It’s often said that keeping the customer or client happy is one of the most important aspects of making a sale. In other words, great customer service is key.
A few years ago, I worked at a jewellery franchise in Adelaide. If you’d asked me before I started – “What does great customer service look like”? – I would have answered with one of the following:
- “The customer is always right”
- “Always smile and be happy to see the customer”
- “Wish them a good day as they go”
The points above aren’t wrong, but they don’t go far enough. When I first started my training at the jewellery store, there was one thing that the manager worked hard to make sure I understood – Give the Customer a Pickle.
The Pickle Principle
The principle was developed by Bob Farrell after he received the following letter at his restaurant:
Dear Mr Farrell,
I’ve been coming to your restaurant for over three years. I always order a #2 hamburger and a chocolate shake. I always ask for an extra pickle and I always get one. Mind you, this has been going on once or twice a week for three years.
I came into your restaurant the other day and I ordered my usual #2 hamburger and a chocolate shake. I asked the young waitress for an extra pickle. I believe she was new because I hadn’t seen her before. She said, “Sir, I will sell you a side of pickles for $1.25.” I told her, “No, I just want one extra slice of pickle. I always ask for it and they always give it to me. Go ask your manager.”
She went away and came back after speaking to the manager. The waitress looked me in the eye and said, “I’ll sell you a pickle for a nickel.” Mr Farrell, I told her what to do with her pickle, hamburger and milkshake. I’m not coming back to your restaurant if that’s the way you’re going to run it.
Farrell could have disregarded the letter entirely. The deed was done, and this was only one dissatisfied customer (a drop in the ocean compared to the many other happy customers visiting his restaurant every week). Instead, he chose to learn from the experience and change the way he trained his employees. “Give ‘em the pickle” became the war cry in the restaurant.
We’ve all heard the old adage, “make sure the customer walks away happier then when they arrived at your business”. However, simply smiling or agreeing that they are right is not what makes them happy. It’s what they expect of your business. It is what will bring you up to the same standard as your competition, but not what will make you better than them.
How does this apply to you?
This principle can be applied to multiple different industries. Farrell gives an example of an experience he had a bank. He asked to borrow a pen. The cashier points to a pen that is attached to the wall by a (very short) chain.
“Why is the pen attached to the wall?”
The cashier in a hushed and serious tone, “Because, Mr Farrell, some people steal them.”
“SO WHAT! Put your business name on the pen and let them walk away with it!”
In the great scheme of things, a missing pen or two is not going to make a dent in a large bank’s budget. However, choosing to attach the pen to a chain demonstrates to your customers that you don’t trust them not to steal from you.
Another example provided by Farrell is providing customers a free sundae on their birthday WITHOUT asking for proof of their date of birth. Without out a doubt, there were people who lied when they said it was their birthday. But do you know what? They still ordered mains first and they never came to the restaurant alone. He also never offended anyone by asking for proof that they weren’t lying.
As I mentioned above, I first learnt about this principle while working for a jewellery franchise. Every receipt I printed was stapled inside a card that explained the company’s warranty policy:
[We] will at our option, repair or replace jewellery proven by our jewellers to be defective due to the manufacturing process within 12 months of the date of purchase…
… The warranty against defects does not cover loss, damage, breakage, changes in appearance … due to normal wear, accident, careless handling or improper use.
Despite the strongly worded warranty, I learnt quickly that the franchise completely endorsed us playing fast and loose with the policy. If it’s going to make a customer’s day to replace a ring that they accidently broke, do it. If they’re a few months over the 12-month cut off, fix it for free anyway. If they’ve lost the receipt and have no proof of purchase, take them on their word. The franchise wanted their sales staff to feel comfortable going the extra step for a client, knowing that the store will support them in their actions.
I’ve seen many other examples of businesses who use this principle well:
- A gym that provides free consultations and programs to its members
- The driver of a garbage truck who will stop and assist someone who is having trouble starting their lawn mower
- A checkout assistant at a grocery store who helps carry a customer’s bags to the car
- A general manager of a hotel who went and purchased heating pad for a patron who had just suffered a pinched nerve in his back
- A jewellery store (yes, the same one mentioned above), that offers a free cleaning service for the lifetime of your jewellery
So, what can you do to go above and beyond what the customer expects? How can you give them a free pickle?