This week, Bob Thompson’s informative, timely blog on strategies companies can use to make customer experience a competitive advantage – and how most neither measure experience nor compete on it – puts me in mind of a line of discussion around customer experience lagniappe. Stan Phelps, Chip Bell, and I have all been exposed to, and reported on, what lagniappe can do for any company, irrespective of size, industry, or location.
For those not familiar with the term, let’s quickly revisit what it is. When my wife and I visited Southern Louisiana last year about this time, we noticed that a lot of retailers differentiated themselves by doing a little something extra for customers. One experience that stood out was our dinner at Restaurant R’evolution at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter. If you don’t order dessert (we didn’t, because we were too full from the appetizer and main course), the waiter brings a red Peruvian jewelry box. Each drawer has a different little candy, cookie, or pastry inside. It’s cost-free, delightful and memorable. It’s experience lagniappe.
This so impressed me that, having read Chip Bell’s book, Sprinkles, I wrote to him about it. Chip then posted a great CustomerThink blog about the concept after visiting Restaurant R’evolution himself. Here’s the reality about experience lagniappe: It isn’t new. The idea of providing customers with a little extra value has been known for over a century. In the Merriam-Webster page defining lagniappe, here’s the description it received:
“We picked up one excellent word, wrote Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi (1883), “a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word -‘lagniappe’…. It is Spanish, so they said.” Twain encapsulates the history of “lagniappe” quite nicely. English speakers learned the word from French-speaking Louisianians, but they in turn had adapted it from the American Spanish word la ñapa. Twain went on to describe how New Orleanians completed shop transactions by saying “Give me something for lagniappe,” to which the shopkeeper would respond with “a bit of liquorice-root, … a cheap cigar or a spool of thread.” It took a while for “lagniappe” to catch on throughout the country, but by the mid-20th century, New Yorkers and New Orleanians alike were familiar with this “excellent word.”
Maybe Merriam-Webster thinks that lagniappe has caught on, but customers would be hard-pressed to find it consistently in experiences they receive from most b2b and b2c organizations.
Chip has written that “We are reaching the limits of value-added service (taking what customers expect and adding more). It is time for value-unique. And while there is an obvious ceiling on generosity, there is no limit to the ways to be ingenious.” I’d extend the narrower realm of service to all elements of customer experience. Whether, as Bob Thompson discussed, the strategy focuses on touchpoint improvements, seamless customer-focused journey, or delivering stand-out, branded experiences (think Zappos, Trader Joe’s, Wegman’s, Southwest Airlines, Zane’s Cycles, Metro or Umpqua Bank), any company can do experience lagniappe.
1) Make the small investment in enhancing employee experience, and have them focus on customer value. Empower and enable employees to be more mindful of delivering what customers need and want, irrespective of level of function within the company.
2) Make the small investment to identify and understand what customers value on an emotional, not just physical, level, and determine what is memorable about the experience.
3) Overpromise and overdeliver, consistently, on experience.
4) Where customers and experience are concerned, think ‘human’, i.e. TD Bank’s “Bank Human Again” marketing campaign.
5) Recognize that company and product/service image and reputation are integral to customer perception of value.
6) Work to build and institutionalize customer value delivery, i.e. conscious customer-centricity, into the enterprise DNA
Be distinctive. Experience lagniappe is out there. It doesn’t require that much in the way of financial investment, innovation or ingenuity. Just a willingness to ‘think customer’, and consistently execute just a bit outside the box. I’ve written about Vernon Hill, who founded Commerce Bank in the U.S. and Metro Bank in the U.K. He understands lagniappe. From my blog covering what Metro does to distinguish its banking experience: “…what further distinguishes Metro are some of the little touches – free lollipops on the counter for the kids, and water bowls for customers’ dogs. As Hill has noted: “There are always some economic case studies that prove cutting costs or raising fees makes sense. But there’s never been one that says being nice to dogs or being open seven days a week makes sense. It’s about building fans of your service, not customers. Great companies build fans who become loyal, remain loyal, and bring their friends.” Lagniappe works.