It’s the Little Things…

It’s raining here in New York City. I’m only in town for a couple of days and it didn’t occur to me to bring an umbrella.

As I was about to leave the hotel, the front desk alerted me that my DUFL suitcase had arrived. I picked it up and wheeled it upstairs to hang up my suit, annoyed with myself for failing to check the weather before I got here.

That’s when I found the umbrella, packed in with the delivery.

DUFL is a dry cleaning/packing/shipping company in Arizona and Tokyo. I’ve used them for a couple of years. They have a service involving an app which allows me to select clothes from my virtual closet, have them shipped quickly to the location of a business meeting, and then picked up and dry cleaned when the meeting is over. It’s pretty awesome.

DUFL checked the weather in advance of shipping my bag and knew that rain was in the forecast. That’s why they included a nice loaner umbrella in the bag.

After receiving the umbrella I spent two days saying nice things about DUFL and showing off their umbrella. I was dry, happy, and bragging about their great service to everyone I met, including the 16 lawyers sitting in my workshop.

It really is the little things that count. Have you thought about doing something little?

Be thoughtful

In the early days of paying for Amazon Prime membership I got some free stuff from Amazon. I enjoyed getting a free coffee mug and a few other items, but it was pretty clear that the gifts were sent to many customers and weren’t customized to my needs.

I’m not complaining, I like a free coffee mug, but it’s no umbrella in the middle of a downpour.

I’m sure most of us would like to do something for our clients that would have the same impact as the DUFL umbrella. We care about these folks. We appreciate that they picked us. Many of our clients are experiencing a rainy day. We’d like to help.

But finding the right small thing is hard. It requires empathy. Getting it right requires spending time getting into your client’s head. It requires you to figure out what they might need and how you might be helpful. It’s tougher than it sounds.

For the small thing to hit home, it has to be the right thing, at the right time, in the right place. This is tricky.

Years ago we gave our clients a box of chocolates at the end of their initial consultation. It was nice, but it wasn’t exactly right. We gave them a nice leather binder in which to store their papers as the case progressed. Again, it was nice but not perfect.

The umbrella on a rainy day is perfect.

This isn’t going to be easy if you’re going to get it right.

Amazon certainly knows a great deal about me based on my purchases. They’ve got a fair amount of insight into my life. One might imagine they could create an algorithm capable of finding the perfect little thing if they applied themselves. In retrospect, I see now that a mug is pretty weak. They’ve got all that data–they should do better.

We’ve got very little data in our practices, but we’ve got big brains. And we’ve got a great deal of caring and concern for our clients. Instead of using a super-computer we’ll have to rely on our super brains–we’re pretty good at hearing and understanding the story of our clients. We know what they’re feeling. We’ve got a good shot at making this work.

Surprise someone

There’s more to getting this right than being thoughtful–as if that wasn’t already hard enough.

We need to add the element of surprise. That’s especially true if you’re going to do this more than once and want to incorporate a small thing into your approach to elevating the client experience.

Repeating some kind of small extra quickly shifts the gift from being something pleasantly special into an expectation. The first time the auto dealership washed my car as part of my routine service, I was excited. But after a year or two, I took it for granted and got annoyed if my vehicle wasn’t quite as shiny as I liked.

They say that taking certain prescription medications with grapefruit juice amplifies the effect of the medication. Apparently swallowing certain blood pressure medicines with a swig of that juice can lower your blood pressure dramatically causing you to pass out–that’s not good.

Surprise is like a little grapefruit juice. It jacks the impact way up when the little thing is completely unexpected. An unexpected wet wipe handed to me just as I suck the sauce off the last rib is the perfect little thing and it brings a smile to my (suddenly cleaner) face.

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When you put the two elements together–thoughtfulness plus surprise–you’ll have a big impact. It’s got to be thoughtful, but surprise is a also a key element of making the little thing matter.

Think systems, but don’t constrain yourself

You know I love a good system.

When I figure out something that works, I want to write it down, get buy-in from everyone involved, and repeat it over and over. Systems are powerful. That’s–ahem–why I offer a course on building systems for your law firm.

Oftentimes systems make perfect sense. But sometimes they kill the creativity, spontaneity, and dynamic nature of doing something special. Be careful.

Ritz Carlton finds a way to do something special for their guests without being overly rigid about the specifics of the plan. They’ve built some spontaneity into their system.

The desk clerk at the Ritz Carlton in Cairo chatted with us as he checked us in. Somehow my wife mentioned the Egyptian dessert she was most excited about trying–feteer. The bellman walked us to our room and we settled in and started unpacking. As we finished up there was a knock at the door.

The pastry chef in his toque and the desk clerk in his suit were standing at the door with a big platter of sweet and delicious feteer. We loved it. The chef wanted photos of us all together eating his creation, so the phones came out and the special event was recorded to memorialize our visit. The chef seemed as excited as we were by our time together.

We talked to other guests and the hotel doesn’t do something small and special for everyone. They do it when they have an opportunity, and that only happens some of the time. They’ve built a flexible system that has them searching for the right opportunities to please guests without forcing it when it doesn’t make sense. After all, DUFL doesn’t send umbrellas for sunny days, right?

It truly can be little

Sometimes we go overboard on these sorts of ideas. We figure that if a little is good, then a lot should be even better. But that’s not necessarily the case. It is possible to try too hard and bump into the outer limits of the value of little things.

When the little things get too big the recipient gets distracted and starts to wonder about your motivation or expectations. The right little thing–something as simple as a personal note saying just the right thing–has a much more powerful impact than something which feels too valuable, too contrived, or too loaded with meaning.

It’s far more important to find the just-right, thoughtful surprise than it is to go big, bold, beautiful, or expensive. In a perfect world your client will never see it coming, and they’ll be touched when it happens.

I never expected the veterinarian to call me himself at 9 PM to check on our sick cat. It was a kind, simple, unexpected, and thoughtful surprise. It was a very small act which had a very big impact.

I certainly never expected Seth Godin to pass out homemade blueberry muffins when our small group arrived to attend one of his marketing training programs. They weren’t particularly attractive, but they tasted good. He could have ordered from Panera and had them delivered. But he baked them himself and brought them in a big pan covered in aluminum foil. It’s the simple things.

I had no idea the kind people at the Sikh temple in Delhi would clean the shoes I’d left behind as I walked barefoot through their holy place. We watched as they prayed and then as they served a meal to thousands of poor people. We emerged to find our shoes shiny and new. It’s always the little things which stick in my mind long after the day is gone.

Keep it small. Keep it simple. Be thoughtful. Find a way to be kind, considerate, useful, and do the right thing, in the right way, at the right time.

This certainly won’t be easy, but it truly is the little things.

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