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As many of you will know, I co-wrote my first book Sort Your Brain Out with Adrian Webster, who had long been enjoying great success as a highly in-demand keynote speaker and best-selling business author through his brilliant Polar Bear Pirate book series for many years before I met him.

In Polar Bear Pirates he talks about the concept of Tiny Noticeable Things – or TNT’s – small favours that can one person can do for another that has a profound impact on how people think, feel and choose. And Adrian found that his TNTs resonated so deeply with various audiences over the years that he ended up writing a whole book on the topic! Ever since discovering the concept of TNTs I, like many, have started to notice them everywhere.

It might be that person in your life with whom you often cross paths that serves you regularly in a local shop, café or restaurant and always remembers your name, or what you usually buy, or simply asks how your loved ones are getting on. It might be a co-worker who bother to give you positive feedback or an unexpected helping hand. TNTs can take many forms. Too many to go into detail here.

It’s always nice to be remembered, to be treated as an individual; not just another face in the crowd. These moments of recognition, or other types of thoughtful behaviour, can make a huge difference in the business world as well as in our everyday lives. Whether showing employees that their efforts are appreciated, delivering exceptional service or inspiring customers to come back again and again due to the effective deployment of the personal touch, it can make a huge difference to employee retention and customer loyalty.

Actively looking out for TNTs in my daily life has become a bit of a habit. Admittedly it usually comes up in the context of noticing where service providers have had an opportunity to deliver a small but thoughtful gesture, to show that they appreciate my business, but FAILED to take it. But then again on the rare occasion when these things do happen, it comes as a really nice surprise (as opposed to simply being expected).

In other words, once you get your head around the concept of Tiny Noticeable Things, in the Websterian sense, you can’t help but start seeing these TNT fails everywhere. But you also appreciate the TNT successes even more.

I recently had a succession of TNT-type experiences that I thought I’d share with you in this month’s blog. I hope that it will inspire people to look for ways to imitate this succession of excellent customer service in their own working contexts.

It all took place in a hotel on the sun scorched, wind swept coast of the ever-glimmering Red Sea. Over the week I was lucky enough to spend there recently, accompanied by my partner, various members of staff managed to deliver dozens of TNTs between them. The succession of consecutive TNTs felt like it had taken on a whole new category of customer service that together were far too “noticeable” to reasonably be described as “tiny.”

It occurred to me extending on the explosive theme introduced by TNT’s – small things that have an explosive impact on how people feel – I’ve started thinking of these multiplicity of thoughtful gestures as SEMTEx. This is short for a Succession of Emotionally-Moving Thoughtful Experiences.

Anyone who has spent the night in a hotel is likely to be familiar with the “standard” TNTs that can be routinely observed in various lodgings across the world. Small gestures often made in an effort to make a client’s stay more comfortable and convenient. Tiny soaps, bottles of shampoo and shower gel that, while not ideal from the perspective of unnecessary waste, can nonetheless come in handy when travelling light. Similarly, complimentary tea and coffee always goes down well. Sometimes, if you’re lucky you’ll occasionally find a chocolate on your pillow or a voucher for a free drink at the bar. Nice, but not overwhelming. That said, sometimes a member of staff will be given the freedom to do something that genuinely brings delight to a “valued” customer.

For example, at the restaurant a veritable army of staff members made a concerted effort to make us feel welcome and well provided for. That too is not uncommon, but one chef recalled from our first visit to the buffet that my girlfriend was a big fan of middle eastern flat breads (same same but different from pitta bread and round instead of oval). Whenever she went anywhere near the bread spread, this extremely hospitable man unhesitatingly dashed straight into the kitchen to get her some fresh ones hot from the oven.

The kitchen went to town with the pink dye on Valentine’s Day

Another young lad, on the waiting staff this time, having sharing his love for Chelsea football club with me, soon learned that his team is my team’s most loathed adversaries. Completely unperturbed by this revealation, for the rest of our stay, he never once missed an opportunity to chant “Chelsea are the best” under his breath any time he passed near our table.

This may sound potentially irritating but the truth is he read me very well. Given his deep knowledge of British culture (we Brits used to holiday in Egypt in droves prior to the Arab Spring, apparently), correctly discerned that I might appreciate the opportunity for some banter. Indeed, it gave me the opportunity to share some choice anti-Chelsea songs from the terraces of Loftus Road under my own breath, whenever I happened to pass him by. Much fun was had by all. (Please rest assured these exchanges caused no disturbance to the other guests, who were all Egyptian, German or Russian).

I would class the above personalised customer service as TNTs, arguing that they qualify as Tiny Noticeable Things because they were fairly small gestures, easy to execute from their perspective, but specific to us as individuals all the same. It simply demonstrated to us that we were remembered and so recognised as valued guests. It was pleasing to us both.

While these relatively minor experiences had a disproportionately large impact on the pleasure we derived from our stay at first, thanks largely to the surprise we felt upon realising we were getting special treatment – the effect naturally diminished from one exposure to the next as the days rolled by. Day-by-day we naturally started to learn what to expect.

This meant that from day three onwards we were able to predict with a fair degree of accuracy what would happen when we encountered our TNT wielding gentlemen. One member of staff, however, always kept us guessing.

His name was Ahm (name reproduced here with explicit permission) – a kind and gentle soul who, whenever we forgot to hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on our door, not only cleaned our room impeccably but always went the extra mile.

When we came back to this on day 3, we presumed it would be a one off.

I’d seen this done with restaurant napkins before, but this is a bigger undertaking. I felt touched that he’d take the time to do something so thoughtful, but had zero expectation of any repetition of the kindness. Yet over the next few days we had some more surprises in store…

This one made me jump out of my skin when I popped back to grab something. This may have had something to do with it being life-sized and wearing my clothes.
This one was a bit odd but using my hat and glasses and the TV remote control was a nice touch
This one for Valentine’s Day I thought was very apt. Particularly given the love heart between the two love birds.

Ahm clearly really put his heart and soul into these creations, which is why we felt extremely touched by this Succession of Emotionally-Moving Thoughtful Experiences. It made us feel liked and gave us a deeper connection with him than anyone else we interacted with in the entire week of our stay. While he no doubt makes art for other guests, that is neither here nor there. The point is his gestures warmed our hearts a little, day after day after day. This is SEMTEx is the hallmark of exceptionally good customer service. I hope having heard this tale, you’ll be able to find a way to reproduce this phenomenon in your own business or work place.

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Dr Jack
drjacklewis@gmail.com