Like the boomerang, getting customers to return, takes skill and practice. Today, your customers want more than just service. They want to be satisfied that they received a great total value package from you. This idea applies to all levels of the distribution channel from procuring raw materials to purchases by consumers and end-users. Do this, and you’ll earn their sustained loyalty. By employing myP.A.R.T.N.E.R.S. model, you too can create customer satisfaction at such distinguished levels that loyalty will be the natural outcropping of your efforts. Essentially, you want to become your customer’s partner. This is because vendors are merely a dime-a-dozen, while partners are precious.
P is for Performance Standards; this is the underpinning of the model. You must identify, describe and express to your staff exactly what you expect of them. You must not just communicate by word that which you want from your employees, but also in deed. You must first model the high level of customer service by living the performance standards you demand of your team. Along with the need to establish performance standards, there is the need to measure the level of service rendered to your customers is equally important. If you measure it, you most likely will manage it.
A is for Anticipating Customer Needs. This is crucial to delivering the kind of service and value that keeps customers returning regularly. To create customer satisfaction, you must know what your customers want before they themselves know they want it. You can do this through customer focus groups, attending trade shows, and reading those trade journals that are piling up in your office. This is also the area where your superior product knowledge will serve you well. Additionally, spend the time to train your staff well in the features and benefits of that which you sell. Great salespeople are those that do an unsurpassed job of assisting their customers to obtain all the goods and services that their customers need, want, and desire. These salespeople are also the ones that are so appreciated by their customers that they are rewarded with repeat business.
R is for your Rules to Distinguished Customer Service. First, always give value-added service. The idea of giving more than is expected or always giving a little extra at no charge has proven successful to many over the ages. In fact, the baker’s dozen, 13 rather than 12—giving one free, when a customer purchases a dozen is the result of this idea and is an excellent customer retention method. Second, everyone in your business must understand and subscribe to the belief that a customer has earned the right to your respect simply by virtue of walking in your front door, calling on the telephone or e-mailing an order. Third, everything you do has a stone-in-the-water effect. All your actions as an owner, manager, or executive will have an effect on your customers. This applies to actions toward customers and employees alike—if you treat employees poorly, they will similarly treat your customers poorly. Additionally, remember that happy customers tell a friend or two, conversely, unhappy customers tell anybody that will listen just how poorly you deliver value, or the lack there of. Fourth, Never promise that which you know you or your company cannot deliver. Over-promising is the surest way to anger and lose a loyal customer.
T is for Transitioning Your Angry Customers into Happy Campers. You can generally accomplish this through a simple four-step model: First, you must intently listen to the customer’s complaint or gripe without getting defensive. Listen completely; take care not to be like the one-minute doctor who offers a prescription before doing some sort of diagnoses. You do not want to be guilty of customer service malpractice. Second, you defuse their anger through the process of asking open-ended questions. These are the questions where your customer must talk rather than grunt an angry yes or no. Get them explaining the situation rather than just complaining. Third, clarify the problem through responses. Feed back to the customer what you understand is the problem. If you did not understand or they did not explain it well, this is an opportunity to better understand. Fourth, offer a solution only after you are completely clear on what the real problem happens to be. If you do not clearly understand your customer’s problem you will most likely offer an incorrect solution and further anger your valued customer.
N is for the Need to learn about Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). This is today’s forefront science in serving and selling to others. Whether you like it or not, selling is part of customer service. NLP is the science of how your brain learns. Everybody has a basic preferred learning strategy: Visual (seeing), Auditory (hearing), or Kinesthetic (feeling). Each learning strategy is used in various situations yet; most people do in fact favor one strategy. Detect your customers preferred strategy by listening to the kind of words they use. Do they use seeing, hearing or feeling type words? Communicate with them in their favored strategy. As an example, the customer who says things like, “I wonder how this will look on me?” Might this person be a visual? The key word is look. Talk to that person in visual or seeing terms. Say something like, “Just picture yourself . . . ” This method of communication is called direct or matched communication. You are mirroring the other person’s learning style. Had you said, “Feel this fabric . . . ” You would have had a mismatch.
Like the construction company digging a tunnel from both sides of the mountain—If their communication between the two crews were poor, instead of digging one tunnel, they would most likely dig two! Rather than building two different tunnels, or levels of communication, you want to build a communication bridge with your customers. If you do this, your customer’s brain will simply say, “This person is like me—I like me—I like this person.” Now you are on the way to building the kind of high-level rapport that keeps your customers coming back. Two great books on NLP for business are: NPL At Work by Sue Knight and The Power of Business Rapport by Dr. Michael Brooks.
E – Empower Your Staff to deliver on the expectations of your customers. Cutting a special deal, resolving conflict, and smoothing ruffled customer feathers should be among the powers your employees should have. Customer expectations must be understood, and delivered upon for your business to survive. The behavior in your employees that you chose to reward is the behavior that they will likely repeat. If you tell your team, “You are now empowered!” but then rip their head off for making a decision you didn’t like, they will surely not take that risk again. My grandfather was an electrician in the 1950s and 1960s, working at a shipyard in San Pedro, CA. He would repeatedly say this about life at the shipyard, “There’s the right way to do things, there’s the wrong way to do things, and there’s the Navy’s way. We do things the Navy’s way!” Take caution not to play “Navy” with your employees. If you would like more information about rewarding your team for taking risks, please visit http://www.rigsbee.com/ma9.htm.
R is for Reward Customer Loyalty. Loyalty is a double-edged sword. If you want your customers to be loyal to you, then you must be loyal to them first. Giving deals to new customers only, and not to established ones, can easily offend. Actually, this mocks your valuable customers who have been loyal to you. I’m sure you would agree that it costs much less to keep a customer than to bring a new one in the door. If you are experiencing the “Turnstile” effect in customer loyalty, take a close look at your customer retention policies and practices. Don’t be lured by the erroneous belief of unlimited customers. In reality, competition today is more brutal than ever before in our history and getting more so daily. Your customers have more choice than ever before. Today, the secret to success is to retain every customer and serve them so well that they truly become your best advertisements. Frequent consumer programs are a much better strategy for sustained success than are new customer introduction offers.
S – is for the Satisfied and Blissful state in which you want your customers when they think or talk about you, your staff, and your company. Your customers must believe that value and satisfaction is always Job One at your company. Customer service is the means, not the goal. You must stay focused, like a laser, on your necessary goal of customer satisfaction through perceived value. Just because a customer is served, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are satisfied. Have you found yourself in a similar situation lately where you were served, but not to the level of your expectations? You may very well have left the situation dissatisfied. Keep in mind that more customers will just simply walk away with their expectations, realistic or otherwise, not met and will never say a word to you. What they will do is become the squeaky wheel and voice their complaints only to their friends and colleagues—the kiss of death to any business.
Now you have all the pieces of the P.A.R.T.N.E.R.S. model—quite easy to understand it at an intellectually level, but at the crucial emotionally level—that’s another story. Like learning the necessary skills to make the boomerang return, you too must use the pieces of the above model to help your customers become loyal and always return. The challenge here is for you and your team to emotionally own the ideas and live them daily. Your actions are speaking so loudly that your customers cannot hear a word that you are saying. Let your actions show that you truly desire to become a precious partner to your customer.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.
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