Small-business Advice: Developing a “Free Soup” Strategy

Unless you have some sort of exclusive patent, chances are that your business competes on quality. This means that whether you run a dry-cleaning company, a restaurant, an office supply [store] or a gardening business, your customer has a number of choices [for] where to […] buy essentially the same product or service.

So how can you stand out from the pack? Obviously, you should stake your reputation on quality, friendly customer service, professionalism, good prices and so forth.

But in addition to all that, John Jantsch, author of the Duct Tape Marketing blog, believes you also need a “free soup strategy.”

For Jantsch, “free soup” is shorthand for an unexpected bonus that exceeds your customer’s expectations and leaves [him or] her not only satisfied, but so impressed that [he or] she raves about your business both online (email mes[s]ages, social [media] marketing sites, review forums) and offline (conversations with […] friends and family, casual recommendations to people who need a similar service).

In some cases, this unexpected bonus could literally be “free soup.” That’s what happened with Jantsch and his wife when they ate at a local restaurant and received a complimentary unexpected pint of soup to go along with their bill.

In the comments section of his post, some of Jantsch’s readers chimed in with examples of “free soup” strategies they use themselves or have experienced as customers—a house inspector who gives his customers a free re-inspection, a web design company that provides its customers with a bonus favicon as a surprise at the end of the project, a home décor company that gives soaps and candles to its clients.

Your “free soup” doesn’t need to be expensive or elaborate, but it should relate in some way to the products or service you provide. If you sell bicycles, maybe you could provide a free six-month maintenance offer that would have the added benefit of bringing your customers back to your store. If you do outdoor landscaping, you could give your clients a bonus potted plant for indoor use.

It’s also important to know the surprise factor in the “free soup” strategy. If you sell bicycles with a six-month maintenance offer bundled in, that might be an attractive offer, but it’s not exactly “free soup.” “Free soup” is giving the customer something unexpected after the purchase so that he or she feels a sense of satisfaction at getting what he or she has paid for and more.

What are some of the ways you go above and beyond expectations for your clients? Do “free soup” strategies impress you as a customer?

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