When an automotive department employee received a bad performance review by her employers at the Walmart in Sanford, Florida, she created a plan to boost her ratings—by giving customers free merchandise.
Unfortunately for Walmart, that meant Jennifer gave away $1,500 in product she wasn't authorized to distribute. And unfortunately for Jennifer, that meant being charged with grand theft and being taken to jail.
Ironically, this technique of surprising and delighting customers by giving away free stuff is a mainstay of highly regarded companies—particularly luxury brands that can afford to wow a hotel-goer, for example, by providing a bucket of champagne and a gourmet dessert in honor of a guest's birthday.
But when you're a budget brand like Walmart, freely handing out oil changes, tire services, and batteries is generally frowned upon and can eat into narrow margins.
One of my business keynotes is about Hospitality Magic. When I speak to employees of an organization, I show them how every employee can enhance any customer's experience. The best techniques don't cost a penny, because what customers really want is to be noticed, to be acknowledged, and to be served. They just want another person to pay attention to them.
I'm thrilled when the Jennifers of the world Think Like a Magician™ by looking for ways to go above and beyond to delight customers. But these directives to amaze have to start from the top. Management has to provide the budget and parameters for their employees to work with.
Most importantly, as this story shows, when managers give negative performance reviews, they need to pair their criticisms with actionable customer service-boosting techniques that will keep their books in the black—and their employees out of jail.