Posted by: Andy Porter | June 15, 2009

First Impressions, Personalized Service and Customer Loyalty

By this stage of the game pretty much everyone knows that the target of customer service is NOT a satisfied customer. Satisfied means that they will stick with you only until something better comes along. And trust me, every satisfied customer you have IS looking! If a customer is in the satisfied category and they have a bad experience they most likely won’t tell you about it. They just won’t come back. Word of mouth referrals from a satisfied customer are not frequent. Of course satisfied is better than unsatisfied, or irritated. Satisfied is not horrible, but your aim needs to be higher.

If you want to have a booming business and garner great word of mouth advertising you have to have LOTS of loyal customers. This is the true goal of customer service. Loyal customers will drive past 10 of your competitors to come see YOU. If one of your loyal customers does have a bad experience they will probably tell you about it and give you a chance to make everything right. And they will refer your business to anyone who will listen to them.

The number of books and articles about the need to create customer loyalty are too numerous to count. They include literally hundreds of ideas to make your satisfied customer loyal to you.

As I give customer service training workshops on a constant basis I am always asking people: “Where are you a loyal customer?” And then: “Why, what do they do to make you loyal?”

The first answer I get, as you might suspect, is consistent high quality of product or service. No one is going to be a loyal customer if the basic service or product is poor. You won’t go back to the auto repair center if your car breaks again right after they “fixed the problem”. You most likely won’t return to your hair stylist if they butchered your hair the last time you went in.

The second answer I most often hear is personalized service. Someone remembered them. Some one cared and served them as an individual, not as just one person in a blur of people. In all the people I have surveyed about “why are you loyal?” everyone said that this was a key.

Loyalty is not about what gets the customer to come in for the first time, it’s what gets the customer to keep coming back.

When you go into a business for the first time you expect them to be friendly. This does not always happen, but it is certainly what we expect. Many businesses seem to focus their best efforts towards pulling in new customers. The employees you interact with as part of the sales or introduction cycle are very friendly. Actually the very best customer service people are used when the customer wants to cancel their service. If there is an option for wanting to cancel your service, then the people who you speak to are the best at trying to be nice and understanding and talk you out of it. So in many companies the customer service focus is on the beginning and the end. Not much in the middle.

But if you DID focus in the middle (meaning focus on delivering personalized customer service to your regular customers) you would have more loyal customers, get more referrals from word of mouth (maybe have a need to spend less on advertising as the referrals come in) and the number of customers trying to jump ship would shrink.

An example is a health club. When you go in for a tour and are thinking about joining you are given the royal treatment. Once you are all signed up you’re not so important. Even if you go in regularly you don’t get greeted warmly and personally. Sometimes the staff look at you like they have never seen you before! Of course this is crazy, in a health club the members who regularly visit is the people who keep them open!

So, assuming that your first visit was okay and you received a quality service or product you will most likely return. This is where personalized service comes into it. When you go back do they remember you? Does anyone remember your name, your pet’s name, your child’s name? Anything that is remembered about YOU makes a world of difference. Where you went on vacation, what kind of coffee drink do you like, even just a spark in the persons eye that says that they remember seeing you before.

Whenever you go anywhere and you are recognized it makes a difference. Have you ever been into your local ______ store (fill in the blank), a place where you have been literally hundreds of times, see the same people who work there, and not gotten even a faint flicker from them that have ever seen you before? How do you feel? Dull, unimportant, routine.

How about some business you frequent where there is that spark of recognition, or some comment that shows them they DO remember you? Does it make a difference to you? Do you FEEL different?

People suffer from not being recognized, being just another face in the crowd. The more populated the area you live in the less likely you will be recognized. As businesses grow they become more and more impersonal; more faceless; and seemingly more uncaring.

We have discussed two aspects of good service: being friendly and personal service.

They are NOT the same thing.

Friendly is smiling, being patient, helpful, expressing some care for the customer. But being friendly is not enough to make a loyal customer. Have you ever had an interaction with someone and they were very friendly up until the understood that you weren’t going to actually buy their service or product and then you got the cold shoulder? Have you ever dealt with some “business professional” and you could sense that the friendly demeanor was an act and that they were not in fact actually a very friendly person at all?

Personal service is not the same thing as friendly service. Personal service, as we have described above, is some interaction which shows the customer that they remember YOU, your likes, dislikes, desires. Personalized service is individualized service.

Of course if the goal is to create loyal customers, then ideally the customer service person would be both friendly AND deliver personal service.

There are literally hundreds of ways to provide personalized service.

  • Greeting a customer by name when they call or arrive
    • Review your schedule to see who is coming and refresh your mind on the personal details of the person.
  • Greeting their child or pet by name
  • Take time to note down any small details about the person, what is their favorite flower, or flavor of ice cream, where do their kids go to school, what is the name of their dog or cat.
  • Remembering and commenting on any personal details such as where they went on vacation, a child’s graduation,
  • Showing in your speech or manner that you recognize the person remember seeing the person before.
  • Sending letters or cards that are clearly for the individual, either by content and/or hand addressed and signed.
  • Personal follow up phone calls by the doctor, manager or owner.

I am sure that there could be a specialized list for every kind of business. The thing to do is to make sure that everyone understands this concept and ask them to come up with their own practical ideas of how to apply it. It takes planning and practice and diligence to deliver personalized service. But before you hesitate from the effort required be sure to ask your self, “What is the value of a loyal customer?”

One last aspect of personalized service: it’s fun and interesting to deliver personalized service. When you are there on the front lines and everyone becomes a blur and there is no personal interaction the job becomes dull and boring. When you work to become more personalized in your service people look nicer, customers are more interesting, and generally life looks better!

So there you have it! Personalize your service, have more loyal customers and make your own job and life brighter! Not a bad deal!

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