Yes, no dispute that customer satisfaction is critical in the twenty first century, your company won't survive without it - it's what customers now expect. That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about customer loyalty.
"What's the difference?" you say. Plenty. Customer satisfaction is sending a happy customer OUT of your business; customer loyalty is bringing a happy customer BACK to your business. They are very different events.
We've all read the research that shows 96% of customers with a problem will never complain (if they complained you'd have a chance to fix the problem and retain the customer), and the stories of customer focused organisations that enjoy explosive growth by giving you a discount if the phone rings more than five times. All good stuff, and valid then.
This is today. Today's satisfied customer is tomorrow's competitor's satisfied customer. Unless you know how to keep them.
We made some assumptions about our customers in the service frenzy of the 80's and 90's. Those assumptions are:
The level of service we decided to give our customers is what they actually wanted
The level of service we're giving will create customer satisfaction
High levels of customer satisfaction generates repeat business
Let's look at these three areas. Who says the level of service that your organisation gives its customers is what they actually want? Has anyone ever asked them? That may sound a little too obvious, and it's surprising how many companies never bother to ask their customers what they expect. Has your company ever formally asked its customers? By using the services of a market research company to survey them you will learn things you could never learn by asking them personally. Market researchers are impartial, and are seen to be so. The answers can be eye opening.
The second issue - the level of service we're giving will create customer satisfaction. Who says? The customer? They're the only ones who matter. Ask them.
Then the third myth. High levels of customer satisfaction generates repeat business.
Unless a customer is given very good reasons to return to do business with you again, all the customer satisfaction in the world won't bring them back.
So how do you keep your customers coming back? Assuming your products and services are good value for money, here's the key. MAKE YOUR CUSTOMER FEEL SPECIAL. Make them feel they are the most important customer you've got. Yes, every one of them - individually.
Do the unexpected. As customers, we get blasÃƒÂ© - we expect good service as a matter of course. Do something outrageous that will turn your customer into a walking, talking advertisement for you. Like giving all the customers in your restaurant a card instead of the bill on one night per month. The card simply says "Thank you for being our guest tonight. One night a month we treat all our patrons as our guests, and there will be no bill. Please tell your friends that we randomly choose a night where everyone is our guest, and eats for free. We hope you enjoyed your visit, and we'll see you again soon."
If that happened to you, how many people would you tell, 10, 20, 30? And how many of them would visit that restaurant, 50%, 80%? A large percentage, you can bet. We all like surprises, and we all like something for nothing, and we can't resist a gamble! And what has it cost - equivalent to a 3% discount over the course of a month. This technique need not be restricted to restaurants either, any business can adapt it.
Or how about a customer who is a keen golfer. Imagine their delight when, for no reason, a box of golf balls arrives with a note from you saying "Thanks for doing business with us, we appreciate it . . . hope you continue to enjoy your golf." How quickly would the story get around the golf club?
Why not allocate one service team to visit major customer sites on one day per month to carry out a full safety inspection and report on equipment installed there - free of charge and without being asked to do it.
There are probably hundreds of outrageous ideas you can think of for your business that will make customers keep coming back, and talk about you to other potential customers - your walking, talking advertisements.
In his book, 'Positively Outrageous Service: New And Easy Ways To Win Customers For Life', T. Scott Gross explains his technique for keeping customers. The key to this technique is to create high impact experiences. A customer encounters high impact experiences when these five elements are involved:
*Its unexpected and randomly chosen *It's out of all proportion to their business with you *It involves the customer *It makes customers talk about you enthusiastically *It cements their decision to keep doing business with you
Be creative. Use your imagination to think up ways to incorporate high impact experiences for your customers. Here are some idea starters:
Entertain your customers. Especially while they are waiting. If you absolutely cannot eliminate waiting, have coffee or soft drinks available; send someone to chat to them about things they like and don't like about doing business with your company - it's amazing how much you can learn by just asking.
Apologise for even the smallest mistake. When in doubt, apologise; make amends far in excess of the slip-up; authorise your employees to solve problems and compensate customers for inconveniences.
Ask your customers' opinion. Learn to listen effectively and actively seek information from customers - you'll be amazed how many good ideas they'll give you.
Know your customer by name. And use it. Everyone likes to be called by name, and those who use customers' names are remembered. Ever been paying for a purchase with a credit card and the salesperson has used your name from the card? Using names makes people feel good.
Invite your customer to play. (And know when they're not in the mood). Give your customer fun at unexpected moments. As customers line up at the drive-up window at Gross's fast food restaurant, staff start washing windscreens and having a joke with the customers - and they keep coming back.
Companies who create outrageous service are remembered - and more importantly, talked about. Not only is word-of-mouth advertising the best form, it is very cost effective, and very easy to do, and it keeps customers coming back. All it takes is some imagination - and the courage to be different.
Lee Fowler is a Customer Service specialist with 23 years experience developing customer service programmes for companies worldwide. He is the author of 'Lifelong Customers: How To Attract - And Keep - Loyal Customers For Life' available for immediate download at: www.businessskillsonline.com. Sign up for his free 'Business Skills Weekly' e-zine at: www.businessskillsonline.com