This week, we look at companies that go above and beyond the call. Smart companies add thoughtful, little touches that make all the difference. Like hotels that help you fall asleep at night with smart sleep aids, grocery stores that help you read the small type on vitamin bottles, hardware stores that give you maps of their aisles on shopping carts, airports that know you need to charge up between flights, and business cards that are so unique you never forget them. Grab a coffee and join us as we search for companies that go the extra inch.
I once took a fascinating three-day screenplay course.
It was taught by the venerable Robert McKee:
The class wasn't about how to write a screenplay. The topic was: What is a screenplay?
A great substitute if you can't attend one of McKee's famous workshops.
McKee was riveting because he not only broke down the elements of a good screenplay, but he gave us endless nuggets about cinema that only a keen, lifetime observer would ever notice.
For example, he told us that the movie Big, starring Tom Hanks as a kid trapped in an adult's body, was written by Stephen Spielberg's sister.
Guess who she was writing about?
He told us that good screenwriters give all the best lines to the villain and not the hero. Why? Because we already love the hero. Hence, a screenplay gets juicer when the villain has great lines like this:
On the last day of the course, McKee took us through the film Casablanca, frame by frame.
It took five hours to watch the 102 minute film.
What McKee was pointing out in those five hours were the small, almost imperceptible details that director Michael Curtiz had quietly put into the film.
One of the central themes of the film was that Casablanca was a place you couldn't leave without a special visa, or "letters of transit." The characters were trapped.
Curtiz wanted to create a sense of imprisonment. He wanted the city of Casablanca to feel like a virtual penitentiary. So, if you watch the film with a fresh eye for detail, you'll begin to notice the small touches.
Characters whisper their escape plans, as if the police were prison guards.
The beacon at the airport tower moves through the streets like a searchlight scanning a prison compound.
The searchlight told the audience the characters were being constantly watched. The light is always seen sweeping past the doors of Rick's Café, where most of the discussions of escape take place.
Ingrid Bergman is trying to get a letter of transit so she and her husband can escape the Nazis. In many scenes, you'll notice she is wearing horizontal stripes. Stripes, at that time, were the prison-issue clothing inmates wore:
Note the striped wardrobe on Ingrid Bergman, and the prison bars-like shadows across the scene.
Window blinds, room dividers, stair railings and even the leaves of potted palms create specific shadows everywhere, like the bars of prison cells.
McKee believes these small details are an image system embedded in the film. This imagery repeats in sight and sound from beginning to end with persistence and great variation, all to reinforce the main themes of the film. Giving filmgoers a deeper, more meaningful experience.
But he makes one thing perfectly clear - these details must go unnoticed by the audience. They must never "see" them, only "feel" them.
I maintain that small details in the world of marketing are equally vital. But this is where Robert McKee and I part on the subject.
I believe that, in marketing, small details must be noticed by the public. That the smartest businesses search for ways to deliver even the smallest touches that make an experience utterly memorable.
Today, I've collected stories from those companies that went above and beyond the call for their customers. Consider it a celebration of going the extra inch.
To begin with, customer service is marketing.
I am a big believer that attention to detail is one of the biggest reasons why people choose to be loyal customers, and not just occasional customers.
Paying attention to small details is also a competitive advantage for smaller companies that can't compete with bigger ones on other levels.
Let me give you an example.
Last fall, I was buying winter boots at the Australian Boot Company. When I asked about weather protection, they said not to worry, they would apply it for me right then and there. It would only take 20 minutes.
Just as I was wondering how I was going to kill 20 minutes in a small boot store, they handed me a coupon for a muffin and a coffee and pointed to a little bakery across the street.
They told me to go have a treat on the house, and to come back in 20 minutes. So I crossed the street, discovered a lovely little bakery, and realized the boot company had just given me something I rarely get:
The gift of time.
So I sat back, enjoyed my coffee and muffin, and relished 20 relaxing minutes. That little detail - the fact the boot company was a good host to my time - made me fall in love with them.
And I'll be back again. Little details like that create loyalty.
When I got my hybrid last year, I took it to go shopping at Whole Foods.
When I got into the underground parking, it was full. As I slowly drove around looking for a spot, I suddenly saw an open space. Not just any space, the perfect space. Right at the door. My first thought was - it must be a handicap spot. But as I drove up to it, it said:
So I pulled right in.
I loved that touch. A little recognition for people who drive hybrids.
I saw something interesting in the grocery store a little while ago. In the vitamin aisle, there was a large display for Jamieson Vitamins.
The type on the back of small vitamin bottles, or any medication for that matter, is very, very small. As a new owner of glasses, I can tell you reading small type is almost impossible - even with glasses - and the available printing space on a small label doesn't leave the manufacturer much room for big type.
That's when I noticed there were big magnifying glasses hanging on cords from the shelf:
A magnifying glass hangs from the grocery store shelf to help shoppers read small print on vitamin bottles.
They were provided by Jamieson, and they were a handy solution to the small-type problem. And I'm sure one of their biggest markets is seniors, who must appreciate those magnifying glasses more than anyone.
It was a smart touch.
I was shopping in Home Hardware a while ago, and when I grabbed a shopping cart, I noticed it had a map of the aisles on the handle:
A handy map of the hardware store on the handle of the shopping cart.
At a glance, I could see where every product category was, in what aisle, there on a colour-coded directory of the store. A surprising and appreciated detail. And it eliminated the frustration of roaming the aisles looking for small items.
I always look at business cards when people hand them to me.
Every act from a company is a marketing act. Therefore, a business card is an opportunity.
It represents your business - the same way a receptionist does - so why not make it memorable.
I once saw a business card for a divorce lawyer. The lawyers name, phone number and email address was printed on the left, and again on the right side of the card.
Then I noticed the card was perforated down the middle. You could tear the card in half - which was very amusing - since he is a divorce lawyer that specializes in dividing up assets, after all.
Conversely, another business card I saw had been cut in half, but was taped back together again. It said, "Ramesh Sharma, Marriage Counselling."
Some people help people divorce, some help them get back together again.
Smart and memorable.
Another card I saw was made of a soft plastic you could stretch. But it was hard to read the type, it was all bunched up in the middle - until you st-retch-ed the card - then the type became readable - which said, "Poul Nielsen, personal trainer."
A unique card and a little resistance training to boot.
I have a stack of business cards in my office from nice people I meet. But almost none of them are distinct.
An opportunity lost.
There's a pizzeria in New York City called "Pizza by Cer Te." Their pizza boxes are 100% recyclable, which is great. But they are unique, too.
The lids on the boxes are designed to easily detach and separate into four squares, each serving as an individual plate:
One pizza box that becomes four tear-away plates.
Once the lid is gone to create those four serving plates, the bottom half of the box folds into a smaller, more convenient box to store leftover pizza, so it can easily fit into a refrigerator.
Handy, smart and inventive.
There is an opportunity hiding inside everything.
Because I travel a lot for work, I notice small details in hotels and airports. For example, like many business travellers, I like to make sure my phone and computer are charged up for a long flight.
So I appreciate power outlets in the waiting area at gates. Ottawa and Vancouver Airports, thank you.
An airport that provides stations so people can charge their phones and computers.
Last September, I was at the Encore Hotel in Las Vegas, judging an international advertising award show.
When I came back to my room after a long day of listening to a few hundred radio commercials, I was exhausted. When I looked on my pillow, there was a tiny little note from the hotel there, tied with a ribbon.
Here's what it said:
Not "Good Night," but "Nighty Night." It just made me laugh.
The next evening, there was another note on my pillow, and all it said was, "Dream Big."
A tiny thing, but a surprising thing. No other hotel I've ever stayed at, and I've stayed at a lot, has ever added a personal touch like that.
While staying at a hotel in Niagara-On-The-Lake recently, I noticed there was a CD player on the nightstand. Beside that was a blue book, titled, "Deep Sleep 101."
Inside was a CD of soothing music which the book suggested you put on one hour before bedtime.
The book's subtitle was, "A Guidebook Proven to Conquer Insomnia," and it was full of tips that promoted sleep.
This book was really intereeeezzzzzzzzzzzz
A nice little touch for weary travellers.
The Four Seasons Hotels are among the best in the world, and for good reason. They are famous for their attention to detail.
In his book, Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy, founder Isadore Sharp tells an interesting story about growing up.
A good read for those who care about the little details of customer service.
He had three older sisters.
When they travelled as a family, he noticed his sisters always packed small bottles of shampoo.
So when he started his hotel chain many years later, he was the first to put small bottles of shampoo and conditioner in the rooms. A small touch, but now a staple of the hotel industry.
The Four Seasons managers also start every morning with a "Flitch Report" meeting. This is a report of all the things that went wrong the day before. The "flitches," in other words.
They start the day with this list for one very important reason: They look for ways to turn complaints into service opportunities.
Every department must be present at these meetings, because, by discussing the complaints, it might lead to an idea where another department that can turn the problem into an opportunity.
So say, for example, an important fax didn't get to a guest in time for a meeting, and a complaint was registered.
Even though the problem originated at the front desk, the hotel concierge might mention, at the Flitch Meeting, that the same guest has made dinner reservations at a restaurant across town later that evening. So the transportation department at the Four Seasons offers to make one of their Town Cars available for the guest and his wife to take them to dinner. It's a way of making up for the earlier problem.
A small thing, but the kind of gesture that can make a guest forget a fax flitch.
It's interesting to note that when businesses lose customers, most never try to get them back - feeling it's a lost cause.
But studies show that companies are twice as likely to regain lost customers as they are to gain new ones.
Mistakes are inevitable, but Isadore Sharp and his team turn flitches into opportunities to make their guests fall back in love with them.
As Sharp says, "We are only what we do, not what we say we are."
More companies should take a page from that playbook.
In August, a businessman was getting ready to board a flight that was the last leg of a long day of travelling. It was dinnertime, and he knew there would be no food served on the two-hour flight, and that he would be starving when he finally deplaned and headed home.
Just for fun, he tweeted:
The original tweet sent out as a joke.
Imagine his surprise when he got off the plane two hours later to find a tuxedoed gentleman standing there, holding up a sign with his name on it in one hand, and a bag with a 24-ounce Morton's porterhouse steak, shrimp, potatoes, bread, napkins and silverware in the other.
Actual moment of the delivery from Morton's.
Let's analyze what just happened there.
• Someone at Morton's had read the tweet.
• Someone had to get approval for the idea.
• A cook had to make the food.
• The food had to be driven 23 miles from the nearest Morton's.
• And someone had to track down the tweeter's flight information and figure out where he was landing to meet him at the right location.
It was a lovely touch, and no small touch, considering the chain of events that had to occur to make that moment happen.
But the story was talked about all over cyberspace. Morton's had taken the time to respond to a customer who loved their product - even though they didn't know him.
Yes, incredible service can make a customer loyal for life.
Few companies offer the level of customer service as Southwest Airlines does.
A few years ago, a man was en route from a business trip in LA to his daughter's home in Denver to see his three-year old grandson for the last time.
The boy, beaten into a coma by his mother's live-in boyfriend, was being taken off life-support at 9pm that evening so his organs could be used to save other lives.
The man's wife called Southwest to arrange the last minute flight and explained the emergency situation to the airline.
But he got held up by relentless LA traffic, and when he finally made it to the airport, he encountered long line-ups and didn't make it to the gate on time.
When he finally got there, 12 full minutes after the plane was scheduled to leave, he was shocked to find the plane still there.
The pilot met him at the gate, and said, "They can't go anywhere without me, and I wasn't going anywhere without you."
Southwest was voted the top customer service airline in 2012.
No need to wonder why.
It takes a very special company to deliver the small touches that are so rare in this world.
Companies that are willing to go the extra inch.
There were 100 business reasons why that Southwest flight should not have waited. Every five minute delay on a major flight costs an airline thousands of dollars and impacts everything down the line.
But that pilot knew his decision to hold the plane would be backed up by his company. It's the reason Southwest has shown a profit every year, even through 9/11.
The smallest things are so memorable. Taking your money at the cash with a smile and a thank-you is not going above and beyond the call. That is retail 101.
But leaving a tiny, unique note on a hotel pillow is not a given. Nor is putting a store map on a shopping cart. Or a magnifying glass on a supermarket shelf, or placing an interesting business card in someone's hand.
All of these stories are rare. But they shouldn't be.
Because if a company cares enough to add little touches to your shopping experience, well Louie, it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship...