Quite simply, it’s understanding the needs and motivators of your customers and using that insight to tailor your interactions with your customers to deepen their loyalty (and business!) with you. In upcoming posts, we’ll explore different ways to do that and will pull from examples both within and outside of the industry. For now, though, I’d like to focus on the foundational aspects of relationship building. If you don’t meet the foundational needs of your customers, forget moving on to CRM – you will not have earned the right to move to the next stage of the relationship.
What are foundational aspects? These are all the things that you – and your competitors – must deliver on in order to be in the industry. These include business basics such as having a phone number and email address that work so that your customers can reach you easily and quickly; responding during a pre-defined timeframe; having the expertise to be able to consult with your customers; and working with the customer’s best interests in mind. Think about it – if you didn’t have these basic capabilities and business practices in place, not only would you lose customers, but you would also probably be out of business pretty quickly. Each of these foundational aspects is geared toward one outcome: building trust with your customers. Once you’ve established trust, you can then move toward building a lasting customer relationship.
Your customers want to trust you. They’re giving you their hard-earned dollars, and this can be a very emotional thing for them. They have certain standards and expectations from you and your business. Destroy that trust, and you’ve destroyed the relationship. But, guess what? Your customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They know that mistakes happen. Fix a mistake with a customer in a prompt, professional manner, and you’ve increased the trust and the relationship. In fact, research has shown that companies that fix a problem with a customer to the customer’s satisfaction actually increase the customer’s loyalty to the business.
Take a look at a couple personal examples to see how this can work.
Let me start by saying that I hate shopping. I never inherited the shopping gene and really have to work up the energy to go. So, when I shop I want to get it over as quickly as possible, without any hassles. I’ve discovered two stores that not only remove the hassle but also exceed my expectations when something goes wrong:
- White House/Black Market: this small boutique store earned my loyalty the first time I entered. I was greeted by a very nice saleswoman (who, incidentally, remembers my name and size every time I walk in the store, even if I haven’t visited the store in 6 months) who asked me how she could help me. I like this – she started by asking me what I needed rather than just pushing any product on me. She then listened to me and helped me find a pair of jeans. It so happened that the jeans we found were on the sale rack. I loved them so much, I asked her if there was a second pair. She went to the sale rack and pulled off a second pair. I was so pleased at the ease of the process that when she suggested some accessories, I happily added them to my shopping bag. However, when I went to check out, the jeans did not ring up at the discounted price. She – and I – were confused. She called over the manager and explained the problem. The manager said that the jeans were not on sale; that someone must have put them on the wrong rack. Very disappointing! However, the saleswoman told the manager that since the jeans were on the sales rack, that the store had made a mistake, and therefore, the store would honor the 50% off sale price. How’s that for fixing a problem? The store was willing to take a small financial hit to honor the expectation that had been set for me with the “50% Off Sale” sign. Has this paid off for the store? You bet. They are one of the first stores I go to when I need to buy clothes. And, when my nice salesperson offers additional suggestions, I happily buy them.
- Nordstrom: okay, Nordstrom is on everyone’s list of stores that go the extra mile for their customers. They have continually surprised and delighted me since my first experience with them 10 years ago. This past weekend I needed to purchase a dress for a sudden family event. I admit, I was tired and very rushed when I got to the store, and was hoping to be in and out as quickly as possible. I explained my needs to the saleswoman and she immediately pulled half a dozen garments off the racks that she thought would work. I ended up purchasing 3 of the items and went home. I was showing my husband the garments as I was packing to go to the airport and he noticed that ALL of the garments still had the plastic security tag on them. Ughh! I called the store and told them the situation. Not only did they apologize profusely, they also sent one of their customer service people to my house to remove the tags. They removed the tags and also removed the negativity of the situation.
Because of the way that both of these stores have handled problems and mistakes, they have earned my loyalty and repeat business. I also recommend them to others.
Think about your business. How can you build/rebuild trust with your customers when there is a problem? Is there a way that you can “surprise and delight” them or go the extra mile to demonstrate to them that you are genuinely sorry for the problem and value their business? For example, from my shopping experiences, here are a few things you can do:
- Proactively communicate to the customer that there is a problem.
- Own up to your role in the problem – even if it’s not your fault! – and come with several solutions. The saleswoman at White House/Black Market didn’t put the jeans on the wrong rack, but she took ownership of the problem.
- Put some skin in the game – even if it means reducing your revenue/profit a bit. This won’t be lost on your customer.
- Be available afterhours or before work for a customer.
- Rather than making them come to you, go to them.
- Send or offer them a thank you gift. The customer service manager at Nordstrom’s that came to my house asked me to let him know when I’m in the store next so he could take me out to lunch. Will I ever take him up on it? Probably not, since I’m satisfied with the solution already, but it was a nice gesture.
Do you have other ideas? Feel free to share them here!