Customers remember pleasant surprises

Jack in the Box copyThe other day I went through the line at my local supermarket with, among other items, an open bag of potato chips. (Potato chips weren’t even on my shopping list but they looked so good and salty on the end-cap display, I just couldn’t resist.)

After scanning the bag of chips, the cashier handed the open bag back to me. I did my best to seal the bag before placing it in one of the existing packed grocery bags inside my cart. I then asked the cashier how often customers come through his line with an open bag of chips or nuts.

“All the time,” he said. “On weekends it’s ridiculous.”

At that moment, it occurred to me that this store was missing a “ridiculous” number of opportunities. Why not provide snacking customers with an unexpected pleasant surprise by offering them an inexpensive chip clip at the register? Perhaps the clip could be customized with the store’s logo, phone number and website? Or, better yet, magnetize the clip and print a suggestive message like, “Grocery List” beneath the store’s logo.

Eventually, customers are likely to place the magnet on their refrigerators to (as suggested) secure their grocery lists. Most consumers have two or more supermarkets located in their vicinity. In some cases, competing stores are directly across the street from each other. If a store’s logo is prominently displayed in the customer’s kitchen and is associated with a pleasant surprise (unexpectedly sealing his open bag of chips at the register), that might be just enough to influence him to turn right instead of left during his next grocery run.

Customers value pleasant surprises and, due to the nature of surprises, that which is unexpected tends to create a powerful lasting impression. What can you do in your own business to pleasantly surprise customers, causing them to remember you the next time they’re ready to repurchase?

Illustration by Aaron McKissen

  • The more something becomes routine, the harder it is for employees to spot opportunities to surprise their customers. It sounds like open bags of chips are just part of the routine for your cashier. Spotting new opportunities to serve would probably require someone (like you!) offering a fresh perspective or a facilitated exercise (such as a team meeting) to brainstorm ways to surprise.

    I can give you an example of how your brains make it hard to spot these opportunities. There’s a short video on my website ( that has a demonstration at the :44 second mark.

  • Jeff, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I’m reading your new book now. (Would have finished it by now if not for being in the throes of galley pages edits. But I’m preaching to the choir…). Enjoyed the exercise in your book trailer. You’re absolutely right about the way we tend to jump to conclusions based on our assumptions.

  • Bill Leinweber

    Great example, Steve. In my customer service training workshops, I talk about the most difficult challenge in service is putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, seeing things from the customer’s perspective. Customers are all unique and different but a good start is asking, “If I were this customer, what would I want/need?” This is a talent that doesn’t come natural to everyone but must be nurtured and revealed.

  • Bill, thank you for sharing. I like your question. The problem, according to Chip Bell, is that over time employees get comfortable with the status quo and become “blind” to opportunities to pleasantly surprise customers with chip clips or anything else that might elevate the customer experience. If you’re interested, you can read the post here: Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

  • You don’t need to blow the doors off your customers to make an impact. Sometimes it’s the little things that people remember the most because it came when they needed it.

  • I agree. After all, the difference between ordinary and extraordinary really is that little “extra.”
    Thank you for taking time out to read and leave a comment!