Most companies strive to satisfy their customers. That's why they run customer satisfaction surveys to see if they are succeeding. But is customer satisfaction a worthy goal? I believe satisfaction is the bare minimum of what a customer should get in their experience.

Sure it's perfectly fine that the customer wants your product or service and you sell it to her at a fair price and deliver in a timely manner. But that doesn't make the experience meaningful or memorable. Providing a consistent awesome experience requires planning and structure often far beyond the desire or capabilities of many companies.

Recently, a friend, writing coach Carolyn Roark visited one of her favorite Kimpton Hotels. She was bragging to me how they surprised and delighted her with a gift of mimosas by the pool. It didn't take much thought or money to create a simple experience that got her talking, sharing and promoting their brand. So Carolyn and I thought we would stimulate your brain with eight simple ideas on how to delight your customers right away.

1. Start with a lagniappe--a "little gift."

It's amazing what a little gift can do to bring a smile. It doesn't have to be much. This can even be a small coupon or freebie with a value of $10 or less, which they can use on any of your products or services. It is an easy, cost-effective way of inviting the customer to get to know you better. Whatever it is, just make sure it's desirable, entertaining and tasteful.

2. Unleash the unexpected.

The regular perks are nice enough--cookies in the lobby, a pen/pencil set with your company logo, a key chain at Christmas--but people take them and forget them immediately. Look for something really original. It doesn't have to be expensive: small novelty toys, a funny magnet, or artful post cards are all good ideas. The more you can personalize the experience, the greater the pleasant surprise.

3. Listen to what they say about themselves.

Give your customer the opportunity to share information with you. Then actually do something positive with the information. If you ask people to fill out a profile or otherwise "tell you more," follow up right away by addressing something personal they shared. If you asked their preference in music or entertainment, send them a link to a song or even create a personalized funny video. If they tell you they are a tea drinker, send them a sampler of some interesting leaves. Show them you have taken time to learn what is important to them.

4. Give them priority.

When a customer shows loyalty, a thank you note is just the starting point. Follow up with customers to inform them of other products or services suited to their unique needs and give them a unique benefit for their return or referral. If a sale is coming, don't just give advance notice; let your best customers have early access.

5. Take time to get to the real root of a problem.

In restaurants, only a small handful of customers complain in the hopes of getting a discounted meal or free service...but most people only express a concern if they truly feel unhappy or uncomfortable. Show personal attention when someone has a complaint. Don't just dismiss it with lame excuses. Ask questions to determine the root of a problem, and ask for their input on a resolution.  Then tell the person how you plan to fix it, and follow up to show them what you've done.

6. Respect their boundaries.

Many companies thrive on obtaining data from their customer, then institute policies to meet the minimum of legal protection. Make the customer the focus of your privacy policies. The customers know that everyone's in the business of collecting data these days. Give them the chance to opt out and remain private so they know they are in control and their concerns matter to you. And if they express a wish to be removed from a list, comply ASAP.

7. Invite them into your culture.

People love to serve as ambassadors for their favorite brands. Help them get to know yours with opportunities to meet your star staff, get behind-the-scenes exposure to the most fascinating aspects of your product or service, and share your most fascinating secrets. Reward them when they pass the word on to family and friends.

8. Get into their culture.

Don't just make assumptions about who your customers are and how they respond. Get to know the neighborhood/city/state/region where you are based and express an interest in the culture. Play local music; feature local artists; decorate with local products. Find the common ground that helps you relate as people. The less you make it about commerce, the more people will connect and remain as customers.

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