Win Loyal Customers the Old Fashioned Way…By Establishing Personal Connections

This past summer, I discovered a not-quite-so-new restaurant near my office and was blown away by their unique and delicious wraps—and their great customer service skills.  Immediately upon walking in, you are greeted, sometimes by more than one employee.  Recommendations are openly given and customization is allowed, along with free beverage refills if you dine in.  Upon leaving, you are also told goodbye and thank you by one or more employees.

What has impressed me the most, though, is the manager, Paul.  After several visits, I was greeted with a smile, and an, “Amanda?” as he tried to remember my name.  It doesn’t matter that he got it wrong; he TRIED to remember my name.  When I corrected him, he asked where I worked when I mentioned that I’d referred a co-worker to them (which was immediately rewarded with a free cookie for dessert).  The next week, I was greeting with a, “Hi, Amber!  How are you doing?”  He had learned my name and remembered it.  Did I feel flattered?  You bet I did!

Another week or so later, I came in and Paul told me that I must have read his mind about coming in.  My company had picked up a catering order and he had planned to include a free lunch for me, too, as a surprise.  Unfortunately, they had gotten busy around that time and he’d forgotten.  After telling me this, he refused to charge me for my lunch.  I told him that he’d actually made my day because I was completely stressed about a family member starting cancer treatment that day, the holidays and being really busy at work.   He sincerely expressed his concern and said that his sister had also been going through treatments.  Did you catch that?  He established a personal connection with me, his customer, showing that he understood and cared.

After the holidays, I stopped in for a late lunch and saw him and his employees eating lunch at the counter.  I had great news to share—that I wanted to share with him because he’d been so genuine with me.  I quickly told him that the treatments had worked dramatically and that my relative was going to be considered “cancer-free” by the end of the month.  What did I get?  A fist bump and cheers from everyone there, along with another free cookie for the “sweet news”.  It was heart-warming to have these new “friends” in my corner and cheering with me.  It made me feel great about spending my money there—and want to come back again and again.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to keep giving away free stuff to win over new customers and gain customer loyalty. What I AM saying is that, when you make attempts to get to know your customers—and relate to them in some way—they are going to remember you and feel like a part of the family.  And when they feel like that, they’re going to keep coming back because they feel comfortable being there.  Personal connections are the ties that bind people to you.

Think about how you treat your regulars.  Do you—and your employees—engage with them more than the standard “Hello” and “Thank you”?  If not, you should. 

Can you follow some of the practices mentioned above to win over newer customers?  I’m betting with a little bit of effort, everyone can.


Be With Who You're With

Ever heard that statement? In short it means, “engage with the person you are currently spending time with.” 

Have you ever been out to dinner with a significant other, friend or business associate having a great conversation when, suddenly, that person took a phone call that was not an emergency? Did they talk for a good few minutes while you sat there watching the appetizers get cold? During those few minutes, the other person was not “with” you. You both worked hard to carve out the time to spend together and now you aren’t together for part of it—not a good feeling unless you were just aching to get back to your game of crushing candies. 

In today’s always on, always connected world, we all feel the pressure to be available and responsive to whomever may call on us. Sometimes, this connectivity is vital and it makes us feel good to be responsive. However, there is a time, a place and a priority for everything. How important is the person you are with and what message do you want to send to them? 

Let’s look at this from a customer experience perspective. Say you are working behind the counter at the store today. It has been a little slow and your old high school buddy calls to chat about the upcoming AprilFoodFest-O-Rama. After all, it’s free food! Two customers are waiting in line to check out. Do you hang up the phone and engage the customers, or do you keep jabbering away with your buddy while mumbling the minimum required words to the customer? At that moment, do you think your customer feels important? Do you think you earned their business? Are you “with” them? 

I know I have posed more questions than answers here, but they are designed to make you think. Think about the impressions you leave with your customers if you are not “with” them. Will they come back if you are never with them? Will they tell others about their bad experience? Is there any chance that someone is sneaking out of the store with some yummy suckers or driving off with free gas while you are with someone else? Potentially. 

So, think about it. What’s the right thing to do? Be with who you’re with!


Are You Geared Up for This Season’s Young Athletes?

Spring is here, and if you have kids, you likely have them signed up for a variety of sports and other spring and summer activities.  For me, that includes soccer, T-ball, swimming and dance for my 5-year old—all on different nights of the week, and almost every weekend for the next 8-12 weeks. For me, that means tired kids, an unkempt house, extra laundry and superhero organization and logistical skills.  What does that mean for you?  Additional traffic during evening hours when practices take place (before dark) and on the weekends, when games and other events are in full swing. 

You’re likely to have families that are literally on the go, who, in addition to extra fueling needs, want quick, tasty and healthy alternatives to a sit-down dinner at nontraditional times.  Many, including myself, are in need of another option to the well-known and somewhat inexpensive “Mickey D’s” offer down the street (because as any parent knows, we get enough of that already!).  Can you accommodate?  You’d better! 

Active kids and families on the go would enjoy these healthier options that can help boost or replenish energy: 

  • fresh or dried fruit
  • trail mix
  • whole-grain cereals
  • yogurt
  • sports/granola bars
  • boiled eggs
  • wraps and simple deli sandwiches (mustard and mayo on the side—remember, some kids are picky!)
  • 100% fruit juices and sports drinks
  • grilled chicken (sandwiches or on salads)

And don’t forget clean restrooms!  After an hour (or more) of practice out on the field, sometimes without clean, “modern” facilities available—or too far away—your guests’ very first destination might be to yours!  What kind of experience will they have in there?  If it’s subpar, what are they going to think about purchasing food from you?

I’m sure that, with a little brainstorming, you can come up with even more ideas that might help attract this crowd and keep them coming back for more.  Whatever you do, don’t forget about them. If you do, they’ll go somewhere else during this busy season–like to your competitor next door.


Put Your SMILE On!

Hmmmm…  What to wear today? 

What is the most important item you should put on today before you head to the store or to work?  Okay, besides the obvious – a clean uniform, shirt or blouse, pants, shoes and a name tag?  The most important item to remember is to put your SMILE on!  

Some of you might reply to this suggestion with, “Hey Todd, I’m having a bad day and I just don’t feel like smiling”, or, “Why should I smile when customers or co-workers don’t seem very happy?”  My response to that is, if you could do one simple thing that would make yourself AND your customers feel better, why not do it?  There are many well-documented studies detailing the positive effects of smiling.  Those effects include:  reduced stress, lower heart rate and blood pressure, mood lifting, increased energy levels and even pain relief.  All of that sounds pretty good to me!  

Let’s look at the customer perspective and human nature, in general.  Smiling is contagious.  In other words, when one person smiles at another, the other person instinctively has the urge to smile back.  When they smile back, they begin receiving the same benefits you are receiving from smiling.  Customers have bad days, too, and it can be an amazing experience to lift their mood with a simple smile – and it doesn’t cost either person anything.  Pretty cool! 

Part of my role in our Customer Experience department is to interview potential candidates interested in joining our team.  Many of these interviews start with a short telephone conversation.  As with most interview processes, we have a sets of skills and traits we attempt to assess during these interviews.  There is one trait assessment that has risen above all others.  That trait is the smile.  Because much of our interactions with customers occur over the phone, it is vital that customers “hear” us smile.  It is a sound that is difficult to describe, but you know it when you hear it.  This smile has an amazing, positive impact on our ability to resolve customer issues and is incredibly “disarming”.  We love our customers and they need to hear that through every interaction with us.  Everyone has had the occasion to interface with a customer who was less than happy with their experience.  However, with a smile, a helpful attitude (which the smile helps develop) and a genuine concern for the customer’s well-being, most situations can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction and with positive impressions left.  Customers will continue to do business with you because of your smile and the positive interactions that result from it. 

So, plan on wearing that smile today!  Oh, and clothes…



Put Your Employees in the Spotlight with a Recognition Program

I recently went to the salad bar at a local grocery store.  When I got to the register, I realized I had left my wallet across town!  I had earned enough points to receive a free salad, but my bill was 76¢ over budget.  Amazingly, my clerk whipped out her own coin purse and paid for it!  After thanking her profusely, I immediately found a manager and sang her praises. I am hoping that the company did something with that report to applaud her efforts, because her actions meant a lot to me—and my growling stomach!

Have you ever had a customer praise one of your employees for going above and beyond?  Did you do something to celebrate that employee and their success?  You should have, because your employee helped strengthen your customer’s sense of loyalty to your store—and the odds are that the customer is going to return, as well as tell others about their positive experience.  And that will result in more traffic, more opportunities to gain loyalty, and increased sales!

Employee Recognition Programs are a great way to reward your team for their hard work, especially when they go the extra mile.  Winners—and nominees alike—can hold their heads high for being recognized among their peers for their contributions.  In addition, companies may experience increased employee morale and higher retention rates because employees are more satisfied with what they are doing.

I have worked for two different companies that had formal recognition programs, and both were very successful, even though they followed different approaches.  At my previous company, an employee received a special award—in this case a giant stuffed gorilla—for going “above and beyond”.  The employee was able to keep it at his or her desk for the month and was then tasked with nominating the next winner.  The rule was that nominees had to be from different departments, which encouraged employees to get to know one another, live up to their company’s core values and excel at their jobs.  Winners received other prizes as well, including a gift card and a smaller stuffed gorilla to keep forever. 

Here at CarterEnergy, we have two different peer-to-peer recognition programs that reward positive behavior, recognize contributions, encourage teamwork and promote job performance.  The first is a program that allows employees to distribute cards with special “cudos” messages to co-workers as a way to say “thank you” or to recognize someone for going “above and beyond” the call of duty.  Cudos cards are then redeemed for merchant gift cards, as well as entered into quarterly prize drawings.  The second program, initiated quarterly, recognizes and rewards employees who consistently exhibit the company’s values for success in everyday situations.  Employees submit nominations, which are reviewed by a special committee which determines the final winners, who receive a plaque and a gift certificate.

You may want to consider programs like the ones I’ve described, an “employee of the month” club, or a points program that takes into account accolades from customers (and other co-workers), observing great service first-hand, quarterly reviews, training programs, etc.  Depending on your business type, you may want to set up a toll-free number for customers to call to provide feedback about your employees.  This works great for front-liners in a service role, as well as your driving team.  You’d be surprised how many positive reviews come in via this method!  Be sure to include rewards that are appealing to your employees, such as gift cards, extra time off, or even an end-of-the-year party or bonus, etc.  Remember, you are in control and can set whatever parameters you want, making your program more traditional, or even fun and unique!

Everyone loves to be recognized for their accomplishments, big or small—and knowing that you’re appreciated can be very motivating to employees, encouraging positive behavior and excellent customer service.  In addition, these programs can say a lot about your company’s culture to the business community—and prospective employees, helping you attract better talent!

So the next time a customer approaches you about a positive experience, don’t ignore those words of praise; find a way to do give your employee more than a simple “thank you” for doing their job.  Put them in the spotlight and encourage them to keep that great service coming—because it’s going to contribute to your bottom line and your employee’s job satisfaction!