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Revive That Old-Fashioned Extra: Excellent Customer Service

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Value-added service has become all too pricey for small businesses. Yet, everyone knows how important it is to exceed customer expectations. Instead of adding more services, why not try adopt something of value that's unique -- making your business service unexpectedly delightful?

Here are six simple, inexpensive ways to enchant your customers while enhancing your bottom line:

Related: The Skyscraping Cost of Bad Customer Service (Infographic)

1. Charm those who are important to your customer. Miller Brothers, an upscale men's clothing store in Atlanta, put a large colorful gumball machine on a table at the store entrance. Beside it was placed a large bowl of shiny pennies. Guess where Junior goes when Daddy is trying on trousers? Guess which men's store is the buzz at cocktail parties? Sales are up for the boutique store "with the gumball machine."

2. Don't be afraid of the whimsical. Hotel Monaco is a medium-priced hotel chain with properties in many U.S. cities. While most hotel chains are struggling, Hotel Monaco is on the rise. It seeks to enchant business traveler guests with quirky additions. The bathrobe is not boring white; it is a leopard- or zebra-skin print. Guests can have a goldfish in their room (taken care of by the housekeeper). And, instead of the proverbial mint on the pillow at turndown, guests find an unexpected treat (a foreign coin, a flower, a lottery ticket or who knows).

Related: 3 Ways to Grow Your Business By Focusing on the Customer

3. The way to a customer's purse is via the heart. Nicholson-Hardie is a nursery and garden center in Dallas known as the "garden center with the cats." Why? Lounging on top of the large checkout area might be one of two large calico cats. Beside them is a business card holder with their business cards: Frankie Cat and Sammie Cat. And their job titles? The Rat Pack. Ask any customer about the garden center and the cats will be a part of the reported charm.

4. Use occasional magic. Kauffman Tire in Woodstock, Ga., enjoys delivering a special form of magic. When a customer walked in the store to purchase a tire, he was warmly greeted with,"Welcome back, Mr. Steve." He was blown away since he not visited the store in well over a year.

When he pressed the clerk, the clerk revealed the secret technique. "When you pulled in our parking lot and I did not recognize your vehicle, I plugged your license plate number into the computer and cross referenced the name with our records. So, I knew you were a prior customer by the time you got to our front door!"

5. Show your trust. The wait staff at Vincenzo's Ristorante in Omaha, Neb., greet patrons at their table with a pitcher of "honor wine," an excellent Chianti. "Enjoy this if you like," she said to a group of us recently. "We charge by the glass. At the end of the meal just let me know how many glasses you had and I'll add it to your bill."

When we asked the owner on our way out how many patrons drink the Chianti, he smiled. "Most do," he said. "It's one of our best features!"

6. Personalize the service experience in surprising ways. When the "toner is low" sign flashes on my laser printer, I pull out the cartridge, ship it to Toner Service Inc. and within 48 hours receive a refurbished cartridge for about half the cost of a brand-new toner cartridge. A "personalized" form letter accompanies the returned laser cartridge.

But one time, a letter contained a handwritten P.S.: "I'll bet you're real proud of those Cowboys!" At the time I lived in Dallas and the clerk or packer or someone noticed my business address and scrawled a little "value-added" note to the letter.

7. Make the details matter to your customers. I had breakfast at the Park Inn in Mechanicsburg, Penn., before heading off for a keynote. The breakfast was as great as the service from the waitress Sandy. After bringing the check, she presented me with a complimentary go cup of coffee. But, it was her words that put the cherry on top: "This is our gift to you." Innovative service should be as simple as it is unexpected.

Related: When the Self-Service Customer Smiles

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