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Revealed: the Secret to Customer Loyalty

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

The customer may not always be right, but your customer is always the customer.

Let me give you a quick True-False quiz. Simply indicate whether the following statement is True or False: "You build a business on satisfied customers."

Almost everybody answers "True." In reality, the answer is "False." Several studies have shown that about two-thirds of the customers who switch to other suppliers say they are "Satisfied" or "Very Satisfied" with their previous vendor. In today's extremely competitive, challenging economic environment, it is no longer good enough to have "satisfied" customers. Today, you must have LOYAL, enthusiastic customers who stick with you.

After all, it costs at least 5 times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to retain an existing one. So the bottom line is fairly obvious. Customer loyalty has a HUGE impact on your profitability as an organization. As marketing consultant Frank Friend points out, "Compared to satisfied customers, loyal customers stay longer with the company, refer more potential customers, buy more, are more forgiving of mistakes, and are less likely to be attracted by a competitor's offer."

That being the case, you need to know how to gauge a customer's loyalty. And the gauging test is fairly simple. The more willingly and the more strongly a customer recommends your product or service to his/her friends and colleagues, the more loyal your customer tends to be.

So how do you create LOYAL customers? By forming an emotional bond with your customers. By exceeding your customers' expectations. And by giving your customers a "WOW" experience. As Lisa Daley, the founder of The Bakery At Four Corners, puts it, "There are dozens of other places my customers can go. I want to make sure they enjoy coming here."

Here are a few things from my on-site training program you can do to create a "WOW" experience for your customers...

1. Give each customer an enthusiastic greeting.
That's what the receptionist does at one of the corporations where I speak. She greets everyone who comes through the door or passes by her desk. And she does it with obvious gusto. In fact, I was so impressed by her communication skills that I asked her about that. Her response? "I'm not just the lady who answers the phone or logs in visitors. I'm the Director of First Impressions."

How true! The CEO of that organization could probably take a week off, and no one would notice. But if she took a week off, everybody would notice, and everyone might suffer. So make sure you greet your customers, and greet them well.

Avoid the flat, monotone, it's-really-a-hassle tone of voice. Put some energy into your greeting. Look at your customer. And smile.

Unfortunately, too many organizations have salespeople or clerks who don't even bother to use this very basic customer service skill. These days ... you can pay for your purchase at a store without the cashier uttering a single word. And to my way of thinking, that is abominable and inexcusable.

2. Demonstrate genuine caring.
Avoid meaningless, worn-out phrases and cliches. The comedian Groucho Marx despised the empty cliches of business correspondence. So one day, when he received a letter from a bank manager that said, "If I can be of any service to you, do not hesitate to call on me," Groucho decided to take action. He immediately took pen to paper and sent the following note to the bank manager, "Dear sir: The best thing you can do to be service to me is to steal some money from the account of one of your richest clients and credit it to mine."

To demonstrate genuine caring, make sure you mean what you say. And be a bit more creative in your communication than the overused "How are you?" question and the ever-expected "Fine" response.

Take that extra step. Assist your customers with whatever they need ... and if you can't help, find someone who can. DON'T ever tell your customers, "I don't work in this department ... That's not my job ... or ... I just started here." Remember, you can ALWAYS do something to show your caring and help your customer.

Don't be like the clerk Andrea Foy mentions in her book, "Hire Power: How to Find, Get and Keep a Job." She was browsing the aisle of a home improvement store, looking for something, when she saw an employee walking by. Foy asked the employee for help, to which the employee responded with a terse "I'm on my break" and kept walking.

3. Make your customer feel special.
That feeling is at the very heart of the "WOW" experience. As further illustrated in her book, Foy contrasted two examples of service in two different hair salons. She said, "I had my best salon experiences at a high-end department store in downtown Minneapolis. Every time I walked in for service, the receptionist greeted me with a smile and asked who I was there to see. She checked to see if my stylist was available and if not, informed me as to how long the wait would be. If the wait was too long, she asked if I wanted to reschedule for later in the day. If the phone rang, she excused herself to answer it."

"My stylist greeted me with a smile and asked if I wanted a beverage or fruit. Once in the chair, my stylist's focus was on me, not himself, another stylist, or his next customer. He asked, 'Do you have any special requests or just the usual?' And on Fridays, he asked if I was going out and wanted the works. I looked forward to the experience. The prices weren't any more expensive than I had paid at other salons, but the tips sure were."

That's a "WOW!" Do you make your customers feel that special? I hope so. Your economic future depends on it.

Foy contrasted her Minneapolis experience with another one in Atlanta. She said, "I got up early one Saturday morning and decided to do my hair for a big event that night. Several hours later, I realized that I had made a mess. A salon around the corner from my apartment advertised, 'Walk-ins are welcome.' on the front window. I called ahead to ask if I could come in, but no one answered. Desperately, I put on a hat and drove over anyway."

"I walked in to see three or four ladies working at stations. Not one of them acknowledged me. After an uncomfortable minute, one beautician asked, 'Can I help you?' I asked if it was possible for me to get a walk-in appointment."

"The beautician looked away, nodded her head, and sighed. I stood at the door for about twenty minutes while she finished her customer. Finally, she nodded for me. I sat in the chair and started to tell her about my adventurous attempt to glamorize, when she interrupted me to answer the phone. She never asked how I wanted my hair. She didn't ask my name or tell me hers. When she wasn't talking on her cell phone, she was talking to the other stylists. When she was finished, I tipped her because she fit me in and did a good job, but I never went back."

Notice Foy's last line. Even though she tipped the beautician, and even though she was somewhat satisfied with the service, she never went back. She did not become a loyal customer. That tells me you've got to do more than offer satisfactory service these days. You've got to make your customer feel special as well.

4. Pay attention to details.
Customer service champions know that good enough is never good enough. They know that even the little things count in building an overall "WOW" experience. The little detail may be as simple as thanking a customer for taking the time to come into your store. After all, they could have gone to your competitor's store or the Internet to do their shopping.

The little detail may be thanking your customer for doing business with you. If you can believe it, some service reps even fail to follow through on this simple but absolutely critical detail. When Jay Leno told a clerk she didn't thank him for his purchase, she responded with an uppity, "It's printed on the back of your receipt."

External customers notice the little details, but so do your coworkers or internal customers. Tom Connellan talks about that in his book, "Inside The Magic Kingdom: Seven Keys To Disney Success."

For example, the horse-head hitching posts on Main Street in Disney World are not only accurate, well-made replicas of 19th century posts, but they are always clean and shiny. And do you know why? Or how that's even possible?

Well, the posts are stripped down and repainted ... almost every single day. Of course, not all 37 posts get the same wear, but the high wear points are done every night, so they will look fresh in the morning. In fact, the starting time for painting varies ... depending on the temperature and humidity so the paint will be dry by the time the park opens the next morning.

You may wonder, why would Disney bother to lavish this much care on mere hitching posts? Most customers would not even know the difference if they were maintained less often. But attention to detail is part of the company's culture. It creates a subtle, overall, magical "WOW" feeling when you're in the Magic Kingdom, and it inspires the Disney employees as well.

Another example is the carousel paint. Each carousel part colored gold is painted, not with gold-colored paint, but with 23-karat gold-leaf paint. Few cast members can tell the difference on their own, but they all have been told it is 23-karat gold-leaf paint (at the "Traditions" orientation they receive), and that's important to them. It's a way of letting the Disney employees know that Disney goes all out for its guests/customers.

As one Disney employee put it, "Sometimes cleaning up the carousel is not a pleasant task, and we need to be reminded why we do it -- for the kids, for our guests. The gold-leaf paint is a very important symbol. You see, it would be easy to do the job halfway and excuse it by saying, 'What's the point of paying fanatical attention to detail on something guests won't even notice?'"

As the employee concluded, "The real gold reminds us that we take care of the equipment, the facilities, the grounds for all our guests, because guests are our true gold, our reason for existence. If it weren't for them, we wouldn't even exist. No guests, no nothing."

Action:
Think of 3 things you can do this week to make your customers feel special, and then do it.

As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has taught more than one million people in 48 states and 22 countries how to keep a positive attitude on and off the job. In his book, PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success, Dr. Zimmerman outlines the exact steps you must take to get the results you want in any situation. Go to Alan's site for more information.

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