A Little “Lagniappe”

“Lagniappe” is a Creole word meaning “a little something extra.” Like breaking through the clutter with a little extra.

Last weekend, in a fit of healthful good intentions, I headed off to Fresh Fields (the big organic food chain) for some guilt free eats. After lingering in the store far beyond the attention span of any reasonable shopper, I trundled my cute little cart off to the checkout line to tally up the damage.

One hundred and sixty eight dollars later (and the darn cart wasn’t even full!), I headed home, feeling colonically pure, if a bit cash poor. I’d never gone on a full shopping trip to Fresh Fields before, and as I dug around in the ashtray for a few spare quarters, I wasn’t sure that I would again.

But when I got home and started unpacking the loot, my attitude began to change. First I noticed the bags. Not only were they made of nice, high quality paper that didn’t rip, but they actually had handles attached for easy lugging from the car. Then, as I began to unpack, I reached the bag containing several of the glass-jarred products I had purchased. That’s when I became a customer for life.

Why? Because each one of those glass jars was individually wrapped in its own paper sack! I hadn’t noticed it being done when I was getting ready to pay, but there it was in all its brown-paper glory: The entire brand promise of Fresh Fields. Sure, I had paid a premium for some really good food, but they’d BAGGED my jars!

The effect was amazing. As much as I wanted to feel a little miffed that I’d spent too much, here I was grinning and holding a stupid paper sack. It’d been done too fast for me to notice, and nobody asked me for it. But it was just the thing to make me vow to come back.

The Cajuns use the word “lagniappe” to describe what Fresh Fields did when bagging my jars… “a little something extra” that creates good feelings. And, in my case, created a new customer.

It’s amazing to me how often companies forget the value of doing that little something extra for customers. In an effort to bash their way into our consciousness, so many marketers believe that by yelling louder, making outrageous claims, providing yet another service you don’t need, or adding another feature, it’s going to get your company noticed.

My paper bag experience made me realize that you don’t need to yell loudly to get noticed (and made me think even harder about how all this applies to the web).

These days, it seems as if the web contains some of the worst offenders in the “anti-lagniappe” marketing camp. In an effort to reduce costs, streamline operations, build market share, get attention and, at the same time, offer products at the lowest possible price, many sites are forgetting that it’s the little extra details that people remember long after the sale. We’re forgetting that it’s the customer service basics that make a difference, not the window dressing.

The biggest danger of the web economy is its tendency to commoditize products and services. The web’s largely a low barrier-to-entry playing field where anyone with a few bucks and some time can create something that looks and feels like the biggest players.

Additionally, there’s no “space” in cyberspace – one location is just as “far away” as any other, and hopping from one site to another takes mere seconds. Shopping bots can comparison shop, making price comparisons less of an issue. Competing on the web basically means getting the most attention from the most people and getting them to follow through and buy stuff… over and over again.

That’s where doing that little something extra can make the difference between a browser, a one-time shopper, and a lifelong customer. Here are some ideas on how to do that on the web:

  1. Stop treating your products as commodities. Price really isn’t everything. Spend a couple of extra bucks creating an experience that belies the value of what you sell.

  2. Use the web as the “lagniappe” for your offline offerings. Even if you don’t sell online, you can use the web to offer special support, promotions, or information that non-customers can’t get.
  3. Create a user experience that’s inexplicably smooth from intention to action. If your site features a dealer locator, why not add a feature that allows your customers to directly place a call to the dealer once they’ve found one they’re looking for? InstantCall offers a service like this, and there are others.
  4. Appropriately customize. Most of the time, leaving your name at a site for more information merely means you’ll be bombarded with non-specific marketing messages from now until you change your email address. If you had a physical store, would you have your sales clerks repeat the same lines to every customer? Course not!
  5. Follow up individually and unexpectedly. If people give you their email addresses, don’t just shovel the same crap at everyone. Share tips, techniques, and special features that apply to what you know about each customer.

You get the idea. Be proactive, be service-oriented, and, above all, do those little unexpected extra things that get you noticed.

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