My good friend Paul Chaney recently introduced me to the joys of lagniappe, a term popular in Louisiana where Paul lives. As Paul explained, a lagniappe (pronounced LAN-yap) is a “something extra” you give to another person in order to surprise and delight — for instance, you plan a dinner with your wife to celebrate her birthday, and then during dinner you surprise her with tickets to a play. I believe a lagniappe can also create a happy customer, too, as a recent experience of my own shows.
My family and I were in southern Illinois last weekend to explore the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. After driving for more than four hours from the Chicago area, we arrived at the Doubletree Hotel in Collinsville (just northeast of St. Louis) on an unseasonably warm October afternoon. The hotel lobby looked clean and was attractively appointed, but I expect cleanliness from a Doubletree. When I checked in at the front desk, a smiling clerk named Ricardo asked me how many people were in my party.
“Three,” I replied. “Just me, my wife, and my daughter.”
Ricardo then presented me with three warm chocolate chip walnut cookies, each tucked into tiny paper bags.
Thank you for the lagniappe moment, Ricardo.
You don’t need to spend much money or effort to give someone a lagniappe, but surprise and delight are essential. When Cinderella signs your daughter’s autograph book during your family visit to the Magic Kingdom, Disney has certainly brightened your day — but I would not categorize the experience as a lagniappe because the possibility of an encounter with Cinderella is understood to be part of the price of admission. But if Cinderella also gave you and your daughter an invitation for a free dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table restaurant when she signed your daughter’s autograph book, well, then, Cinderella would be giving your family one heck of a lagniappe. And consider this extraordinary Disney moment as told by customer relations consultant Chris Anthony in Guy Kawasaki’s book Enchantment:
We were on our honeymoon at Walt Disney World in 2007, staying at a non-Disney hotel. The previous night, a member of the hotel staff attempted to break into our room. The management’s response was, “You should have deadbolted the door.” We were both shaken and scared all day; we barely saw the park we went to. Then we went to dinner at Jiko, at the [Disney] Animal Kingdom Lodge.
While we waited, we told Sarah, the restaurant manager on duty, about what had happened. She asked us to wait and disappeared through a staff-only door. When she came back, she had room keys and said, “Cancel your rooms at the other hotel. We’ll match its price for you here at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. That was unacceptable.”
Our honeymoon could have been ruined by the offending staff member. Instead, Sarah, on behalf of Walt Disney World, turned it into something amazing. We’ve never forgotten — and we’re never staying anywhere else.
Chris and his wife went to Jiko for a dinner and got an incredible lodging upgrade for dessert. I think Disney delivered a bona fide lagniappe to Chris Anthony.
The beauty of a lagniappe is that you can gain a loyal customer for life with one small, inexpensive gesture (note Chris’s comment “we’re never staying anywhere else”). We are so conditioned for indifferent service by airlines, banks, telephony providers, and high-tech firms that it doesn’t take much to surprise and delight — just a little humanity.
What’s a lagniappe you’ve experienced? What’s a lagniappe you’ve given to someone else?