Derek Sivers

Little things make all the difference

If you find even the smallest way to make people smile, they’ll remember you more for that smile than for all your other fancy business-model stuff.

Here are some things that made a huge difference on the CD Baby website:

Because we shipped FedEx at 5 p.m. each day, customers would often call and ask, “What time is it there? Do I still have time to get it sent today?” So I added two little lines of programming code that counted how many hours and minutes remained until 5 p.m. and then showed the result by the shipping options. “You have 5 hours, 18 minutes until our next FedEx shipment.” Customers loved this!

We answered our phone within two rings, always — 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Phones were everywhere, so even if the customer service rep was busy, someone in the warehouse could pick up. All anyone had to do was say “CD Baby!” Customers loved this! Someone actually picking up the phone at a company is so rare that musicians would often tell me later at conferences that it was the main reason they decided to go with CD Baby — they could always talk to a real person immediately. All employees knew that as long as we weren’t completely swamped, they should take a minute and get to know the caller a bit. Ask about her music. Ask how it’s going. Yes, it would lead to twenty-minute conversations sometimes, but those people became lifelong fans.

Every outgoing email has a “From:” name, right? Why not use that to make people smile, too? With one line of code, I made it so that every outgoing email customized the “From:” field to be “CD Baby loves {firstname}.” So if the customer’s name was Susan, every email she got from us would say it was from “CD Baby loves Susan.” Customers loved this!

Sometimes, after we had done the forty-five minutes of work to add a new album to the store, the musician would change his mind and ask us to do it over again with a different album cover or different audio clips. I wanted to say yes but let him know that this was really hard to do, so I made a policy that made us both smile: “We’ll do anything for a pizza.” If you needed a big special favor, we’d give you the number of our local pizza delivery place. If you bought us a pizza, we’d do any favor you wanted. When we’d tell people about this on the phone, they’d often laugh, not believing we were serious. But we’d get a pizza every few weeks. I’d often hear from musicians later that this was the moment they fell in love with us.

At the end of each order, the last page of the website would ask, “Where did you hear of this artist? We’ll pass them any message you write here.” Customers would often take the time to write things like, “Heard your song on WBEZ radio last night. Searched Yahoo. Found it here. I’d love to have you play at our school!” The musicians absolutely loved getting this information, and it always led to the customer and musician getting in touch directly. This is something that big stores like Amazon would never do.

Also at the end of each order, there was a box that would ask, “Any special requests?” One time, someone said, “I’d love some cinnamon gum.” Since one of the guys in the warehouse was going to the store anyway, he picked up some cinnamon gum and included it in the package. One time, someone said, “If you could include a small, rubber squid, I would appreciate it. If this is unobtainable, a real squid would do.” Just by chance, a customer from Korea had sent us a packaged filet of squid. So the shipping guys included it in the box with the other customer’s CDs. See the customer tell the story himself in this great video.

Even if you want to be big someday, remember that you never need to act like a big boring company.

Over ten years, it seemed like every time someone raved about how much he loved CD Baby, it was because of one of these little fun human touches.

Anything You Want - book cover