Good news: If you master one strategy—exceeding expectations—you can send your sales, revenues or nearly anything that applies here, through the roof. Better news: Doing so is probably easier to accomplish than you think.
Consider the real estate salesperson running out of time to show properties to out-of-town clients. The agent pays to put them up in a luxury condo overnight, covers the change fees on their flights, and sells them a home the next day.
Or what about an elegant restaurant that has a dress code prohibiting shorts? Instead of turning someone away, a restaurant staffer escorts him to a private closet that has “loaner pants.” A couple of hours later, the happy patron pays his $200 tab; he will return to the restaurant nine times the next year.
Or the physician who returns a prospective patient’s call on a Saturday, spends 20 minutes on the phone discussing symptoms, and then shares a private cellphone number with instructions to call back if further medical advice is needed. The prospect is now a patient and has referred dozens of friends.
These examples have one thing in common: From start to finish, these business people and their teams thrilled their customers. Or in sales-speak, they optimized their customers’ experience.
Once a business lands a customer, its No. 1 job is to optimize that customer’s experience. Period. If that’s achieved, then the relationship can be cultivated, and the referrals and repeat business from that one customer can multiply exponentially. Here are five things you can do to optimize each customer’s experience.
1. Nail the first impression—quickly.
The window to make a strong first impression with a customer continues to shrink. In a study published in Psychological Science, Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov reveal that it takes only a tenth of a second to form an impression of someone when you first meet. Two additional studies give us a whopping seven seconds. So at best, you’ve got only a few seconds to accomplish this, the initial step in optimizing your customer’s experience:
- Perfect the welcome. Research from the University of Glasgow and Oxford University shows the importance of nonverbal cues. In particular, the Oxford study found that nonverbal communications have 4.3 times the impact of spoken ones. In face-to-face situations, it’s best to wear professional attire and work on projecting good posture, a positive attitude, friendly eye contact, a firm handshake, a smile and a look of confidence. Then practice four steps of the verbal part of your welcome: Introduce yourself, name-drop a reference or other client, make a statement of impact, and ask a question focused on providing uniqueness and value. Here’s an example: “Hi, I’m Jenny. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m grateful Tom asked us to meet. I look forward to working with you to reduce the time between your client’s call for repairs and when your service team arrives on-site.”
- Roll out a creative VIP treatment as part of your welcome, too. I know of a company that enhances first impressions by having customized welcome signs reserving the best parking spots for client visits. Another one shows welcome videos, tailor-made for a new client, to begin the first meeting. And a third simply offers a printed beverage menu so special visitors have more options than coffee or water.
- Do your homework. You need real connections to develop lasting relationships with your customers. Start by learning about them via LinkedIn, Google, Facebook and even the customers’ own webpages; you’ll arm yourself with their photographs, knowledge of their businesses, circles, hobbies, favorite music and special interests. All of your contacts will have topics they love to discuss, and it’s smart to have an idea of what the likely connection points are. These connections move prospects and new clients to a higher level of trust and appreciation, lowering their resistance to doing business with you.
2. Set expectations that you can exceed 100 percent of the time.
Favorable impressions that are not backed by strong performances are worthless. In its 2011 Oracle Customer Experience Impact Report, Harris Research found that 86 percent of U.S. consumers would pay more for a better service experience and that 89 percent have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service. According to the Echo 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer, only 7 percent of U.S. consumers say that their customer service experiences with companies typically exceed their expectations. Forrester Research revealed that 45 percent of consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns aren’t addressed quickly.
These steps can help you deliver superb customer service. First, during the transaction, ask customers what is most important to them and what would need to happen for them to feel totally satisfied. Then determine whether your way of doing business can accommodate their visions and needs; if it can’t, suggest alternatives to your products and services, perhaps a different provider for one component of the deal in order to produce the exact results they want. (At this point, you must also decide whether a customer is so high-maintenance that the relationship is even worth pursuing, and whether an adequate return on investment exists for your business.) Once the parties have decided to move forward, meet your responsibilities 1 to 10 percent better, faster and more cheaply than you promised.
3. Communicate and celebrate transactional and relationship milestones.
Transactional milestones are any events that move the customer through the purchasing experience. Regular communication during a transaction answers customers’ questions before they are asked, gives them peace of mind, and secures the success of the transaction and the relationship.
For example, online party supply retailer Shindigz lets you know the status of your order every step of the way, and the company celebrates you throughout the process. Here’s one of five emails I received on one order:
Dear Todd AKA Shindigz Customer of the Day,
CONGRATULATIONS! You are now our new most favorite customer! If we were with you right now, we would definitely give you a high-five. As of this moment, your order is currently cruising along the virtual highway and stopping at the best party supply company in the world!
You will receive another awesome and highly entertaining email from us as soon as your items ship…
Talk about a hook!
Relationship milestones are events or interests in your customers’ lives. What if you called every customer on his or her birthday? I do more than 700 phone calls, not emails, to clients on their birthdays each year. What if you sent an anniversary card on the date, every year, of their first order with you? What if you searched out cool articles about clients’ hobbies and shared them?
If you are not in touch with your clients, you are out of touch.
4. Keep them coming back.
For whatever reason, most business owners haven’t calculated the lifetime value of a client. If they did, and if they executed on a follow-up plan to nurture that relationship, they would receive more and more business from that client.
Here’s an example: Over the years, my company has probably purchased steaks as gifts for key clients from 10 suppliers that never did anything to land a second sale. But two years ago, my company sent each of 50 clients a Christmas gift from Chicago Steaks. In the November following that purchase, Chicago Steaks sent us a summary of our previous order that let us simply check a box if we wanted to send a gift to that client again. The document listed every client along with a mailing address, the gift that the client received last year and the holiday message included with that gift. Wow! Chicago Steaks made our lives easy, a key to keeping customers coming back.
And here’s an example of a car dealership that has deepened its relationship with me personally: I can have my car washed free on weekends, and my salesperson acknowledges my birthdays and anniversaries. I also received a Happy Holidays gift card for $100 toward any merchandise or service from the dealership during the upcoming year.
Successful businesses S.I.T. (Stay in Touch) on their customers for life, constantly giving them easy ways to do business again and again and again.
5. Nail the last impression!
During any transaction, survey your customer regularly. Great waiters do this repeatedly during a meal. A dentist does this during a procedure. Smart businesses do it constantly during and after a transaction, and if they are smart, for the life of the customer. If there are any problems, they can be addressed sooner rather than later. You have to finish every transaction strong, forming an indelible impression that sets the stage for the next order, purchase or referral.
Consider this move from a Bloomingdale’s sales associate who will take her best customers’ purchases to their cars. The saleswoman borrows the customer’s valet parking ticket to fetch the car. She loads the packages into the car, which the valet reparks. Then she returns the ticket to the customer, who resumes shopping. Wow! That’s finishing strong!
Another example: our unforgettable wedding photographer. She and her team captured more than 1,250 shots on our special day. My wife and I spent hours combing through them to decide on 150 pictures for our albums and frames. Imagine our total surprise when, contrary to the contract, she delivered all of our albums and then said, “I have a special gift for you.” She then handed us a disk with ALL the photos and said, “You are a special couple. Enjoy the memory forever!” That’s really finishing strong!
Big business or small, you must finish strong!
Spend time today working on these five steps to thrill your customers. If you do, your customers will love you and will buy from you forever!