In these rough, red-ink times, the best investment you can make is building a personal bond with your customers. Truly loyal customers will form a pro bono “marketing department” for your company, promoting and defending you online and off. And customer loyalty provides the escape hatch your company must have in order to get out of draining, ultimately deadly commodity-pricing wars. Here are half a dozen ways to get started now.
1. Be sure your greetings and goodbyes are right on the money. Research shows that customers remember the first and last minutes of a service encounter much more vividly—and for much longer—than the rest. Make sure that the first and final elements of your customer interactions are particularly well-engineered because they are going to stick in the customer's memory.
2. Laggards need not apply. Modern customers expect speedier service than their parents did—and even than their older sisters and brothers did. In an age of BlackBerrys and iPhones, of Amazon.com and Zappos, you might as well not deliver your product or service if you're going to deliver it late.
3. Keep it personal—online as well as off. For example, instead of a Web-based chat window that blandly announces, “You are now chatting with Jane,” try, “You are now chatting with Jane Yang-Katzenberg.” The customers will treat this “Jane” better. They'll take her advice more seriously, and they'll be more likely to want a committed customer relationship with her company.
4. Figure out a way to remember each returning customer. Whatever your business, and no matter how large, work to achieve the computer-assisted effectiveness of a beloved bartender, doorman or hairstylist—the kind who would know Bob's preferences, the name of Bob's pet, when Bob was there last. Superb client tracking systems can create that same “at home” feeling in your customers, regardless of the size or price point of your business and whether it exists on- or offline.
5. Strive to anticipate a customer's wishes. When a customer's wish is met before the wish has been expressed, it sends the message that you care about the customer as an individual. That cared-for feeling is where you generate the fiercest loyalty.
6. Don't leave the language your team uses up to chance. Develop and rehearse a list of vocabulary words and expressions that fit your business brand perfectly—and ban the ones that don't. For example, the expression “no worries” sounds fine if a clerk at a Portland Bose Audio Store says it, but would be exceedingly off-brand for the concierge at the Four Seasons in Milan. Equally important, search and destroy any vocabulary words that could hurt customer feelings. For example, your service team should never tell a customer “you owe us.” (Try instead: “our records seem to show a balance. ...”)
Micah Solomon is the co-author, with Leonardo Inghilleri, of “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization” (AMACOM Books, April 2010) and president of Oasis Disc Manufacturing. He can be reached at email@example.com.