I spent several years selling computer bits and parts to companies across the US. This meant very unexciting orders of circuit boards, cables, adapters and such would be picked, boxed and shipped from our warehouse. The owner of the company had a great sense of humor and awareness of the customer experience. Long before I came on board, he had started to include a cheesy cheap plastic toy in every shipped order. It might be a plastic frog, an inflatable alien doll, a paddle-ball, etc. I think he looked forward to hearing that supply was running low because he could justify the time spent mulling over the latest Archie McPhee offerings.
This silliness helped center us in a company culture where no one was to take themselves too seriously. It also had a definite impact on the customers’ experience. First-time customers would call and thank me for the “gift” they found in their order. It was an unexpected surprise that got them out of their monotonous daily routine and made them smile. I had customers tell me that opening our packages had become a group event since in bigger orders they’d find several “gifts” and would battle over who got what. How many companies get their package arrivals announced on the customer’s company intercom?
We started realizing how important these trinkets had become and our faxed fliers, emails and mailers began referencing the “included with every order” item. Customers would ask us to confirm that they’d be getting a glow-in-the-dark skeleton with their order. Sometimes they’d complain that they never got the toys since their receiving dock staff would take them. I’d send those customers a package full of toys direct to their desk now and again. After all, they’re the ones choosing to do business with us, not the receiving dock staff.
All this from $0.75 cheesy toys included with orders costing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
I can’t tell this story without mentioning the one time when the response was not quite so positive. After doing a fax broadcast that mentioned we would be including one of several types of African Dart Frogs with every order, we got a very nasty fax back. The response was due to the absence of mentioning these were plastic frogs and the fax recipient thought it was actually possible we would toss frogs, live and of endangered species, into boxes being sent to our customers. It was a very colorful and scathing retort to our offer. So, much time was spent on and several eyes reviewed our response, ensuring no opportunity for confusion could exist.
But we did get a good chuckle out of it all the same. I still do.