I was presenting at a conference recently, and afterwards someone from the audience came up to me, asking how his brand could continue to surprise customers? On the surface you might be wondering why anyone would want to surprise a customer. But I argue that it’s the element of surprise—and I’m talking about positive surprises—that create memorable moments, which, in turn, build connection and customer loyalty.
Think about this on a personal level. Can you recall moments when you were given an unexpected gift—a hand-written note, words of praise, a door held open—or someone merely following through? These are small things, but they are thoughtful actions that endear you to the giver. And they are moments you remember.
The gift of surprise is something that I like to talk a lot about in terms of contributing to Red Shoes Culture and as a necessary component of Red Shoes Living. This is because the effect isn’t just powerful in the moment—it can have a lasting and far reaching impact.
Many years ago, I was working long hours and traveling a lot. And I remember sitting in an airport with some colleagues talking about how we were not doing enough for the world. We started bouncing ideas around about how we could give more to our families, to others. Then one person came up with the simple, yet powerful, idea of leaving anonymous notes of appreciation.
Later, when our paths crossed again, we learned that he had actually been following through with this plan. My colleague told us about an experience with a flight attendant who had obviously been having a rough day with a difficult passenger. To compensate, my colleague made a point of being kind to her. And when the flight ended, he also left a short note on his seat, thanking her for making his experience more pleasant. That flight attendant then chased him down through the airport; and when she caught up to him, she told him that she had never received a note like that in the 13 or 14 years she had been working as a flight attendant.
As a brief aside, with all the negative happenings in the airline industry recently, you can also see how a negative surprise can be equally as powerful—damaging not just customer trust, but a brand’s reputation.
Let’s flip this and look at how companies can use the element of “positive” surprise to endear customers to their brand meaningfully. I urge you to watch this video.
The customer’s reaction at the end of this video is testament to the genuine and powerful impact that brands can have on their customers.
I think about the brands I’m most connected to. And how, next to the actual product or solution they’re selling, my loyalty is tied directly to my experience with the company. That usually means my interaction with its people on the front lines. It’s the barista who, when business is slow, brings coffee to my table. Or the checkout person at Whole Foods who always calls me by my first name. These are small things, but you get the idea. Surprising customers means going above and beyond for them when they least expect it. The world needs more of this right now.
It would be nice if giving in this way occurred naturally and often. But the world is noisy, and we so easily become preoccupied. That’s why gifts of surprise must be purposeful and authentic. And it starts with you. Give one gift daily to family, friends, and colleagues. Your business team will feel it and pay it forward—as will their teams. Eventually, that culture of kindness will reach the front lines of your organization. Then, of course, it will touch your customers. And they will, indeed, remember.