The Little Things That Make A Difference

The year was 1988. Our city of Austin, Texas was in the depths of a severe recession. Restaurants all over town were shutting down as diners tightened their wallets. Those that remained open were certainly not enjoying the brisk trade of the boom years. But there was one notable exception.

I was lunching with colleagues at Houston’s Restaurant — an upscale chain focusing on Southwestern cuisine — and I couldn’t help but notice how busy the restaurant was. As I waited on my food to arrive, I tried to determine the reasons for the eatery’s apparent success.

Price was not a factor. If anything, given the state of the economy, it should have been a deterrent, because Houston’s entrees were priced about $1 higher than entrees at other similar restaurants. As I searched for answers, I came to the conclusion that there was no single BIG reason for its success. Rather, it could be attributed to a number of little things.

  • LITTLE THING #1: Rather than refill my iced tea glass, the waitperson brought a fresh new glass each time, always with a fresh slice of lemon on the glass.

  • LITTLE THING #2: The walls were lined with many candle-holders. Inside each, a real candle flickered. This created a pleasing, soothing ambiance not usually found in restaurants of this type.
  • LITTLE THING #3: The place felt alive. The wait-people were upbeat, impeccably dressed, and very courteous. And the kitchen area was open, allowing patrons to feel the energy, hear the sizzle and smell the aromas from the grill.

Doesn’t seem like a lot, does it? Yet it was enough to command strong patronage and a price premium at a time when extra cash was hard to come by.

Now, let’s fast-forward a decade to 1998. The year many of us have experienced online shopping for the first time. The year that I have become aware, again, of the little things that matter.

The company? The little things that have won my heart (besides one-click ordering):

  • LITTLE THING #1: Complementary shipping upgrades. Amazon doesn’t just do it, it tells you that it’s doing it in an oh-so-nice way that makes you feel important.

  • LITTLE THING #2: Free post-it notes, magnets and bookmarks. Hey, I said they were little things. These small, tangible extras are a wonderful way for Amazon to build its brand awareness, while also strengthening my feelings and attitudes toward the Amazon brand.
  • LITTLE THING #3: Free gift wrapping. Now, this was totally unexpected. I was given the option of choosing gift wrapping for an extra charge, which I agreed to pay. My books arrived, beautifully wrapped, with a message stating that the gift wrapping charge had been waived. Wow! Made me feel good about Amazon.

Which brings me to the point of all this. Brands that win your heart — that make you FEEL GOOD about them — gain a huge advantage in the marketplace. And that advantage is a growing and loyal customer base that is willing to pay a premium price, and is far less susceptible to being wooed away by the competition.

Case in point: Over the past three months, I’ve spent more than $200 on various book orders. All of my money has been spent at

These were not casual purchases. Being of Scottish heritage, I do not part with my dollars easily, and I relentlessly pursue the BEST DEAL. Yet in shopping for books recently, I have not cracked open another bookseller’s URL.

So, if you’re looking for loyal customers — the kind that reward you with their patronage on an ongoing basis and who don’t constantly shop around looking for the BEST DEAL, here’s the secret: Start focusing today on the LITTLE things that make a BIG difference. Your margins will thank you for it.

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