The other day I stopped by Lowe’s to have some keys made. Nice greeting by the clerk at the checkout counter but when I got to Aisle 13 not a soul was in sight. I walked around looking for an associate and, not finding one, I yelled, “Anyone here to make me some keys?”
A head poked up behind a counter in the hardware section revealing a sales person who walked around to the key desk, where I was standing. No hello; no “sorry to keep you waiting.” Another customer soon approached him and asked a question.
My guy just threw up his hands and shrugged. I jokingly told the other customer, “He’s the key man right now.” No smile or acknowledgment from the key maker.
I Think I’ll Shop Elsewhere
I became what Richard Shapiro calls The Endangered Customer in his recent book by that name. The goal of his book, he says, is to “offer a roadmap for continuously creating emotional bonds that generate the very highest levels of customer loyalty.” There’s a hardware store near where I live. They make keys, too. Next time.
Shapiro continues, “Too many companies are reactive only in their customer relationships and often fail to deliver a prompt resolution of service problems they create.”
On a happier note, I’m a repeat customer at Publix, the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the United States that has a virtual lock on the Florida market because of their customer service and community involvement. You enter a store and immediately see a customer service desk.
The baggers always ask if they can help you to your car with your bundles and aren’t allowed to accept tips.
When you can’t find something, an employee will take you to the product and not just vaguely point to the other side of the store.
Publix has a cooking station where each week an employee prepares a company-developed recipe for taste testing. They know customers don’t want to run around the store gathering the ingredients, so they stock them all right behind the chef.
The chef is friendly and engages you in conversation about the dish she’s cooking. Other Publix recipes are displayed in a rack by the station. What a great way to provide customer service while also selling more products.
Shapiro’s Steps to Repeat Business
In his work for some of the biggest retailers, Shapiro has identified what he is convinced are the 8 steps to repeat business:
1 — Coddle Your Customer
The lifetime value of your customer can be lost in one fumbled interaction, says Shapiro, the founder and CEO of The Center for Client Retention (TCFCR). He quotes Jack Mitchell, chairman of Mitchell Family Stores, who says, “It’s more important to know your customers than your merchandise.”
The Endangered Customer model has eight crucial stages, according to Shapiro, in every customer’s journey, from the moment he or she encounters your place of business (in person, by phone, or online) to the time following the purchase, when customer loyalty is put to the test.
2 — Make Me Feel Welcome
Customers want to feel welcome, whether in person or online. They want you to show an interest in them. Ultimately, they want to feel valued. A bad example:
The harried clerk in the children’s department at a famous department store who responded this way to a request for help in buying a gift for a newborn infant: “I’m’ busy right now. Why don’t you look through the merchandise yourself?”
You can’t find a salesman in a store and, unfortunately, automated response systems are now more commonly used to minimize customer expectations for personalized help.
It’s much more welcoming to read a sign that says, “We will be happy to exchange or refund your item within 7 days,” rather than “NO RETURNS AFTER 7 DAYS.”
3 — Give Me Your Full Attention
The best kind of selling reveals the customer’s needs and wants through meaningful dialogue. Giving your full attention requires active listening.” It’s not enough to offer your full attention; your customer must feel it. This applies to in-person interactions as well as phone and email.
In research for a client who wanted to compare his company’s service and support with 20 competitors, TCFCR sent a test email that began, “I just had a baby and I have a question about your product.”
Out of 20 companies that received the email, only one email response contained the line, “Congratulations on your new arrival.” No one paid attention to the new mother’s obvious joy about her newborn.
4 — Answer More Than My Question
It’s important to anticipate the customer’s need for additional information – information their initial question didn’t ask for. We’ve all had the experience of learning too late about a product feature and then kicking ourselves because “I didn’t know the questions to ask.”
In a contact center, a company can train its agents to anticipate then needs of customers and provide additional useful information. However, customers will not ask questions if they aren’t made comfortable in asking.
Millennials, who now outnumber their elders, are all about personalization, says Shapiro. It’s important for companies to hone in on specific product features that will meet their needs, without being asked.
5 — Know Your Stuff
If you go into a pet store, you expect people working there to love animals and know all about them. When walking into a bookstore, you should expect that the owner would hire sales associates that love reading and are knowledgeable about a variety of subjects.
Highly knowledgeable sales reps are more important than ever, as customers can get rudimentary information by searching online. The era of simple answers is over, says Shapiro.
We live in a complex society and it’s essential to size up a customer’s needs and match them with the right service or product offering. Apple’s Genius bar is a prominent example of a company hiring employees who are obsessed and knowledgeable about its products.
6 — Don’t Tell Me “No”
As bad as hearing “no” to your questions the unresponsive “I don’t know” from a customer representative is a close second.
When automated response systems don’t enable a customer to reach a live agent, the company is communicating a message of “no.”
Instead of “no,” tell your customers what you can do, not what you can’t do. Offer solutions to their problems. Listening and acknowledging a customer’s unhappiness is the first step in demonstrating that you care and value the relationship.
7 — Invite Me to Return
Repeat business is the lifeblood of an organization. Even a simple “look forward to seeing you again” leaves the customer with a good feeling.
Make it personal. Shapiro gives the example of a spa owner who always says to every client, “Please come back.” Instead, he suggested she say, “I want to see you again it.” A customer’s feelings of loyalty naturally develop toward a person and not the business.
The “I” showed a personal interest in the customer. Being invited to return makes the customer feel wanted and accepted.
8 — Show Me I Matter
After inviting a customer to return, the next most important step in the customer relationship is reaching out to express your appreciation.
Most companies are on to the next sale and don’t make the effort to thank customers for their business. Shapiro cites the personal email from Uber, car service, after a mix-up in his reservation. He received this message:
“Dear Richard, Did you mean to contact Uber Support? Please reply to this email if there were any issues we need to look into. I’ll be happy to help. Happy Ubering! All the best, Les, Uber Support.”
How much better than the usual letters we receive with the subject line in all caps PLEASE DO NOT RESPOND TO THIS EMAIL. That’s especially galling when the email is to tell us that our order has been delayed.
Fulfilling the Customer’s Journey
Making your customers feel special and expressing your appreciation for their business is so easy to do. Why don’t more companies do it? I believe it’s partly because too many companies don’t value their employees so why should their employees value their customers?
Companies don’t want to “waste money” investing in training their people to become more knowledgeable about their offerings and how to treat customers.
It’s amazing how much money goes into R&D to develop new products and services and how little money is invested in the creating delightful customer experiences.