• Surprise Your Customers Dec 20, 2013

    Surprise Your Customers


    It was the morning of my birthday so my wife handed me the phone. Was it my daughter? My brother? My junior high school friend calling from Maine? No, it was my health club. Huh? An enthusiastic voice was saying, "We hope you have a really wonderful day!" I had become used to receiving their annual postcard offering me a free scoop of ice cream in their snack bar, but this was different. So cheerful. So unexpected.

    Settling into cyberspace after a nice breakfast, I opened a new browser window displaying the familiar Google home page. I have become increasingly fond of the day's Google Doodle -- the creative and often animated illustrated variation on the familiar Google logo, which commemorates a day in history or a significant current event. Not only do I find them to be clever, but I am impressed by the work of their programming team in executing complex behaviors right there in your web browser. Not an easy feat!

    I am reminded of the Google Doodle celebrating the 78th birthday of Bob Moog, the inventor of the music synthesizer, which allowed you to set filters and envelopes and record a tune. I am not now nor have I ever been much of a gamer, but on the 50th anniversary of the Dr. Who television show a few weeks ago, I cheerfully wasted an hour dodging Daleks in a silly game embedded in the day's Doodle.

    True to this playful spirit, which is an integral part of their brand identity, Google does not present a new Doodle every day, and when they do they provide no explanation until you hover over or click on the illustration. Part of the fun is trying to guess what momentous event is being celebrated. So I was intrigued, that morning, when the Google logo was spelled out by an array of sinfully rich-looking cakes, some of them decorated with stars and others with candles. What event in history could this be commemorating? Did someone actually invent the cupcake?

    The joke was on me. After a minute or two of feeble guessing, I allowed my cursor to hover over the digital pastries. A tool tip appeared: "Happy Birthday Michael." Did I know that Google had the capability to do this? Of course. Had I expected it? Not one bit!

    Nowadays, it's harder than ever to do something that's perceived as original or unexpected. The creative impulses of billions of human imaginations are offered up for free every second, filtered by popular media channels and delivered to our phones and tablets and -- maybe next year -- projected on a thin veil before our eyes.

    But if you can find a way to truly surprise your customer, with an unexpected gift, a clever email, an act of kindness or a funny line, you might really make their day. At least for an hour or so.