Giving your clients a little something extra: The concept of lagniappe

The other day, I visited my friendly local dentist for my six-month checkup. As I was leaving, I received not only the traditional toothbrush, but also some floss and, wow, a little supply of toothpicks in a carrying case. This might not sound like much to you, but consider this: Have you ever been driving along on your way to an important appointment only to discover you had something stuck in a tooth?

As I was contemplating this generosity, I ran across a wonderful word – lagniappe. Pronounced “lan-yap” or “lanny-yapp,” the word means “a little something extra, a bonus.” You could also say it’s something thrown in for good measure. The 13th donut in a baker’s dozen is lagniappe. If you are a fan of Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy, you’ll remember the phrase, “Lovely parting gifts.” These are lagniappe (unless you don’t have a hankering for press-on nails).

The word has Creole or Cajun origins, and the custom is believed to originate in the Spanish quarter of New Orleans. Certainly the spelling is French in origin. Mark Twain ran across the word “lagniappe” while traveling to New Orleans, and he called it “a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get, a nice limber, expressive, handy word” (in Travels on the Mississippi).

In the modern world of customer service, the concept of lagniappe is a useful one to remember. Giving your clients or patients something extra has several benefits:

• Receiving lagniappe makes people feel special. Ask a child what he remembers about the doctor’s office and most likely he’ll tell you it was the sucker he received on the way out.
• Giving lagniappe differentiates you from your competitors.
• Giving lagniappe helps people remember your practice and your services, like the pen you give with your practice name on it.
• Giving lagniappe helps tie you to your customers. When people receive something for nothing, they feel a sense of obligation to the giver. This could make them more likely to give back to you, possibly by referring others or just making them feel obligated to come back. A perfect example is the little gifts given by charities, to get you to feel obligated to donate to them. There’s nothing evil in this concept; it’s just human nature to want to give back in return; it’s called “reciprocity.”

The possibilities for lagniappe are limited only by your imagination. Here are some possibilities, just to get your creative thinking process started:
• When a new patient fills out paperwork, give him/her the pen to keep. Of course, it has your name on it, but it is still a nice thought.
• If your new patients have a lot of things to take home with them, give them a folder or canvas bag to carry everything in.
• Give a cookie to clients who fill out a satisfaction survey.
• Provide a coupon for a free ice cream cone to every patient on “patient appreciation day.”

Some tips for using lagniappe:

1. Keep it small and simple. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to make people feel special. That pen you give to new patients should work, but it doesn’t have to be expensive.

2. Don’t do it all the time. If you gave out presents every time a client came into the office, it wouldn’t be lagniappe. People don’t value what is expected. Only give once in a while. The exception to this is children; they expect that lollipop every time they come in, and you and their parents won’t have a good day if they don’t get it.

3. Give on unexpected occasions. Avoid the traditional holidays and celebrations and find a meaningful day on which to give lagniappe. One doctor I know sends Thanksgiving cards instead of Christmas or Hanukkah cards, to express his gratitude to patients who have been with him for a year.

4. Finally, the best lagniappe is a sincere “thank you,” which costs nothing and gives huge payback.