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Articles

Published May 2006

How To Win Customers & Influence Loyalty

By Donna M. Marrin

I'll never forget the customer service I received from a realtor named George. Although I had no intention of selling my home, I had decided to seek a market value appraisal to find out if my home was holding its own in the current marketplace. Randomly, I selected George's name from a real estate ad in my local newspaper.

Years of dealing with businesses operating high on greed and low on customer appreciation had turned me into a cynical consumer. I was convinced that there was no truth to the expression: "getting something for nothing." There was always a price attached. Although I was keen on getting my appraisal, I wasn't looking forward to meeting George. I suspected that I'd be subjected to predatory sales tactics and, for several weeks following, my mailbox would be deluged with junk mail imploring me to sell my house.

George appeared at my door precisely on time, offering a genuinely warm smile and handshake. He answered all of my questions patiently, and provided the thorough appraisal that I had hoped for. As he was leaving, he handed me his business card, with no pressure pitch. A few weeks passed before I realized that I'd received no junk mail listing the many houses he'd sold in my area. Another week had passed before I opened my mailbox to find an envelope from George. "Aha! Here we go!" I basked in my smugness. As I opened the envelope and removed the contents, my jaw dropped to my knees. Inside was a hand-written greeting from George, along with a pair of complimentary tickets for admission to the Toronto National Home Show. The note said, very simply, "It was a pleasure to meet you. I thought you and your husband might enjoy using these passes next weekend. Sincerely, George."

I was floored. I'd just received something for nothing. Suddenly, George was the best real estate agent I'd ever met. My husband and I did attend the Home Show, and we had a great time. I proceeded to tell quite a few people about this fabulous real-estate agent named George, along with the name of the agency where he could be contacted. Guess whose name will be the first to pop into my mind, the day I decide to sell my house?

George is a brilliant example of how to win customers and influence loyalty.

Every single customer is a VIP!

As illustrated in Dale Carnegie's Winning Friends and Influencing People, and Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need To Know, I Learned In Kindergarten, there is a basic formula for dealing with people, guaranteed to produce predictable results: the degree of effort that we choose to invest in relationship-building with the people around us dictates the degree of effort that they will give back in return. One plus two equals three. The formula comprises one part basic psychology and one part simple common sense, yet relationship-building with customers is one of the first areas to experience neglect when the many levels of multi-tasking required to run a business becomes all-consuming.

From the largest corporation to the smallest—many business owners forget the fact that making a sale is a bonus, not an ultimate reward if you're looking at the big picture. Winning customer loyalty and ensuring that customers will want to deal with no other business but yours, is a victory well worth capturing.

Consider your own experiences as a customer in the marketplace. What convinces you to choose one particular supplier over all other similar suppliers out there? When a new competitor appears with a better offer, what action has the original supplier taken to anchor your loyalty? What past examples of customer service have driven you to sing praises about a particular business to your friends and associates?

Think back to those businesses that stand out positively in your mind. What did they do to shine in your mind?

The methods that these businesses used to attract and capture your interest employ the same techniques that will attract customers to your business services or products and secure their loyalty for the long haul.

Human nature is such that people want to receive courteous, accommodating, hospitable, genuine customer service when and where they decide to spend their hard-earned money. Studies have shown that people are even willing to pay a little more for a product than they would pay your competitor in return for white-glove treatment. Every human being has a need to feel special.

Be creative in your presentation to your customers. Think of all the ideas that your competitors haven't considered. What unique approaches can you come up with that will make your customers feel truly good about spending their money on your services or products?

Here are six suggestions that you can start using right away to help win customers and influence their loyalty to you:

  1. Get to know everything you can possibly learn about your customers. What are their likes? What are their dislikes? What are their major concerns and how can your products or services resolve them? Ask your customers for their participation in helping you to make your existing products or services better, as well as whenever you are ready to develop anything new. People will be happy to purchase goods that their contributions have touched.

    People have an inborn desire to feel needed. People like to be asked their opinions, and they like to talk about themselves. The talk-show industry would have been history a long time ago if this wasn't so. By asking your customers for their input, you are telling them that you really care what they think, and at the same time, you are acquiring a whole lot of instant market research—free. Making your customers feel that they're valued enough to be involved in your business decisions buys you instant brand recognition and loyalty, and in return, they will be delighted to "spread the word" to their friends and associates. You get a domino effect called "viral marketing"… you won't find a better way to advertise without having to invest a dime!

    Need an inventive way of harvesting customer feedback? Try creating your own "Customer Advisory Board." Plan round-table lunch meetings on a quarterly basis (stick to no more than three or four meetings per year). Choose four or five of your best customers and invite them to become members of "the panel." Find out what their issues are. Ask them to list all the ways in which your product or service helps them to solve their issues. What do they need to help them improve upon solutions? What are you doing that you should continue to do? What are you doing that you should discontinue? And what haven't you done that you should start doing? When your panel provides the answers, work hard to give them what they want. You can bet that whatever these four or five customers want will mirror the wants of the rest of your target market. Replace your customer panel every year with new people so that you will receive fresh ideas and feedback. The information that you glean will be invaluable.

  2. People love a good story. Especially when it's interesting and informative—even better when there are no strings attached. Design a monthly or quarterly newsletter—it doesn't have to be fancy—and make sure you fill it with interesting news, tips, etc., as it relates to your products or services. Make it information-based, purely for the interest of your customer, but incorporate a section near the end that focuses on your company details. If possible, include a coupon or an offer that would appeal to them. It doesn't have to be a costly offer: "Come by on Saturday, May 3rd and share a cup of coffee with us! Balloons for the kids!" The simplest things are often every bit as pleasing to customers.

  3. Do your research, and do it continuously. Study your competitors. What can you do for your customers that your competitors aren't doing? What steps have you taken to make your target audience aware of this? If you run a landscaping business, is there one additional thing that you can do for your customers that not one other landscaper has offered to do? Perhaps the gift of a free window box container of flowers, fully installed, at the beginning of the season, to every customer?

    Always make the effort to go one mile further than everyone else. It will be appreciated and remembered.

  4. Speaking of free stuff—who doesn't love free stuff? When you offer free stuff to your customers, your gesture immediately promotes feelings of goodwill and a sense of genuine appreciation for their patronage. What have you been doing, of late, to maximize your relationship with your customers, without receiving any monetary payment in return? This does not have to be a costly venture. How special do you feel when somebody remembers to send a card on your birthday? Your customers will also feel special when they open their mailboxes to find anniversary or birthday or any other celebratory card from you, every year, no strings attached.

    Do you maintain a current database of email addresses? Use them to circulate useful articles filled with helpful tips or trivia—keep them simple, short, and interesting.

    Send your best customers, and potential customers, small trial samples of new products or special coupon offers. Send out invitations to a "Customer Appreciation" afternoon, and supply coffee and donuts. There are countless ways to thank your customers for their patronage, without having to invest a fortune.

    Never be afraid to try something a little different, or to take a small, calculated risk. Today's technology has turned burning a CD or DVD into a simple and inexpensive process. Design a great looking presentation about your product or service and burn it onto disks that can be distributed to prospective customers. Add video clips of testimonials from your best customers. Package it creatively.

    Decorate a company vehicle in crazy, eye-catching advertising and park it in a variety of high-traffic areas. When curious people approach to take a look, chat them up while handing out coupons or brochures that will inspire them to want to learn more about your business.

    Never underestimate the power of fun. Hold a wacky contest for customers. A carpet company that holds a "Do you have the ugliest carpet in Toronto?" contest is guaranteed to attract heaps of attention. Entrants who email their ugliest carpeting photos are then eligible to win the Grand Prize, consisting of a huge discount on new carpeting, and free installation. Compile all entries in your database, and update these potential customers with contest results to keep your business top in their mind.

    I'll never forget reading about the owner of a gas station in the U.S. who uses his friendly old bandana-wearing golden retriever to retrieve payment and deliver change between the customers and the cash desk. People from all over the county have admitted to driving out of the way just to buy gas from that particular gas station. People also confessed to taking drives over to top up with gas even when unnecessary, just to be able to interact with this unique dog. Wouldn't you know it, this is the only gas station in the area that has never had a lull in traffic. Sheer genius. And it hasn't cost the owner a dime.

  5. Make it so easy and so convenient for the customer to use your products or services, they will see your business as a benefit that enhances their lives. Ensure that any interaction between you and your customers will be one of the topmost pleasant experiences in their already harried day. Make them feel that they will always be on the receiving end of your personal attention because they are special to you. Believe it or not, superior customer service is far more important to most customers than saving a few bucks.

CUSTOMER SERVICE COMMENTS FROM LOYAL CLIENTS

"The best customer service I ever received? Guess I'd have to say a store called "Time" in New Liskeard. That is where we purchased our four-wheeler. The man in charge, Roger, is very down-to-earth, never pushy. When the four-wheeler needs servicing, he insists that it's no problem to meet us at the store after-hours, since we are from out of town and have problems arriving there before closing time. He always gives us 10% off whenever we make other purchases. He's such a pleasant man. Whether or not the 10% off is standard to all customers, he makes us feel as if he's dropped the price just for us. We continue to shop there and would be happy to recommend him to anyone. There are not many places today that provide true customer service."

-Susan Morris, Timmins, Ontario

"Years ago, I worked at an office building near Bay and Bloor. There was a restaurant in the building, which sold coffee, muffins and cigarettes in the morning. Two people were on duty every morning: a middle-aged man named George, and his assistant, a young girl. I used to go in every morning to buy a cup of coffee, sometimes a pack of cigarettes as well. George would greet me as soon as I entered, and if he had no customers at the counter, he would chat with me the entire time it took me to walk the length of the restaurant to get to the counter. He would have my coffee ready by the time I reached the counter, with the right amount of milk and sugar, and would ask if I needed cigarettes that day. If I said yes, he would retrieve my brand in my preferred size from the shelf. Throughout the transaction, we would continue to chat. This, by the way was a busy place in the mornings. Often there would be a line-up at the counter. That didn't take away from his friendliness. Neither would it distract him or slow down his pace of work. He was always fast and efficient, but he never neglected the social aspect of his job. He treated all his customers like that. He knew most of our names and some details from our personal lives and he would incorporate them into his conversations with us. I felt as if I wasn't just going in to buy coffee, but also to chat with him. The business aspect seemed incidental. He was friendly and sociable, had a good memory, was quick-thinking on his feet, and skillful at doing his job. His brilliant customer service skills have always stood out in my mind."

-Nora Ohanijanians, Toronto, Ontario

"The best customer service we ever received was from the company where we purchased our backyard spa. We had visited several stores, about five in the Markham area. Then we found the Spa Shoppe. We were personally greeted upon entering the store. The staff was friendly. We were immediately introduced to the person most knowledgeable about the particular product we were interested in. This salesman had a warm personality, and plenty of product knowledge—he had received training from the spa's manufacturer. He actually invited us to visit the store on a particular day at closing time with our bathing suits, and he would fill the tub that we wanted to purchase so that we could get in and give it a try. So we did. We were sold. We were not made to feel uncomfortable in any way. The sales staff wear swimsuit-type shorts so that any customers in their swimsuits are right at home walking through the store. They did not pressure us one bit. They went about their business and left us alone. Staff was available on the day of delivery to make sure that everything proceeded as smooth as silk. They had prepared us well in advance, advising us on everything that needed to be completed, as well as doing an inspection of the site for us the day before delivery. Previous to the delivery date, we had called them on more than one occasion with questions, and they took care to provide all the answers in the most friendly and helpful manner. They keep in touch with us by sending us flyers and invitations to chemical demonstrations. They greet us by name when we visit every six weeks for water tests. They are interested to know how often we use the tub… if we are enjoying it. If we call with a question, their call display is set up to tell them which customer is calling, and which tub was purchased. They are always patient and kind, no matter how many questions we may ask. I'm sure we could find a place closer to home for water testing and purchasing chemicals, but why would we bother when we've discovered a place that is so eager to accommodate our needs?"

-Annette O'Leary, Markham, Ontario

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Author Info

Donna M. Marrin is a retail copy and corporate communications writer, and author of selections of short fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction published in a variety of Canadian and U.S. publications. To locate a copy of The Collected Works, contact the Varley Art Gallery of Markham, or the Markham Public Libraries. For information about the Markham Village Writers, contact Donna at donna.marrin@hotmail.com.

Click here to view Donna's bio page.