Free Can Be a Great Customer Service Strategy
Giving away something of value for free can be one of the most effective ways to provide great customer service. The cost of the item or service that you give away can be small for you—really small—but the customer on the receiving end may see it as very valuable.
A restaurant owner might occasionally buy his regular customers a drink or dessert. But you can think even smaller than that. Your “giveaway” could be something that costs you only a dollar or two—or even less.
What got me thinking about this was an email from Ron Backer, president of Gracey-Backer, who saw me speak several years ago. Ron wrote that he was pulled over by a police officer one night for having a burnt-out brake light. Ron didn’t get a ticket because he promised the officer that he would go and get the light replaced immediately. He drove to the nearest service station where the mechanic quickly replaced the bulb. When Ron asked what he owed, the mechanic replied, “This one’s on me.”
The words took Ron by surprise. He said, “I wasn’t even his customer, but I am now! I used to buy gas at the discount gas station a few blocks away and save a penny a gallon—maybe 20 cents on a tankful. Not anymore. I now get my gas at the Exxon station.”
This story reminded me of another business owner, Chris Zane, who is known for his amazing customer service. Zane owns a bike store in Connecticut and one of his customer service strategies is to not charge the customer for anything that costs less than a dollar. If a customer comes into his shop, for example, and needs a master link, a small but important part that holds the chain together, Zane delights in seeing the look on the customer’s face when he says that there is no charge. He says, “The cost to me is virtually nothing. We’re not going to chase the pennies—we’re looking at the long-term effect of giving someone a master link.” The long-term effect translates into loyal customers who may spend thousands of dollars over time—whereas giving away small but important parts costs Zane less than $100 a year. Zane has written a book about his customer service philosophy, and it is available on Amazon.com.
You can also give customers (or potential customers) something of value that has no monetary value at all. It may be just taking a little extra time or making an effort to do something nice. One of our newsletter subscribers sent in a story about a time that he was stranded alongside the road with car trouble. A limo driver took the time to stop as he was driving by to offer him a ride to the service station. There was no charge—he was just being nice—but in the end, it paid off and he gained a new customer. The man who was stranded owns a company that now hires the limo driver when he needs a ride to and from the airport.
Free can be a great customer service strategy. It adds value, promotes goodwill and builds trust. All good things that can eventually lead to customer loyalty!