I knew even before we opened our small restaurant that we would be model franchisees. We would follow the book to the letter. And, just as certainly, we would be the model of success.

Wrong.

Sales started out slowly... and then, tapered off from there!  We were dying the slow death of a business in trouble. Still, we were getting our share of the pie.  It was just that in our market, fair share was not much of a share at all. Doing things by the book may have been enough to satisfy our franchisor but not enough to keep the doors open and the mortgage paid.

In the process of trying to keep the lights on and creditors at bay, I couldn't help notice a few contrarian operators who, in spite of giant flaws such as poor location, unattractive packaging, sometimes non-competitive pricing and even less than expected quality...were doing just fine, thank-you. What was their secret?

It was so secret that when I asked, even they couldn't describe what it was that was bringing customers to their doors. So I began to watch. And take notes.  And experiment in our own little business. And we managed to increase sales by nearly half in the next twelve months. We nearly doubled them in the following twelve!

How did we do it? Through an interesting technique for creating relationships with our customers, something we call Positively Outrageous Service.
Positively Outrageous Service is the service story you can't wait to tell. It's that little touch that makes customers say, "Wow!"  It's easy to describe, more difficult to get ordinary people to do. But once your crew gets in the spirit of POS, you will soon earn top-of-mind positioning and market share will no longer be a problem.

POS is:
Random and unexpected
Out of proportion to the circumstance
An invitation to the customer to play and, when it's just right,
Creates compelling, positive word of mouth.

If there is one defining story of POS it has to be what Phil Romano did to kick up sales at his fledgling Italian restaurant on the outskirts of San Antonio.  Location was definitely against him in spite of great food and incomparable service.  Rather than falling back on the tried and true dinner special and traditional sales discounts, Phil knew that he would have to do his marketing via word of mouth. This was especially so because his one store could never generate enough sales to be "media efficient."

So, once a month, on a Monday or a Tuesday, and totally without warning Phil comped every meal, drink and dessert. Totally free! And boy, did word of mouth kick in! Today, regardless of the day of the week, it's tough to get near the place!

And when do you think was the last time Phil pulled this stunt? It’s been YEARS!
If you had been one of Phil's early customers, you may have remembered to tell someone about the great food. You may have remembered to mention that the entertainment was nice. But it's one hundred percent certain that if you had been a guest on a night when the check went into the trash, you would have been so blown away that you would have told everyone and his grandmother about Phil Romano's Macaroni Grill. Yeah, that Phil Romano, restaurant genius!

Positively Outrageous Service always involves the element of surprise at least in the sense of being unexpected for the circumstance. Walking into our restaurant one day, our manager said, "Let's do something outrageous."

"Fine. Get some window cleaner and paper towels and get out on the drive-through. You'll know what to do."

And that was only one of dozens of spur-of-the-moment things that we sprang on our customers. Another day, while completing employee evaluations we got the crazy idea of evaluating our regular customers. We created a customer evaluation form and on a random basis evaluated waiting customers on several rather silly attributes advising customers to: a) Please wash your car or truck. It's giving us a bad name; or b) Please wash. You're giving us a bad name!  (Of course, we followed up with a complimentary meal to say thanks for allowing us to play with them!)

We often had customers tell us that they weren't really in the mood for our food but felt that they had to check in “just to see what you are up to!”

Positively Outrageous Service can be tender as well as outrageous and it doesn't require that you spend more than a little creativity.
Walking into our store one evening I noticed a box being closed that looked a little unusual. There was bright red writing on the inside of the lid.

"What's that?"
"Mrs. Rogers called in an order and she seemed a little depressed. Soooo," he opened the box so I could read the bright red, Merry Christmas that had been neatly printed on the inside of the lid. The order was dispatched for delivery. Mrs. Rogers would be in for a double surprise in a matter of minutes when our delivery guy handed her meal and then asked if he could use the phone to call the store.  

When the call came in everything stopped in the store while all the employees gathered around the phone to sing a not-so-polished but very appreciated version of We Wish You a Merry Christmas to a startled Mrs. Rogers, one of our many customers for life.  (This would have been a better story had it not happened at Easter!)

We weren't the first to discover that playing with your customers, involving them in their own service and marketing, would be the key to establishing a personal relationship that goes beyond simple transactions. We just followed the lead of others who discovered that involving customers creates loyalty that transcends price, product, packaging and place.

Southwest Airlines is famous for doing intuitively what we learned to do on purpose.
Flying from Memphis to Houston the other day a flight attendant recognized me saying.... "Aren't you that positively outrageous guy?"

"As a matter of fact, I am."  I replied, pleased to be noticed.

"Would you happen to have one of your books I could give away?”

"Sure!"

I didn't know what would happen. I just knew it would be fun.  At thirty thousand feet, the intercom rang out, "Ladies and gentlemen.  We're fortunate today to have Southwest Airline's author in residence, T. Scott Gross on board. If you would like to win a copy of his book, Positively Outrageous Service, use the napkin that we are handing out to guess the number of sheets of toilet paper it takes to stretch from the aft lav to the forward lav."

Then, much to the amusement of the customers, a flight attendant came racing down the aisle unfurling a roll of TP as she went! (The answer is 172 just in case it ever happens to you!)

Now, if that happened to you, would you tell anyone?  If you were asked, "How was your flight?" would you mention the TP incident?  

You bet you would.

And that's the whole point of Positively Outrageous Service: doing the unexpected, involving your customers and just plain making them say, "Wow."  

Of course, talking about POS is one thing. Getting ordinary people to actually do it is quite another. But it can be done. And when you learn to deliver POS several amazing side effects happen. Turnover goes down. Customers are willing to forgive you when you make small mistakes. You become less vulnerable to price cuts by the competition.  

For now, while you are thinking about how POS might fit your operation, ask yourself, "What have I done to surprise and delight my customers lately?  What have I done to make them say, "Wow?"
 (© T. Scott Gross 2015)

Positively Outrageous Service!