By Shep Hyken


I love a surprise. Think about the last time you received a surprise from a friend or loved one. It doesn’t even have to be a big surprise. It could be something small – just something that proves the other person was thinking about you. 

Has this ever happened to you in business? I receive surprise appreciation gifts from clients. I’m enjoying a box of chocolates a client sent as I create this post. And of course, I love surprising others. But what I want to share now is the example of a surprise that came from a most unlikely source, the TSA, as in Transportation Security Administration. 

My friend and fellow professional speaker George Walther was returning from an event where he received an incredible award, Legend of the Speaking Profession. This is given to professional speakers who have contributed to the industry. As with many of these types of awards, they are represented in the form of a plaque.  

The plaque was beautiful, and George was very careful to wrap it well as he placed it in his luggage. At the airport, George checked the suitcase and then after his flight went to the baggage carousel to retrieve it.  

You may or may not know this, but checked luggage is X-rayed and sometimes even opened by TSA personnel doing random inspections to ensure the safety of the passengers. If you have experienced randomly searched luggage, then you’ll know that the TSA leaves a card stating “Notice of Baggage Inspection.” On this particular trip, George’s luggage was opened, inspected and the obligatory notice was placed on top of his clothes. 


But there was something special about this particular notice.

The TSA officer who inspected the contents of George’s suitcase noticed the reward and wrote, “Congratulations! IAD.” IAD, by the way, is the airport code for Dulles Airport in the Washington, D.C., area. 

George not only smiled at the surprise message on the notice, but he also saved it. Years later he shared it with me. He was still talking about this surprise, which is why I was compelled to share his story. 

Here’s the lesson. How much effort did it take to “surprise” George? Not much. It took literally seconds for the TSA employee to write one word followed by the initials of the airport. It showed that the employee was paying attention and looking for the opportunity to surprise a customer. I know, “customer” is an interesting way to describe a passenger who undergoes a random TSA search, but I think you get the point. 

If a TSA employee inspecting luggage can surprise a passenger, it shouldn’t be hard for you to find ways to deliver small surprises to your customers.