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Little things mean a <i>lot</i>

Little things mean a lot

When I was a busboy at a tony Georgetown restaurant in Washington, D.C., called The Big Cheese (really), there was a 6' 5" maitre d' who always wore a brown velour jacket and insisted on being called "Roh-BEHR," the French pronunciation of his name.

Robert, when I would place salt and pepper shakers in the wrong spot, would trill to me a long-ago forgotten song lyric, "Little things mean a lotttt!", which is actually an instructive lesson for any business, especially a small one looking to look bigger.

Since October, I've been trying to order a lava lamp that my older daughter wants, and when a Web site told me it would be available November 17, I set an automatic reminder in my calendar. I logged on this morning to find that the notice still says the lamps are coming yesterday. I called the 800 number, and a very pleasant woman told me they'd be arriving Monday.

But think of the cost and how many sales they may have lost from people who haven't bothered to call in and just went elsewhere.

They could have set up to let people register for automatic e-mail reminders when the lamps arrived (and offered opt-ins to strengthen their customer list in the process), updated the Web site, or had it automatically update by cross-referencing it to an inventory database. Part of the issue is technological; someone would have to install the e-mail or database update functionality. It's not difficult if you know a little code.

But the real issue here is a mindset: Would you ever leave a sign hanging from the ceiling of your retail store saying "Lava lamps arriving today!" the day after they failed to arrive? Alternatively, would you be willing to e-mail a list of customers who were sure to come in and buy one? Then it makes sense to apply that logic to the biggest signboard you have in a virtual store that the whole world can enter and buy from.