Last week a friend of mine went into the hospital for a simple-but-painful operation. He’s a corporate bigwig with more than a touch of hypochondria, so he didn’t mind spending top dollar for the best care.
The day after his surgery, I had a packed calendar, so I dropped by the hospital early in the morning, well before visiting hours. “I’m sorry,” said the guard at the front door, sounding more irritated that apologetic. “No visitors before 10 a.m.”
“I’m going to 11 West,” I replied, per my friend’s instructions.
The guard perked up immediately. “Oh, I’m sorry. Second set of elevators on your right. Enjoy your visit.”
On the VIP floor, I was greeted warmly by a receptionist in the wood-paneled foyer. I turned down her offer of coffee or a newspaper, and she pointed me toward my friend’s room. I opened the door and stopped in my tracks. His room was nearly the size of my apartment, perched directly above Central Park with New York City views that seemed to go on forever.
Even with a second bed for his overnight nurse, it felt like there was enough space for a pick-up game of basketball.
My friend’s wife was perusing the three-course breakfast options from a leather-bound menu, while my friend paced the floor in an embroidered waffle-weave bathrobe.
At the risk of sounding like a country bumpkin, I had to comment on the luxurious digs.
“Please,” my friend snapped, “this place is a joke. They advertise Frette bathrobes in their brochure. I’m telling you, this is not Frette.”
He was half kidding, of course, and I was glad to see that his sense of humor survived the surgery intact. Still, he went on to list a half-dozen ways that his VIP room fell short of its price tag. “They just lost his business,” I thought to myself — but I was wrong.
When a complication forced him back into the hospital a day after he was discharged, my friend once again whipped out his credit card and checked right back into his VIP room. Turns out he wasn’t concerned about floor space or Frette linens on fluffy omelets served on china.
The big selling point for him didn’t actually cost the hospital a thing: He simply didn’t want to be alone, and that required an exception to the rules.
When was the last time you looked at your company policies as a marketing tool? No doubt there’s a perfectly good reason for every rule you have in place, but think how much loyalty you could gain by granting exceptions to your best customers.
Freebies, discounts, special packaging — they all cost real money, and they might not be appreciated in the way you expect. But bending the rules? It doesn’t have to cost a penny, and I’ve never met anyone who’s immune to a phrase like, “Okay, we can do it just for you … ”
Sure, it’s important to have Standard Operating Procedures — but aren’t there some customers who should feel anything but standard?
Photo credit: liber via flickr CC