How my publisher got $5,000 of goodwill with $100

Ramit Sethi

It’s about that time where we start getting tons of invitations to weddings, birthday parties, and family reunions. Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed my friends mentioning how expensive these are. For example, one of my friends will end up paying about $1,000 to attend her friend’s wedding, with airfare, hotel, and gift. And we spent an average of $859 on Christmas gifts last year (that means you spend an average of $71 each month on Christmas gifts…did you factor that in when you guessed how much you spend in an average week?).

So last week, it occurred to me that there’s a way to cut down on the out-of-pocket expenses for some of these events. I was in New York meeting my publisher and had a GREAT time.

In fact, if I had to put a monetary number on it, I’d say my experience was worth the equivalent of $5,000 in my book advance. Why?

1. When my editor saw me looking at the books on the bookshelf, she said, “Take whatever books you want! In fact, just let us know and we’ll ship them to you.” This isn’t the case at all publishers: My friend, who published a book at another publisher, told me that his publisher offered 30% off their books. The fact that they were so willing to give me free books was such a remarkable attitude. So remarkable that I’m telling thousands of people about it today.

2. I got my photo taken, and I accidentally left a pair of jeans at the publisher. When I sent an email to one of my editors, she sent this back:

You did indeed leave your jeans here and I just got them from downstairs. If you want to swing by, I can leave them at our reception desk for you. Or, if someone (either someone in the apt. or a doorman) is around [where you’re staying], I can messenger them there. Or, if you prefer not to drag them home with you, I can just FedEx them back to you in SF.

This is top-notch service from a publisher, or anyone for that matter. She didn’t have to go above and beyond, but she did. It might cost $100 to ship those jeans and a few books, but it’s worth many times more to the recipient.

There are ways to apply this to your own life. If you’re trying to build a business relationship with someone, send them a book. It costs $15 (even cheaper than lunch! Which you should do, too) and is one of the easiest ways to show that you’re thinking about someone else.

If you can’t afford a $100 gift for your friend’s wedding, send something home-made or dig up old photos from high school.

I’m curious if you’ve found ways of saving money but offering something of higher value. Do you have any examples? Share them in the forums.

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  1. Laura

    What a great attitude to working with employees, co-workers, and clients. I recently resigned due to a blatant lack of respect at my job. It was so bad, I had rather resign with no job offers than wait. (I did have a cushion saved up before I left though.)

    As I’m searching, I’m not going to be superficial; I’m going to see if a job would be a good match. Thanks Ramit for sharing this!

  2. Sara

    Companies have an awesome opportunity to add value for their customers here. There are a bunch of online shoe companies, but I always check Zappos first because of their great customer service. They give their customer service representatives the leeway to do what it takes to make a customer really happy. It seems in my opinion that most of the time, the actual cost of doing something like free overnight shipping or free returns, is less than the value to the customer, and the value in word-of-mouth marketing that customer can give to the company.

    Seth Godin wrote about this recently after an online company called Custom Ink he was using to get t-shirts printed noticed (without any prompting) that the shirts were for a non-profit and offered to make a donation to the charity. Maybe they didn’t even know who he was, but he then plugged them on his blog, which is obviously worth way more than what it cost them in a small tax-deductible donation. You can read Seth’s blog entry here:

  3. Anand

    One idea thats worked wonders in our office is we recently started subsidizing the baked goods cost (think flour, eggs, etc) for any employee who did home-baked cooking and brought in food. This made the person who was constantly doing it very happy – she loves to cook and now we have an endless supply of baked goods to eat at the office which the company pays for!

  4. entrenewbie

    Customer service goes a longgggggg way with me and I’m sure many other customers feel the same. If someone is willing to go way above and beyond just being nice and helping me, this will make me a customer for life of the company.

    Paying for your employees lunch to entice them to meet other employees is an awesome idea. What a great way to encourage teamwork!

  5. Ryan McLean

    This is fantastic advice. Recently I have started a financial blog myself and I have wondered wy my readership hasn’t grown much. I have now decided to shift my focus to create content that generates value and will benefit my audience.
    This is how I am going above and beyond for my readers. Great tips, keep writing

  6. Cindy @ Financial Tips

    $71 a month on Christmas gifts, wow… I believe that breaks down to, $17.75 a week! I believe I will save that much starting each week from Christmas this year until Christmas next year to see how well I do!

  7. Gabe

    If anybody has read “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Galdwell he discusses something Lexus did at it’s inception to illustrate how much it valued its customers.

    Essentially there was a part that needed to be recalled so they contacted each owner individually and had them come in to fix the part. If I’m not mistaken they were treated to lunch while their car was being fixed and returned to find their car had been cleaned as well. Also, if I’m not mistaken, if they lived more than 50 miles from a dealership, then Lexus sent a mechanic to their home. Talk about customer service…

  8. Derek

    I have to say that it is crazy that you wrote this article. I just told my fiance I was going to send a book I am reading to the director of recruiting at my company. They happen to be located in California (I’m in Nebraska) and I have never met them before, but I thought the book was so good that some of the leaders of our company should read it. I figure it only takes a few bucks to make this gesture and it would be a nice surprise for the Director when she receives the gift from some employee she doesn’t even know. Heck, maybe it will help me move up in the company a bit faster. Who knows.

    P.S. Here is the craziest part of the story. The book I told my fiance I was going to send to the recruiting director is called “Recruit or Die”. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you have heard of it before.

  9. anotherguy


    would you have personally fedexed a pair of jeans if someone left them at ur home? (at your cost) even if that might add value to your friendship.

    It’s easy for that person to do that because it was company expense.

    If you owned PBWIKI entirely, would you have that lunch policy? Its easy to burn VC money.

  10. anotherguy


    im gonna play the devil’s advocate here. any chance she can be offended?

  11. Tage

    Companies are always looking for ways to hit their advertising niche, get more customers, etc. But like you said above, they needn’t spend enormous amounts of money to attract business. How many of us have had a wonderful customer service experience or been given the royal treatment at a store, and then gone home and told someone about it. …”Speaking of going shopping, the other day I went to return a tool at Costco and even though it had been a month, they accepted it no problem.” Then maybe this person will tell someone, and pretty soon, goodwill has spread and people will migrate to your store.

  12. Christine in Iowa

    Nearly every comment here is from a person who has received and appreciated good customer service. Yet the overall quality of customer service out there seems to be so low! Think about calling an airline or cable company to get something resolved…it’s so frustrating!
    I recently bought $3000 of furniture from a local store (bed, mattresses, table and chairs) and not only would they not give me any deal on the delivery charge but they charged me extra for delivery because the chairs pushed me over the number limit for delivery. And I have to wait until one piece arrives in 6 weeks, to get the whole delivery!
    Yet this morning at Krispy Kreme, I bought 2 dozen doughnuts and the worker gave me and my 2 boys a free doughnut hot off the belt and I’m happy! 🙂 It doesn’t have to be a big gesture….as Tage said, it’s the little things that customers share with their friends, and so on…
    Good article Ramit.

  13. Lee

    off topic, but how did you find a publishing agent or publisher for that matter… did they approach you by the dozen or was it a matter of hunting one down?

    on topic, service is definitely a contributing factor in overall user experience. I think it will stick out with the recency effect more so if there was just something minor or extra that stood out. On another note, a lot of these gift items can be classified as qualified expenses however just being overtly polite and thoughtful and doesn’t cost a dime.

    Recent example, one semi 4-star restaurant handed our bag and boxes and made us put our ‘doggiebag’ together, another one put it all nicely packaged for us and threw in a extra set of rolls for the left-over main course, go figure.

  14. Ramit Sethi

    Derek: That is RIDICULOUS. What are the odds??

    Anotherguy: Good point, but there are ways to do similar things even with your own money. For example, after I had lunch with one of my mentors, he was talking about someone buying an expensive purse. I mentioned a book he should read, Deluxe. Right after lunch, I bought the book and shipped it to him from Amazon. It arrived the next day. That’s a $13 way to make an impression and really help someone out.

  15. Danica

    My one nit-pick: I don’t spend $859 on Christmas presents, and if that’s the average I’m betting that a lot of us are spending either considerably more or considerably less than that. I think the reminder to factor in what I spend on Christmas gifts is helpful… but not $71 a month! (I think I may even have spent less than $71 total on Christmas gifts last year, personally, although that’s not my goal.)

    I love the giving-things-away, going-three-steps-beyond model of customer service. That’s why I offer a full refund plus 10% if my grocery boxes arrive with any damaged or funky ingredients. What I’m learning now is that, just maybe, I need to stick with my full refund offer even when customers politely ask for (for example) a partial refund because of some problem in shipping or whatever.

    I had a customer ask for half her money refunded in June, because she just didn’t feel the product met her needs. I sent the half-refund via PayPal and apparently it never actually went through. Now she’s disputing it with PayPal, and what should have been a friendly little “oh, okay, here you go” transaction is turning into Drama. Of course, I’ve offered the amount that I originally tried to send, and the note I attached at the time… but I’m starting to think that I’d also rather just stop fiddling around with half-refunds and half-effective payments and seeing what the customer wants, and instead just send more than they expected to get.

  16. Jim

    You left jeans at the publisher’s… what were you doin’ with your jeans off anyway? No wonder she’s being so nice to you!

  17. Weekly Round Up: Beginning of the Week | Green Panda Treehouse

    […] How my publisher got $5,000 of goodwill with $100 shows us that goodwill goes a long way. […]

  18. Debt Free Hispanic

    Sending someone a gift is the best way to build a relationship. If you are seeing someone face to face then handing them a gift can go a long way in business. Gifts leave a lasting impression!

  19. Anthony Kuhn

    Businesses often underestimate the value of good service and word-of-mouth when dealing with their customers. Thanks for a reminder to go the extra mile every time!

  20. andrew

    I commonly practice giving the benefit of doubt to the customer. I work in the the construction industry and it is common for contractors to lie about abusing our products and trying to get credit from our distributors. So instead of being a pain in the ass about it, by requiring the distributor to send the products back for inspection I routinely offer a onetime “goodwill” replacement to the distributor. The only caveat is that they have a conversation with the user about proper and safe usage. This goes miles in building the relationships with those distributors. They know that we will always back our products (many of which are sold for $100’s or more) and back up their decisions with the user on the spot. We regularly get told how easy we are to do business with. Plus I would rather put my product back in the hands of someone to try again then give money back. I can’t recall one time when the replacement also failed and we lost a customer.

  21. linda

    had purchased a dishwasher from a store. the installer was a subcontrator of the store,, i paid him and also gave him a tip for lunch for him and his helper.when he left i noticed the dishwasher was in crooked. i called the store.
    they said they would call the installer. the store called me back and said the installer would bd calling me about the installation. yea right. lo and behold he called in 5 minutes, apologized profusly, explained he was at another job and would be back at my house in approx i hr. he came & fixed the dishwasher………the moral of the story
    treat workers as human beings and they will usually return in kind, the customer service from the store was worth much more than any “discount” from a chain