By Tra Williams
Everyone has experienced this at one time or another: What you thought was going to be a simple everyday transaction for a product or service turned out to be an experience that earned your lifetime loyalty as a customer. Sadly, it doesn’t happen very often, which is exactly why it’s so surprising when it does happen.
Today’s consumer-driven environment is intently focused on instant availability and for good reason. More than ever, customers want immediate access and lament any speed bumps between them and the conclusion of the transaction. Immediacy has become the “golden calf” of customer satisfaction. Customers continually worship the quickest solution with frequent patronage, but the results of that lust for instant gratification has come at a painful price. The line between optimization and true innovation has been blurred as the customer experience has been sacrificed on the altar of speed.
Escaping this cult of self-satisfaction where “likes” pass for loyalty requires you to rewrite the rules of comparison. Don’t allow the value of your product or service to be determined by an outside metric. Instead, change the game and redefine what the word value means to your customer. Here are “The Ten Commandments” of value creation and earning a customer for life.
1. Technology Reduction. In today’s world of technology immersion, the human touch matters more than ever. Each escalation of technology reduces human interaction. Each reduction of human interaction is a missed opportunity to earn a lifetime customer who judges the value you provide by metrics that you define—not just speed. When someone takes real time to provide personal enhancements to an individual experience, it’s impressive. You can’t cut through the white noise with more white noise. Remember, innovative technology is usually meant to optimize our lives; therefore, you can purchase service optimization but not service innovation. Real service innovation comes from the people within an organization, which brings us to No. 2.
2. Focus on Frontline Staff. Your frontline staff who interact directly with your customers are the most important people in your organization. Not the owner or the manager; it’s the frontline employee who is friendly and patient, who smiles all the time, and who remembers the customers’ names and business needs. That person will ultimately make or break a company. Make sure your culture emphasizes treating them with the time and attention they deserve, and they will treat your customers the same way.
3. Have a Real Relationship with Each of Your Customers. Recognize that the relationship you have with each of your customers should not be transactional. Of course, it’s important to look for opportunities to make transactions simpler, easier and more pleasant for the customers, but it’s also imperative that you add value to their lives in ways that are unrelated to the transaction. Look for ways to be a resource—not just a provider.
4. Develop a Customer-first Culture. This starts with a slow and methodical hiring process. The time, money and productivity lost on a hire who is inconsistent with a company’s culture is immeasurable. Take your time, and hire the right people. Then, focus on their development. They, in turn, will grow your business. Customer loyalty is built by people—not in spite of them.
5. Cultivate “Reciprocity.” We are hardwired to do more for those who do things for us. One example is Chick-fil-A. When it rains, Chick-fil-A employees wearing ponchos run to people’s cars when they pull in and hold an umbrella over them while they walk inside. And they also escort the customers back to their cars when they have finished their meals. This is just one reason that Chick-fil-A’s average unit volume is three times the average of most QSR’s (quick-service restaurants) while being open only six days a week.
6. Eliminate Policies. “I’m sorry, Ma’am. That’s just our policy.” These words should never be uttered in business. They reveal to customers that your culture values adherence to arbitrary rules more than customer satisfaction. You should have only one policy: Do everything within your power to exceed your customers’ expectations.
7. Empower Your Team. If you’ve followed Commandments No. 2 and No. 4, then this one should be easy. Every team member should be empowered to do what is right in each specific situation. “Let me ask my manager” tells customers that you don’t trust your employees’ discretion or decision making. And if you don’t trust the people you hire, why should your customers trust that they will have a consistently great experience? The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company gives each employee a stipend of $2,000 to immediately remediate any customer service issue without having to ask a manager. You don’t have to go that far, but this is definitely a policy that you should employ.
8. Celebrate. Everybody loves a winner, and nobody wants to be on the losing team. Customers want to feel like the money they spend is making the world a better place. Publicly celebrate your wins, your anniversaries, your employee accomplishments (both at and outside of work), your growth, your community engagement, your awards and your achievements. Did one of your employees just earn a master’s degree? Have a baby? Compete in a triathlon? Whatever it is, celebrate it. This Commandment has the added advantage of developing employee loyalty as well as customer loyalty.
9. Raise the Stakes. Service innovation inherently means that you are challenging the assumptions of traditional expectations. On the flip side of this coin is the realization that doing something new is also a new opportunity to fail. Fortunately, studies show that customers value your effort nearly as much as the result. As such, they are incredibly forgiving of failure so long as every effort was made to succeed. So, challenge your team and yourself. Raise the stakes. Go big. Consistent yet average is still unimpressive.
10. Have a Mission. People are not motivated by “what”; people are motivated by “why.” If the goal is to make tons of money and eventually go public, as an example, then you have missed the point of this exercise entirely. Where one spends one’s money is a major part of one’s identity. Customers align themselves with organizations that mirror who they are or, at least, who they’d like to be; therefore, the motives that drive your organization also drive your customers’ loyalty. Without a mission, you and your customer have no “why.”
Embrace these 10 commandments. Carve them into stone, and bring them down from the mountain. If when you arrive you find your team obsessed with the Golden Calf of immediacy, tell them this: In today’s world of instant gratification, do not worship speed. When speed becomes the only metric by which you judge service, then true service becomes irrelevant. Instead of conjuring new ways to complete a transaction faster, make the experience so amazing that the customer will never want it to end.
Tra Williams is a speaker, business consultant and author of Boss Brain: Unlock Your Entrepreneurial Instincts. He is a nationally recognized thought leader in small business, franchising, leadership and entrepreneurship. Williams works with people, professionals and organizations to help them define success on their own terms and build the framework required to sustain it. For more information, visit trawilliams.com.