Ten Tips to Create and Build Customer Relationships

Ten Tips to Create and Build Customer RelationshipsThere is a distinction between customer satisfaction and customer retention.  Many companies don’t understand the concept.  Someone might be happy with your product or service, basic satisfaction, but never purchase again.  Why?  The gap between satisfaction and repeat business is the relationship between the customer and the sales associate at the company.  Creating and building relationships is the link and differentiator.  Strong relationships definitely increase the probability that your customer remains yours and not your competitors.

Ten ways to create and build relationships:

  1. Have a few friends or colleagues call your company to ask a question about your services, hours or directions and see how quickly the phone is answered, how friendly the conversation is and if additional information is provided beyond just responding directly to the inquiry.
  2. In general, new customers need to know more about your services and products then repeat patrons. Create a list of items that would help first time accounts learn more about your business. It will be appreciated.
  3. Loyalty begins with a person, not necessarily the company itself. People go to the same coffee shop every day because “Mary” knows their name and how to prepare their latte without asking. Make sure you retain your associates who naturally know how to build relationships. Don’t let them go to your competitor for a $1 more an hour. Your customers will follow and you will have lost more than an employee.
  4. Review your emails, letters and posted signs to make sure that are customer friendly and welcoming. Instead of “no returns after 10 days,” write, “we will gladly accept returns within 10 days.”
  5. Train your staff to use the customer’s name. Most people pay with a credit card. When you return the card, say, “Mr. Smith, have a wonderful day.”
  6. Empower your staff to make decisions about policies and procedures without having to go to management. Give a dollar amount as a guide. For example, if the item costs less than a $100, and there is an issue, staff should have the flexibility to make the customer happy on the spot rather than having to get back to them.
  7. Instruct your staff to be observant. If someone is wearing a sport’s jersey, comment on it. If a woman has on a beautiful scarf or earrings, make a remark. People love compliments.
  8. If you own a store, and people are leaving without purchasing anything, try to find out why they came in the first place.  Engage your customers. You might learn something new that could help with future sales.
  9. Reinforce the concept about first impressions. Make sure your staff and higher management know that there is only one opportunity to make a good first impression.
  10. Welcome everyone into your business as you would welcome a guest into your home. It makes people comfortable. Give them your full attention. Put away cell phones. People feel disrespected if the text from your friend is more important than they are.

Creating and building relationships takes time, effort, and care. But, it’s more than worth it.  Relationship is the key. Learn something about your customer that can be shared on their next visit or phone call. It’s those little things that can make a big difference.

Should Service Delivery for Millennials Be Different?

Service-delivery-to-millenialsMany marketers spend too much time trying to figure out the nuances of how to sell or service various age groups, the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, etc.  I think it’s a waste of time.  The newest generation, defined as anyone born after 2004, is even yet to be named. However, scholars say that this group has experienced a lifetime of connected communication; text messaging, instant messaging, mobile phones and tablets. I guess we can now add the smart watches too. Perhaps a good name would be the “Digital” generation but is yet to be determined.

Whatever the name, I don’t understand the fuss.  Yes, it’s important to be cognizant of who and what you are selling, but I think no matter the age, people appreciate the human touch and connection.  Who doesn’t like to get attention?  I am blessed with an eight –month-old granddaughter who loves getting attention from her parents as well as anyone else in the room.  My wife is happy when I give my undivided attention too.

There is no doubt that technology is being developed at lightning speed and except for a few futurists no one can really predict what gadget will be invented next and how it will impact our lives. But, whatever may arrive, I am assured that while younger people might be able to figure out how to use the new device quickly, with short tutorials everyone else will be using it too.

I’m a Baby Boomer, but I text my friends all the time. I also pick up the telephone but less than I used to.  My 88-year mother-in-law books all her airline travel online and is an avid Facebook user. My son, 33, a Millennial, has a wife, baby, a responsible job and his own home. I’m not sure if he views the exciting new world of products and services any different than his mom or dad.

Recently, I saw research that Millennials were the most likely group to pay for better service. I studied the data and actually the numbers were relatively close among all generational groups. From my own experience, I have found that people of all ages value and appreciate superior service delivery. They are happy to pay more for faster and better service or give a higher tip to a cab driver or waiter who delivers that ideal customer experience.

Even a 10-year boy, who walks into a store with his parents and is in the midst of texting his friends, might stop if the salesperson notices he is wearing his favorite sports’ hero’s shirt and comments on last night’s game.  Maybe that boy is hoping to find those new sneakers that he recently saw one of his friends wear and the salesperson can deliver that hope by both listening and being knowledgeable about what is in stock.

Service is service, in my opinion.  Just keep to the basics; give customers hope that they have come to the right place; listen to not only what they are saying, but the underlying emotion and make them feel special long after the sale has taken place. People of all ages may not think they crave the human touch, but when they get it, they appreciate it.

What’s your opinion of segmenting service delivery by generational type?  

Delivering Service with An Artificial Intelligence Touch

Delivering Service with An Artificial Intelligence Touch In 2004, futurist Erwin Van Lun, CEO and founder of Chatbot.org, predicted that all Fortune 1000 Business-2-Consumer companies would employ speaking artificial characters in 2015, in order to automate their conversations with consumers in an interactive spoken dialogue.

Across its top 10 strategic technology trends for 2015, Gartner identified the advent of intelligence everywhere as a key theme and said, “the smart machine era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT.”

It is 2015, and I agree, there is no doubt that there will be an enormous increase in the use of artificial intelligence employed in all areas of service. Speech recognition technology will become even more sophisticated and be able to understand conversations from smart phone users calling from noisy environments and with various distinct language dialects.

I have always believed and still do that the human element in customer service will never disappear. But, I feel that AI, coupled with data and tailored messages based on specific customer information, can change even my views.  It also depends on the industry and the type of information requested or issue that needs resolution.

I have no problem talking to a machine that sounds like a human, understands me without having to repeat myself and uses predictive data (another major trend) to handle my interaction in an efficient manner.  The other day I listened to a demonstration of a new software company that incorporates AI with a human analyst to provide a higher degree of accuracy and therefore a less frustrating customer service experience. I was impressed. The call’s focus was making a hotel reservation for a major chain.

The interaction was interesting and compelling.  In the sample recording a customer was reconfirming his stay at a hotel property where he had never been before.  If the AI had that customer’s history and could tailor the conversation, it would have been perfect.  If the automated voice had added, “I know this is the first time you are staying at our hotel and I hope you enjoy this location,” then the conversation would have been more personal.  That would make the customer feel welcomed and their business appreciated.

I can understand that customers might not necessarily want to talk to a machine.  But, if the transaction is smooth and thorough, the interaction can leave a positive impression.

I’m not a futurist, but with my experience in the customer service world I know that with so many communication channel options available, the result will be increased transactions. Just try to hook up your new smart TV with three remotes, 10 wires and multiple applications. Frustration is almost a given. You need help. With newer versions of Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Echo, help will be a shout away. Just think of a scenario where if the AI doesn’t have an answer, it will automatically find a live agent to assist.

New technology should always be tested and retested. Using AI to serve your most valuable asset, your customers, must be examined piece by piece. Get your customers feedback on what’s working and what’s not. Fine-tune the experience using predictive responses to ensure a smoother and more customized interaction. But please don’t eliminate your call center filled with people who still have the greatest capability of listening to the customers’ underlying emotions and responding with a true human touch.

What’s your opinion of the impact of Artificial Intelligence to deliver the ideal customer experience?

How Long Should CRM Systems Keep Customer History?

How long should CRM systems keep customer historyWhile I’m not an expert in CRM Systems, I am a customer. I know that technology helps keep track of my previous purchases and contact information. So, when the sales associate informs me my history is gone I always feel irrelevant.  That message communicates that I am not considered a customer by the company. Additionally, it is frustrating to recreate my data.  Not the experience that any company wants to promote.

My wife and I had bought some pillows from Macy’s about three years ago.  We decided we wanted to buy two more. Easy. We called Rochelle, our salesperson (I have written about her in a previous blog). Not only did she have all our information regarding shipping but also had a record of the specific styles and colors we had purchased.  She had immediate access to the inventory and current prices.  Rochelle told us that our particular pillow was being discontinued but there were four left in stock that could be shipped the following day.  Maybe we wanted them all because we liked the pillows so much.  A great idea.  Macy’s doubled the sale and we were happy.

People move, change emails and cell numbers, perhaps even their buying preferences and it is necessary to update the CRM system.  That should automatically be part of the sales process.  Updating is easier than re-entering all the data. It is a demonstration to the person they are still a customer and important.

How long should a company maintain account data and detailed buying history?  This is a crucial question.  Retail is amorphous; a shopper may not return to a store or website for a long period.  Maybe it is a jewelry establishment where a person only shops for special occasions or a boutique ladies or men’s shop that you think of after opening the invitation to a wedding.  You’ve shopped there before and consider yourself a customer, but if the business no longer has you in their system, you might think twice about purchasing again.

My wife bought an evening gown from a small store and the dress had to be re-altered after she wore it to the party.  We were going away on vacation and she didn’t need the outfit immediately.  When she did go to pick it up, her salesperson greeted her with, “I’m glad you came today.  I was just ready to delete your name from my records.”  Although it was a good experience initially, that comment was an automatic turnoff.  She would never shop there again.  The potential for future business was tossed out the window with the delete button. Why wouldn’t there be the thought that there might be another party, wedding, or other occasion where former customers would return.

Information is golden and needs to be treated with respect.  There are confidentiality and privacy concerns.  Keeping data longer may be another budget item but purging customer history puts your business in jeopardy.  It is an integral part of lifetime loyalty.

How do you feel when a business tells you your purchases were made too long ago for them to have a record?

Seven Ways to Leave a Better Voicemail

Seven Ways to Leave a Better VoicemailEven in our text, email, and chat world, there is still voicemail.  The furniture store is calling to set up a delivery date, the restaurant is confirming your reservation or a company is trying to sell you a new service.

It is so frustrating when the message isn’t clear and the voice sounds more like a machine than a person.

It’s an easy fix.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Say, and speak slowly, “Hi, Mr. Smith.  My name is William.”  Always use the name of the person you are calling along with stating your own name.
  2. “I hope your day is going well.”  Nice to say something nice and welcoming.
  3.  “I’m happy to let you know your furniture has arrived in our warehouse and we’re ready to schedule a convenient delivery date.”  The message is clear, concise and informative.
  4. “Please call me at 800-222-9876.  Once again, that’s, 800-222-9876 and ask for William.”  It’s important to state the number twice.
  5. “If I’m not available, you can also speak to Tim or Mary.  They have your file.  They can help you, too.”  This is useful, additional information.
  6. “Our hours are Monday through Friday, 8am until 5pm, and Saturdays from 10am to 6pm.”  By providing hours of operation, the customer callback process is less frustrating.
  7. “Mr. Smith, we appreciate your business.  We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.”  Thanking the customer in the message is thoughtful and appreciated.  

Leaving a voice message should not be a motionless chore but considered another opportunity to show customers they are important, valued and their business is appreciated.  It can be a critical component of the customer journey.  It’s not just a message and if not done correctly, can definitely send the wrong one.

Hire People who are Passionate about Customer Service

Hire People who are Passionate about Customer ServiceIf I go into a pet store, I expect the people working there to love animals.  That makes sense to me.  Taking care of dogs, cats, birds, and fish can be fun but there are chores involved.  Cleaning out a cage or bathing a dirty dog requires passion.  When a pet storeowner creates a profile for the perfect employee, loving animals and being passionate about pets is a prerequisite.

Similar thoughts go through my mind when I walk into a bookstore. I expect that a principal hiring practice for a sales associate would be a love of reading.  I always ask the person behind the desk at Barnes & Noble what they have read recently and would recommend.  How disappointing if their response was, “Sorry, haven’t read anything in the past year.”  Not the right fit for a bookseller.

Every frontline associate should be passionate about customer service no matter what the industry. It must be part of their DNA.  Without passion, the experience is emotionless.  Only front line associates who care and are caring should be hired.  Customers crave a human connection.  When they find it, they appreciate it.  Relationships are created and loyalty sustained.

The customer experience is a journey.  Going on that journey with a welcoming and helpful person makes the ride much more enjoyable.  When I was researching my first book, The Welcomer Edge, Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business, I discovered the number one trait of a Welcomer was they had a history of helping.  Either they volunteered at the local library or did homework with a younger sibling.  They babysat, worked in a soup kitchen, and didn’t hesitate being there for a friend in need.

I always love to share my best customer experience stories.  Just the other day, my wife and I were meeting friends for brunch at the Brownstone Pancake Factory in Edgewater, New Jersey.  The restaurant was busy and we arrived early and were seated at a booth for four.  Where were our friends?  Oops!  Miscommunication; we thought we were meeting on Saturday and they thought Sunday.  We felt bad in the big booth while large parties were waiting in line to be seated.  Our waitress, Ashley, said, “ No worries.  Instead of four, there will be three of us for breakfast.”  It wasn’t that Ashley was going to physically join us, but mentally. She was actively engaged and we felt special, not just another customer to be served.  Ashley naturally knew what to say.

What should the number one line item in the hiring manual be for any company?  Passion for customer service.  Customer service is about fulfilling hope, being a good listener, and making people feel important.  Otherwise, the point is missed.

What are your company’s hiring policies?

Is it Possible to Make Customers Feel Special?

is-it-possible-to-make-customers-feel-specialYes! It is possible to make customers feel special, but not easy.  Customers crave human interaction that leaves them with the feeling that associates really do care about them. When a representative is patient, sympathetic and provides detailed explanations and the customer has an opportunity to ask questions, the customer remembers.  They want to do business with your company again. Customer satisfaction is just the beginning. True relationships are cemented with surprise and delight.

Years ago, one of my clients made special arrangements for me to stay in a small boutique hotel in San Francisco when I was there for a meeting.  I travel a great deal, but still remember the experience of driving up to the hotel for the first time, the valet opening my taxi door, taking my bags out of the trunk and giving me a warm greeting, “Mr. Shapiro, welcome to the Pan Pacific Hotel.” How did that associate know my name? Probably from reading the luggage tag. It was a little thing, but it made such a big difference.  He escorted me to the third floor lobby, where as soon as I approached the front desk, again, from behind the counter, “Mr. Shapiro, we are so glad to see you today.”

I felt welcomed, important and appreciated. A few months later, I traveled again to San Francisco and returned to the same hotel. When I got to my room, I realized they had upgraded me to a small suite and there was a handwritten card on top of a large fruit basket.  “Mr. Shapiro, we welcome you back to the Pan Pacific Hotel. We appreciate your business.”  They knew in advance of my arrival what room I would have and thanked me for returning to their hotel. What a nice surprise.

The hotel’s actions indicated an attention to detail and a level of forethought that I really treasured.  The small steps made me feel my business was significant and I knew they valued my return. It’s the little things that make a difference. Say my name in a meaningful way, smile like you mean it, write a unique, handwritten note. The combination of actions and words are powerful.  I still remember driving up to the hotel almost 20 years later.

Surprise!  Just the word itself is memorable. It is estimated that the element of surprise intensifies an experience by 400 percent.

A few years ago, Mike, a good friend of mine, told me a story about a restaurant experience.  He and his wife were meeting another couple at the Tabor Road Tavern in New Jersey, a frequented choice. Mike’s favorite dish was short ribs. That particular evening, short ribs were not on the menu; that dish was a Saturday night special.  Apparently, Mike had always dined at the Tavern on Saturdays and didn’t realize that short ribs could only be had on that day of the week.

The General Manager was asked if an exception could be made as Mike and his friends were very good customers.  The GM apologized, explaining that it took hours to prepare the dish and he was sorry.  Mike and his friends enjoyed their meal anyway and when they were leaving, the manager asked for his address.  Mike didn’t really think about why.  The following day, the doorbell rang and surprise. The GM arrived with short ribs!

Needless to say, my friend was thrilled.  Tabor Road Tavern went out of their way.  Of course, my friends are loyal customers for life.

Zingerman’s opened for business in 1982 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  It now is in many other locations and online.  My cousin pointed out a story about Zingerman’s on Twitter.  A customer had placed a large order for the Christmas holiday. Nine months later, they received a box and inside was a cake with a note, “When you needed a gift last holiday season you chose Zingerman’s. That means a lot to us. We’re gearing up for this year’s rush and we’d like to help you make this season a delicious one, too. Thank you and Happy Holidays!  The Whole Gang at Zingerman’s Mail Order.”

There are many ways for companies to distinguish themselves and make experiences that are memorable.  Surprises are not necessarily high budget items.  Organizations can use their imaginations to create appreciation.  Segment customers and form a strategy.

The bottom line is that customer satisfaction is a minimal benchmark.  It’s relatively easy to satisfy but not simple to create and build a relationship.  Companies need to show their customers they matter long after a sale has been made.  A surprise makes someone feel special.  A memory is created and not forgotten.

What are the ‘little things’ you and your associates can do to make your customers and guests feel welcomed and to differentiate your company?

Caring for Customers After the Sale – the Missing Step in Creating Loyalty

Caring for Customers After the Sale – the Missing Step in Creating LoyaltyShowing customers they matter after the transaction is complete is a critical step in the customer journey. It validates that you care. However, most companies miss that piece of the puzzle. In order to develop true customer loyalty, the shopping experience must be more than just a transactional exchange.  Gestures of appreciation are necessary to remind customers they are important to you.

Not enough managers test their own systems by buying something from the company and seeing how they feel through the entire experience. That experience still continues even after the sale is final.  If there is no post-sale follow-up, managers need to know how that feels. Feeling abandoned after money has changed hands is a motivator for companies to implement a change.

Companies should heed the advice of the 13th century proverb, “out of sight, out of mind.”  When a customer feels relevant after the sale, it reconfirms their decision to do business with you.  There are usually policies in place to react to customer issues but rarely procedures that detail how to proactively communicate to customers they are valued.

Your Customers Are A Gift

When a gift is given, a person expects a thank you. Anytime someone makes a purchase from your company instead of a competitor’s, it’s a gift.  A gift that should not be taken for granted.

In my own company, I show clients they count by making their business personal.  I meet with our clients outside their offices.  It creates an environment for a different kind of conversation and not only helps them be more comfortable, but me, too.  I like to share stories about my family and what I am doing and enjoy hearing about their lives.  I always learn something new.  There have been occasions where a client is unexpectedly involved with a company wide layoff and is now having to look for other employment.  I care for my clients, so I reach out to make sure they know it and ask how I can help.  My large network of friends, colleagues and business associates provides connections for them.  Making introductions makes me feel good and conveys to my clients/friends they are still relevant, whether we are doing business together or not.

The Customer Experience Should Not End When The Sale Does

Building repeat business is more than just inviting a customer to return at the end of the interaction.  It needs to continue after that experience.  When a company reaches out after the sale is complete it relays a message the transaction maybe the first of many. Exhibiting to customers they are appreciated after the check has cleared or the credit card is paid, makes a difference.  Without caring, there is no customer journey.  It’s just doing business one transaction at a time.

Do you know any companies who show their customers they matter after the sale is over?

Do You Invite Your Customers to Return?

Invite A Customer to Return = Repeat BusinessIt’s human nature to be wanted.  You meet someone for the first time and have a great conversation at lunch, dinner or over coffee, the ultimate compliment is when either party says to the other, “Let’s do this again.  And let’s do it soon.” An invitation is motivating. We are hot-wired with mirror neurons to respond positively to positive, friendly requests.  Think about dating, most of us have, and we all know how important and special it feels, especially at the end of the first date to hear that it would be nice to see you next week. When you are invited to return, it makes you feel wanted and accepted. Customers who purchase goods and services are people. Those businesses that understand the value of inviting customers to return will reap the advantage of a repeat customer.

I live in New York City. There does not seem to be an official count of restaurants in Manhattan, but unofficially there are over 10,000. Even if people living in the city eat locally, there are probably at least 200 choices just in their neighborhood within a short walk or a few stops on the subway.  Eighty percent of restaurants that open during any year will close within the next 5 years. Good food is important, dollar value is vital and delivering an exceptional customer experience is critical to fight these statistics. But, those three ingredients will not always guarantee success.

City Crab and Seafood is a restaurant in my neighborhood.  My first visit was more than memorable.  The food was delicious and my waiter, Iron, was incredible. He was welcoming, engaging, and knew the menu by heart.  But what made the experience really special was that Iron invited me to return.  How?  He told me he enjoyed serving me and wanted to see me again.  Iron gave me his cell number, the days he worked and his shifts.  He suggested I text or call him directly whenever I wanted to dine and he would be my “waiter for life.”  The result?  City Crab is our “go to” place to eat and we see Iron often.  Every time we’re with him, we’re with family.

It doesn’t matter if you own a gas station, manage a customer service department or a run a medical office. If your staff communicates the message that they are eager to see a customer another time, it can work wonders. Not only does the person feel good for the moment, it’s the gift that keeps on giving and makes the customer feel good.

You might say to yourself, do I really care if I see the same person at the grocery store, mall or restaurant?  As Steve Jobs once stated, “sometimes people don’t really know what they want until they get it.”  I know that most customers go back to the same coffee shop because the people behind the counter know their name, give them that welcoming smile and say, “I will see you tomorrow.” In any enterprise, knowing that someone wants to see you again makes a person feel good. Any company with employees who are able to create and nurture a relationship and invite the customer to return, has the formula for generating repeat business

“NO” Damages the Customer Experience

No customer experienceEvery major company is trying to discover how to provide a customer experience that will generate repeat business. Many are successful at delivering moments of WOW that get their customers’ attention. But all that time and effort go right out the window with the word “no.” There are many variations: “Can’t,” “Not allowed,” “Won’t.” All of them can destroy the ideal customer experience.

When I conduct a workshop, one of the graphics I use is a row of dominos in a perfect lineup, standing up straight and tall.  The question to my audience is: “What does this game have to do with the customer journey?”  Those tiles are positioned just right but are vulnerable to the slightest touch.   All your meticulous work will come to an end if a tile is placed in a precarious position or tapped the wrong way. Saying “NO” to a customer creates that risk.

A person hears a “no” and their brain automatically registers a negative emotion.

Even when a customer doesn’t get the answer they were hoping for, there is a sense of drawing back. The point is to tell the customer what can be done, instead of what can’t. Never saying no is about going to the next level while offering your full attention and knowing your stuff.

Last August I wanted to purchase a pair of gloves.  I’m a “boy scout” and like to be prepared – waiting until winter might mean a scarcity of cold weather gear. I asked the salesperson, “Do you have gloves in stock?”  He answered “NO.”  Nothing else.  No relayed indifference and goodbye, not interested in my business or seeing me again.

What would have been a better answer?  “I can help you even though we don’t have any gloves now.  I’ll speak to my manager and perhaps we can special order them.  Or, she can contact the manufacturer and find out when we expect delivery.  I’ll email or call you – what would you prefer?”  The result of that interaction is that a relationship has been created, even when the transaction resulted in no sale.  A great deal of information was gathered as well:  the customer’s name, how to reach them, and what they were looking for.

NO is not necessary.  There are so many alternatives, including checking with a competitor.  Use your imagination.  And, check and double-check to make certain that NO isn’t just the lazy way out.

There are many situations were no could be the first response; a company rule which can’t be bent, an item is out of stock, or a restaurant will not allow substitutions.  That’s life and business, too.  There will always be mishaps. What is important is how customer stress and disappointment is handled in order to preserve the relationship.  In fact, many times it’s an opportunity for a company to shine.

A prestigious cosmetics firm used to ship discontinued products to outlet stores.  Disappointed customers would call wanting that particular favorite shade of lipstick that was no longer available.  Our firm conducted a comprehensive satisfaction study, analyzed the root cause of the dissatisfaction.  It was discovered that customers were not only upset that the lipstick color was obsolete, but that there was no notice. It was abrupt.  The company was telling their most loyal consumers, some of whom had been purchasing specific products for over 10 years “NO”.

The leadership team went into action.  The fix was easy.  Some of the discontinued products were held back to be distributed by consumer affairs upon request. That simple change gave customer service reps a way to say “YES!” instead of no.  The conversation continued that a new color was very similar to the one they had been using.  Most importantly, the consumer knew the company understood and heard their frustration and offered a positive solution. Transitioning in that manner allowed loyal customers to remain loyal.

Before you say no, won’t or can’t, think about an alternative reply.  Let me check on that and get back to you by a specific time and day, let me ask my manager or fellow associates, let me do some research on the Internet, maybe there is another business that carries what you want are all good responses.   “NO” communicates that the customer’s loyalty journey is about end and usually in a very abrupt and disruptive manner.