechanical. Whether it be a smile to a stranger, a vendor remembering a name or a face, a "love you" or flowers to a partner, a charity donation, regular "just saying hi" calls to old friends, or letting a hurried-looking car driver go ahead of you when you would normally give them the one-fingered wave, there are many small but significant ways of putting a personal and positive stamp on things. The funny thing is that, the more we do those things for others in our personal or business lives, the better we feel as well. It is almost as if every smile we give away gets us one or more back in return.
What can you do in your own life and business to apply this?
1. Think of who are some of the people you encounter regularly during your day. Your spouse, children, customers, coworkers, bosses, employees...
2. Brainstorm of some simple ways that you could do regularly to surprise these people on regular basis. A Hersheyís Kiss with every order? A happy face sticker on a bill sent back with a payment for services rendered? Let your mind think of some silly and sweet things, or perhaps of some things that may have been considered standard in some small town where everyone knew everyone.
3. You may wish to pre-plan a few strategies ahead of time. Even if a budget is not an issue for you at all, I would suggest using smaller, less expensive but consistently applied surprises rather than one big "wow" type of a surprise. As the old saying goes, "it is the thought that counts" and people are surprised enough that you thought of them. It is rarely necessary to flash dollar signs while saying "I care about you enough to inject some of my personal touch into this relationship."
4. Choose one or two strategies that will work for you and decide on the frequency of your strategy ahead of time - it will keep you on track as you get busy with the rest of your life.
5. Go and do it. Just start. Today. If you canít think of something today, you might be thinking of something unnecessarily complicated. See if you can do three simple extras by the end of today - one per person.
And, no, this is not a chain letter. You donít have to forward it to anyone. No disaster will happen if you donít share it and I donít promise you to win lotteries if you forward it. I do promise you, though, that you will have a fun time thinking up some surprises and an even more fun time when you unleash them into your personal and professional networks!
Happy extras, sunshine and smiles,
"Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes."
"If you donít fail now and again, itís a sign youíre playing it safe."
"Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life."
Herbert Henry Asquith