Earlier this year, a colleague and I spent a week at the Hampton Inn at Barnes Crossing in Tupelo, Mississippi. Not the Ritz Carlton, by any stretch. Yet, it was one of the best service experiences I have ever received.
There wasn’t anything flashy about it. Rather it was the consistent warmth and caring we received from the staff that caused us to sit up and take notice. Regardless of who was working the front desk, we were greeted with genuine smiles and by name. When we expressed dismay that we got in too late to enjoy the delicious homemade Hampton cookies, an associate named Felicia ensured we were treated to a double dose, hot from the oven, the next night. When we needed a place to meet with others, John acted with urgency to provide it for us. Every morning at breakfast, Annie greeted us with a broad smile and Southern Hospitality.
Truth be told, there are other hotels closer to my client’s location. However, whenever I head to Tupelo, that’s where I stay, because they roll out the red carpet for me and their other guests. Whenever I return, they welcome me back by name and as if I were a member of their family.
Nothing about their red-carpet experience is expensive. Instead, it’s that every associate is focused on making guests feel welcome and wanted. They have turned me into their repeat customer and raving fan.
There is a direct link between service and sales. According to a McKinsey study, 70% of buying decisions are based on how a customer feels they’re being treated. At the same time, you might say that the real sale begins, after you gain the customer. The experience you deliver to your customers directly impacts the possibility of repeat business and referrals. Another study by Marketing Metrics showed that the probably of selling to a current customer is 60-70%, while the probably of selling to a new prospect is only 5-20%.
So, why wouldn’t you want to roll out the red carpet for your customers?
Some small business owners would cite small budgets as their main obstacle to giving their customers the star treatment. However, as my experience with the team in Tupelo showed, it doesn’t take a million dollars to make a million dollar impact.
Here are four ways that entrepreneurial women can deliver champagne service on a beer budget:
1. Select Staff for Service Ability
If you have a team of 2 or a team of 200, it’s critical to remember that each person who interacts with your customers contributes to your brand. It’s not just what they do, but how they do it, that communicates what you’re all about to your clients and others. Selecting staff for their talents and their ability to live up to your service standards is critical to keeping your red-carpet reputation.
Joan Brannick, PhD, founder of Brannick HR Connections and the author of Finding and Keeping Great Employees, suggests the following:
- Create an ideal employee profile, partially based on the red-carpet customer service standards you’ve identified as important. You can’t be sure you’ll find the person you’re looking for until you know exactly who you’re looking for.
- Ensure your process for hiring people must be in alignment with those service expectations. Use assessments and value-based interview questions. For instance, “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an upset customer. What was the situation? What did you do? What was the result?” Your applicant’s response will tell you a lot about their ability to empathize with a customer.
- Remember that it’s usually easier to train technical knowledge and sills, and much harder to train for attitude or personality. Given a choice between an applicant with vast experience, but a lack of warmth, and one with less experience but who is friendly, a good listener, and interested in helping others, candidate number two is likely a better fit in terms of delivering red-carpet customer service.
Cydney Koukol, chief communications officer for Talent Plus, a Lincoln, Nebraska-based firm that helps organizational leaders identify people whose natural talents are a fit for the company and the job, suggests that business owners and leaders benchmark their best people. If you understand who your best people are and what qualities they bring to the table, you know what qualities you’re looking for in other employees as well. As Cydney says, “Every time you select someone, your culture (and your customer service) gets better or worse. Choose wisely.”
2. Nail the Basics
Just as in my experience with the Hampton Inn at Barnes Crossing in Tupelo, it’s often the little things that mean a lot.
Angel Tuccy is (along with Eric Reamer) the co-host of Experience Pros Radio Show, billed as the most positive business talk show in America. One of their more popular segments is called FanBraggin.® On Fridays, guests are encouraged to call into the show with stories of great customer service. “Many times,” says Angel, the experiences aren’t earth shattering. They are often something like ‘He carried my groceries out to the car because it was raining and he saw I had a baby and toddler in tow.’” It truly is the littlest things that make people feel the most valued! “It’s really overwhelming,” says Angel, “to see how an act of kindness can have an impact on someone’s world.”
For the entrepreneurial Mom this could be as easy as sending a hand-written thank you note; answering the phone with a warm smile; calling customers by name; providing unexpected but helpful information; or simply following up. Take a tip from Gena Pitts, founder and executive director of the Professional Sports Wives Association, who says, “People love it when I check on them beyond the sale, just to say hello!”
3. Personalize the Experience
Jamie Bennett is a concierge and the owner of a lifestyle management company that serves primarily high net-worth individuals. One of her first assignments for a new customer was to purchase and decorate his Christmas tree. “When I inquired about his favorite colors,” explains Jamie, “he didn’t have any.” After doing some research, she discovered he was a member of a well-known fraternity. She purchased a 12-foot tree, and decorated it in the fraternity’s colors, even adding bulbs customized with their logo. Jamie’s client was beyond pleased and is still her customer two years later.
Joni Cohen, a magazine editor turned consultant, works with small businesses to help them gain media exposure. When she wants to send a thank you or celebrate a special occasion, she sends them a personalized ice cream package from ecreamery.com. Each pint is personalized with their name or special message.
The more specific the service, the more terrific the service!
4. Surprise and Delight
Susan Walton, owner of Move Sport, Inc., remembers how much fun it was to open a Cracker Jacks box as a child. Says Susan, “You know you’re getting a prize. Even though you know it’s going to be something small, you can’t wait to open it and see what you get!” This gave her the idea to put prizes inside her own boxes. She partners with other Boulder, Colorado businesses that provide sample size products that appeal to her market. “I want my customers to be excited to open up the box and think: Oh, what did Susan send us this time?”
Realtor Sheryl Simon, from Boston, MA, surprises and delights her customers by providing gifts for their children. Knowing that children who are moving from out of town will need something to keep them busy while their parents attend to the details of the move, she provides organic healthy snacks, juice boxes and toys. She also provides a list of things to do with kids in Boston, as well as information about area schools.
So, what are you waiting for?
Customers have more choices and louder voices than ever before. The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot to make your customers feel like they’ve received the star treatment! Want repeat business and raving fans? Simply, roll out the red carpet.
In the comments, tell us: How do you roll out the red carpet for your customers?
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