An Unexpected Gift at an Unexpected Time

Posted on by in Attitude, Business, Creativity/Innovation, Customer Service, Leadership, Remarkability

Unfortunately, two weeks ago, I caught the flu.  But fortunately, by Sunday afternoon I was well enough to watch one of my all-time favorite movies, "Finding Forrester," with Sean Connery as Forrester (the mentor) and Rob Brown as Jamal Wallace (the mentee).  In the middle of this great character movie, there is a moment when Jamal mentions that he likes a girl named Claire and Forrester offers the piece of advice that is this week’s title.  In essence he says, "If you want to woo a girl, then you need to give her an unexpected gift at an unexpected time."

I love that line. Why?  Because in seven words it not only captures the essence of love, it also captures the essence of remarkability.  Whenever anyone does what’s expected, it’s not remarkable–it’s just expected.  If Jamal gave her an expected gift at an expected time, it wouldn’t woo her, it would simply be a nice gesture. But when he gives her a unexpected gift at an unexpected time, it not only catches her off guard, it takes her breath away.  And isn’t that what you and I want to do with our clients and customers?

Now, even if you’re not from the Christian tradition, I’m sure you can at least appreciate, from an intellectual perspective, the power of the Christmas story.  Why?  Because it’s about an unexpected gift at an unexpected time.  My guess is that, apart from knowing the Christmas story, if most of us were asked to write a story about God coming to earth, none of us would have written a story about God coming to earth in the form of a human being, being born as a baby, in a distant town, to poverty stricken parents and then spending his first night on earth, wrapped in rags, sleeping in a feeding trough usually reserved for waste products. In other words, one of the reasons why the Christmas story is so compelling (and has been for two thousand years) is because it’s about an unexpected gift at an unexpected time.

Remember, we don’t get to determine if what we do is remarkable, only those who are the recipients of our actions do.  And if they aren’t remarking, then what we’ve done isn’t remarkable.  This is one of the reasons why I encourage my clients to skip sending out Christmas/holiday cards.  Why?  Because how many Christmas/holiday cards do you get? And how many times have you remarked to someone else, "Hey, you won’t believe it, I just got a card from my insurance agent for Christmas!" Probably never.  In fact, most of the business cards you and I receive are simply imprints with no personalized notes–or even signatures.  So, let me ask you, are you wooed by that?  Are you moved by an impersonal card from a business or organization that you receive around this time of the year?  Again, probably not.  In fact, I bet most of the cards you receive like this hit your circular file rather quickly.  So, why send them?

Instead, what I recommend to my clients is, "an unexpected gift at an unexpected time."  There are all kinds of ways to do this.  For example, you could pick another date, like Ground Hog Day.  In all of my life, I don’t believe I’ve ever received a card from anyone on Ground Hog Day. But if I did, and it happened to be a personalized note (not an imprint), I’m pretty sure I would tell a whole lot of people about it.  "Hey, you wouldn’t believe what my banker (or accountant or insurance agent or mechanic, etc.) did today.  He/she sent me a personalized note on Ground Hog Day ya da, ya da, ya da."

Of course, "the unexpected gift at an unexpected time," doesn’t have to be a card.  It simply needs to be a gift of some value to the person receiving it. For example, if you know the person likes reading history, a book on history would mean a whole lot more than a calendar.  Or if your client likes wine, a nice bottle of wine says a whole lot more than an ad specialty with your company’s logo on it.  Or if you know your client loves fishing and you purchased a lure with their name (not your company’s name) engraved on it, they would probably never forget that moment.

In other words, winning over clients and customers isn’t all that different than wooing someone you love. Romance isn’t about being predictable, it’s about being unpredictable. It’s about giving an unexpected gift at an unexpected time (or in an unexpected way).

So, what can you do to woo your clients and customers?  What would they not expect?  What would "take their breath away?" What would move them to want to remark to someone else, "You won’t believe what just happened to me . . . "?

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