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Free can be very profitable

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Sometimes one of the greatest ways to provide great customer service is to give something of value away for free. It doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive. It can be something small—even really small. It just has to be valuable to the customer.

Think about the owner of a restaurant who buys his regular customers a drink or a dessert. Actually, that’s not small enough. I’m talking really small—something that costs your only a dollar or two.

What prompted this thought was an email from Ron Baker, president of Gracey-Backer Insurance. Ron was pulled over one night for having a broken taillight. Ron promised the officer he would get it fixed immediately. He went straight to the nearest full-service station, and the mechanic quickly replaced the bulb. Ron asked him, “How much do I owe you?” and the mechanic said, “This one’s on me. 

Ron was dumbfounded and, at the same time, delighted. He explained, “I wasn’t even his customer, but I am now. I used to buy gas at the discount gas station a few blocks away to save a penny a gallon. Now I get my gas at this guy’s station.”

Ron’s story reminded me of Chris Zane, owner of a bike shop in Connecticut. Known for his amazing customer service, Chris employs a policy of not charging the customer for anything costing less than a dollar. For example, a customer who needs a master link, a small part which holds the chain together, will not be charged. Zane says, “The cost to me is virtually nothing. We’re not going to chase the pennies. We’re looking at the long-term effect of giving someone a master link. And you should see the look on people’s faces!” It turns out this policy costs Zane less than $100 a year—a small price to pay for loyal customers who are worth thousands of dollars over time.

Sometimes your kind gesture can have no monetary value at all. It’s just a little effort, taking time out to do something nice for a customer or potential customer. Take the story of one of my newsletter subscribers. He told of having car trouble and becoming stranded on the road. A limo driver was passing by and asked if he could drop him off at a service station—no charge. The driver was just being a Good Samaritan, but it paid off handsomely, because my subscriber owns a company that now hires this limo driver for all his trips to the airport.

Sometimes “free” can be a very lucrative customer service strategy. It adds value, promotes good will and builds trust with customers. Even the smallest thing, if valuable to your customers, can create what you’re really after: their loyalty.

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Shep Hyken is a professional speaker and best-selling author. For more information on Shep’s speaking presentations, call 314-692-2200, email [email protected] or go to


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