Critical Non-Essentials sounds like an oxymoron – why would something Non-Essential be considered so essential to the operation of a successful business? But these small gestures, ones that your client or customer do not expect, are worth their weight in gold. Especially for small businesses.

What is a Critical Non-Essential? We like to think of it as anything that you do for your customer that is not part of the standard package. Customers might expect a form birthday card in the mail, but are they expecting a hand-written note inside? With a Starbucks gift card? Probably not. Is your cigar-loving customer expecting a thank you, or even a generic gift card, as a referral bonus? Probably. But is that person expecting a carefully curated box of rare cigars to arrive with their next shipment of your product? Probably not. Critical Non-Essentials could be sending a gift basket for no reason whatsoever. Or even a handwritten thank you note for being your client, even when they didn’t recently buy something. These are critical non-essentials.


Critical Non-Essentials are worth way more than the actual dollars spent on the gift – there is no price on keeping a happy customer. Or is there? Let’s say that you are a home remodeler. You’ve got a customer that had you redo their bathroom, and the cost was $50,000. Great! You made sure that the service was flawless, the craftsmanship superior, and the project was all on budget. Double great! Let’s say that you sent that client, 2 years down the road, a bouquet of flowers on their birthday, long after the completion of their project. The next year, they are now ready to do a kitchen remodel too. Chances are, they won’t even call anyone else to quote the job. That $75,000 kitchen remodel is yours. The cost to keep a happy customer coming back only was a $50 flower arrangement – we’d take that return on investment in marketing any day.

Often when coaching leaders and teams, we talk about an Emotional Bank Account. Just like your Bank Account for your money, there are withdrawals and deposits, and having more deposits than withdrawals is what you want to keep financial happiness. Your Emotional Bank Account is the same. Each of the Critical Non-Essentials make a very valuable deposit in the customers’ Emotional Bank Account, giving them the means and the motivation to patronize your business again and again. Giving more than you take is a great skill for being a kind human being, but in business it’s crucial.

Is your competition doing these extra special things? Look no further than their reviews on Google My Business, Yelp, or Facebook. Customers appreciate these little steps in making their experience extraordinary, and they’re going to talk about it. Read the reviews on your competitors. Do just one step better. Do they send a hand-written thank you note? Send a fully cooked dinner to them to enjoy in their new home. Do they return your pet to you clean and in great care? Put a little bandana on them so when they leave it’s a little bit extra.


There are a million ways to make a customer experience extraordinary, whether your business is giving root canals or spa treatments (We recommend reading Dr. Paddi Lund’s book The Absolute Critical Non-Essentials, an oldie but goodie). But how do you decide what to do? The absolute best way to surprise and delight a customer is to build a relationship with them. If everyone gets a Starbucks gift card, and they hate coffee, then that gift is going to be tossed aside. But if they’re a craft beer drinker, and they get a six pack from the hottest new microbrew pub, then that is going to leave an impression. Showing that you pay attention just amplifies the experience for the customer. Each customer has unique likes and dislikes and the more you can know about them the better. Let the connection be genuine though – just simply reading their LinkedIn bio is not enough.


Your best customers can often be disguised as your employees. Be sure that the Critical Non-Essentials spirit of giving and making the experience extraordinary extends to them. If your office tradition is to get a cake for someone’s birthday, but you know that the employee has been working day and night to lose weight, then a cake is probably not something that they appreciate. Take the time to know whether they like chocolate or vanilla, or both. Take the time to be sure that the employee doesn’t have any food allergies. These Emotional Bank Account deposits go a long way in the future – that employee is going to feel more connected to the team and in the long run will be exponentially more productive in the business.


Looking at your overall Customer Service strategy, and including Critical Non-Essentials in that, can help you secure clients for life. These don’t have to be grand gestures, but even little acknowledgements can fill the Emotional Bank Account for the future. Make the Customer Service strategy personal, because every person is different. Every person is just that: a person. Recognize them for the unique, wonderful individual that they are – and show them that you do.


Do you know how to keep customers for life? Need a new strategy? Are your employees trained to recognize and embrace uniqueness in their customers? Do your employees feel appreciated and loved? We can help. Schedule your no-cost, no-obligation business analysis today.

About the author,

Director of Marketing, ActionCOACH Columbus

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