Remember Mickey Mouse and Pluto? It never really made sense for a mouse to have a dog but they were funny and made us smile so we were always happy to see them. Never overthinking, just feeling it. Well, buying decisions are also emotional rather than rational.
Advertising people are well aware of this so they build that material accordingly. The marketing people may do their magic and draw customers into the stores or online to make a purchase but from there it’s the experience those customers have that will determine whether they will return. People tend to go to the places where they feel good, they get a positive vibe and feel connected.
If you are looking for customer fidelity, here are a few pointers.
Put the customer first
Too often companies consider that keeping customers happy pertain only to the customer service department. They could not be more wrong. That’s where people turn to when they already have a problem with a product or service and though it is meant to fix the situation, complaint handling is but a short term solution.
Customers need to have a good experience at every single point of contact with the organization. Let’s take the Disney amusement parks as examples – from the moment one enters those gates it is all about fun, entertainment and excellent service. Snow-White, Cinderella and Mickey might be a blast but if Pluto and Goofy are cranky or mean, all the princesses in the Kingdom will not be able to wipe the negative experience away.
Companies that really care about their customers’ journey, set up testing centers where they invite people to try out products and services, interact with various departments and see what areas work and where there is room for improvement. Companies who really get to excel in providing the best experience manage to take it one step further and anticipate customer needs.
Every customer needs to feel special
Sure, it’s always nice to be able to publicly brag about how many million customers your company has. However, keeping them means making sure each one of those clients feels like one in a million instead of a random person from a crowd. The relationship with the organization is very important and a good one is a personal one. Dale Carnegie once said
A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
Using that name in all forms of direct communication makes that person know that he or she is known. “Dear Mr. Sloane” or “Dear Susan” (if the company prefers a more informal tone) is a million times preferable to “Dear customer” or “Dear owner of contract number 345B32”. And this is only step one.
Really listening to the customer is step two. Every detail of the conversation is important as the company representative can find valuable information to help connect with the customer on a personal level. Remembering bits from previous conversations and using them is the final and most effective step – it’s when the customer feels that there was an effort done for him personally.
Even if they aren’t really the highlights of anyone’s day, customer complaints are great opportunities both for cementing the relationship with that particular customer and for improving products and services.
In the event in which something did go wrong and the company messed up in some way (an incorrect bill, poor service parameters due to some technical errors or some flaw with one of the products) the correct and surprisingly effective way to deal with that is to own up to it. People do appreciate honesty above all and to be fair, if they bothered to report it, they know something went wrong. Telling them it’s all working flawlessly will not suffice to convince them.
I recently had a very bad experience with my bank. Their online system kept throwing me out of my account, I could not pay for stuff and move my money around. I called four times in one week and they kept saying it was my browser, my phone or that I didn’t remember my password right. The same thing was happening to my husband and four other friends who used the services of the same bank. After telling random stuff to all of us, it got fixed after two weeks.
Either we are six idiots who for a fortnight completely forgot how to use that app and then magically (and simultaneously) got smarter or the bank lied to us because they did not have the solution yet. Needless to say, it was very disappointing customer experience.
Build a customer-centric culture
It’s one thing for a company to declare that customers are important and that what they want matters and a completely different thing to make sure those customers actually feel that. Organizations are not inanimate objects, they are made up of all the people in them. Every employee, every day, in each little task they perform needs to act accordingly to the company’s promise.
Leaders hold an essential role in making this happen. They need to model and inspire such behavior while making sure that everyone has the tools to provide an excellent customer experience. This means constantly adapting the procedures to fit ever changing requirements but also providing the right learning and development tools.
The onboarding process has great bearing in this, as do periodical meetings and trainings on customer support. Yet working with people can be very challenging and dynamic so having a generous e-learning library with modules from positive communication to handling difficult personalities in an effective way or emotional intelligence gives them the possibility to access information on a ‘need to know’ basis and makes them feel more secure about being able to deliver.
In the end…
Happy customers mean thriving business so making them feel like they are welcomed by Mickey and attended to by lovely princess is ultimately priceless.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.