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In a previous essay, I wrote about the first essential move for entrepreneurs and startup dreamers: Find your blank space, and meet a felt need for your clients. Once you’ve determined the laser focus of your organization, it’s time to add a little magic to the client experience. Every successful enterprise fosters a sense of joy and wonder for customers, in ways large and small. Even the tiniest extras elevate your company above the competition. New Orleanians have a word for this practice: lagniappe (pronounced “lan-yap,” a word with Spanish, French, and Quechua roots, which roughly means “little bonus”). The extra donut that makes it a baker’s dozen — that’s lagniappe. That’s overdelivering.
Consider Hermès, the luxury design house that recently launched a cosmetics line — a smart move to attract young clients who may one day move up from lip balm to something a little pricier. The company has added plenteous touches of lagniappe to their new makeup products. The lipstick cases, for one, are magnetic, so you never have to worry about losing the top or opening your purse to discover smeared rouge. Plus, they’re refillable, appealing to sustainability-minded Gen Z customers. Hermès packages nail polish in a distinctive round orange hatbox with hand lotion, emery boards, cuticle oil, base coat and top coat (extras to engender loyalty from discerning clients). Would customers buy Hermès cosmetics without these add-ons? You bet. But it’s the extras that give us those little hits of dopamine that keep clients coming back for more.
Think of overdelivering as “entrepreneurial enchantment,” a way to stoke the curiosity of your clients, who will find themselves eager to engage with your brand and see what happens next. What happens next — that’s the secret of screenwriters. A great storyteller knows surprise revelations and plot twists keep viewers enraptured all the way to the end. You can do the same with unexpected bonuses and add-ons.
Consider the example of Canadian airline, West Jet. One Christmas holiday a few years ago, they rolled up their sleeves and played Santa‘s elves for their customers. In the terminal, the company invited passengers to share their wish lists with “Santa” via video, and upon landing, each flyer, astonished, found a gift addressed to them sliding down the conveyer belt. Passengers of every age laughed in disbelief and squealed in delight. West Jet won themselves many loyal customers that Christmas, delivering luggage and overdelivering holiday cheer.
When I created SCAD more than four decades ago, our little startup desperately needed to set ourselves apart. I conceived of copious extras other universities did not provide — e.g., the quarter system (proven to enhance student learning), no class meetings on Fridays (for tutoring and studio time) and field trips for every class.
Over the years, as resources and enrollment grew, we extended extras to every facet of the university: a professional casting office, performance coaches who teach networking, a research studio where students partner with Fortune 100 companies before graduation, an investment arm for alumni startups. None of these resources are “required” to be an accredited university, and few prospective families expect them. That’s why they love SCAD — because they can’t wait to see what we do next.
You need not pull a West Jet every time. Creative entrepreneur, Olivia Cox, tucks a little dad joke into each one of her brand’s hats and handbags. Even simple gestures communicate your commitment to the fine art of overdelivering, little touches that reach out and grab the heart. As the inimitable Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” As entrepreneurs, positive glow is what we’re after.
People appreciate elegant, thoughtful solutions, services, products and inventions — and everyone longs for joy, surprise, delight and wonder. Think about your audience. What do they expect? What kind of service or experience have they likely had with businesses or brands similar to yours? How can you confound and transcend their expectations? Infuse meaning into every environment, every moment. Make guests feel welcome and clients feel seen. Take time to get the details perfect and deliver above and beyond. Those extras won’t soon be forgotten.