To build customer loyalty, start by making a decision:
Are you willing to put the customer at the center of everything you do: at the center of your company or department, your daily routines, the way you hire, the way you design your webforms?
Donâ€™t say â€œyesâ€ too automatically. Putting the customer at the center is a more complicated, subtle, and arduous adventure than it sounds. But itâ€™s worth it: At each successfully customer service-oriented company where I’ve bought stuff, worked as a consultant, or used as a customer loyalty case study in books or as a keynote speaker, somebody (or some somebodies) has made this decision.
If youâ€™re willing to make this decision as well, we can get down to business.
Once youâ€™ve made the decision
Just how do you go about putting the customer at the center of your operation? Waving your hands around, chanting â€œoh holy customer, thou art at the center of my universeâ€ isnâ€™t going to be sufficient, or advisable.Â What you need is to appropriately direct your resources and your employees to a framework that can dependably, repeatably satisfy your customers.
The framework for building satisfied customers
Do this by making sure youâ€™ve covered the four elements of a satisfactory customer experience.
1. A â€œperfectâ€ product or service
â€¦perfect being defined as â€œdesigned and tested to perform perfectly within circumstances you can reasonably foresee.â€Â (Not the snowstorm of the century, not the city-wide lockdown in Boston during the marathon terror manhunt.Â But reasonably foreseeable.)
2. Caring delivery
â€¦no product is perfect in if itâ€™s presented to the customer in a way that doesnâ€™t appear to be â€œcaringâ€ to the intended recipient. No matter how delicious the food, no matter how safe the jet travel, if itâ€™s presented in a way that doesnâ€™t show care for the customer, itâ€™s not going to be a hit.
3. Timely delivery
â€¦a perfect product or service, delivered on a timetable that doesnâ€™t match your customerâ€™s expectations, is a defect. And customer expectations in the area of time have recently ramped up astoundingly.Â Factors that range from amazon.com to the smartphone revolution to global competition to customers with complicated work schedules have led to a ramping up of what customers expect in terms of timeliness in nearly industry.
4. An effective problem resolution process
â€¦because you will, sometimes, be late/uncaring/imperfect. An effective and complete problem resolution process includes documentation and other oft-overlooked steps, but most importantly starts with an emotionally resonant apologyâ€“what I notoriously refer to as the â€œItalian Mama Methodâ€ of comforting a customer.
Beyond satisfaction: building brand ambassadors
A satisfactory product or service, delivered successfully time after time, is a lot of work to pull off. Worse, nobody ever shouted â€œYeehaw, that was a really satisfactory experience I just had with your company.â€Â Itâ€™s nothing to holler about or to jump on to Twitter to describe. Â To bring your service up to the level beyond satisfaction, where customers are engaged, loyal, advocating for you, requires something else.Â What I call â€œhomebuilding.â€¨ as in, youâ€™re creating an environment/product/process/service that â€œfeels like homeâ€ to your customer.
Now, if you think about it, customers donâ€™t actually want the place they do business with to â€œbe like homeâ€â€“ dirty dishes in the sink, deferred maintenance up the yin yang.Â So I use this â€œhomeâ€ term advisedly and with some apprehension.Â What I mean by â€œlike homeâ€ is what Horst Schulze meant by â€œlike homeâ€ when he created the Ritz-Carlton brand:Â an experience that is like being a kid in the home of a caring parent: your preferences are attended to (thereâ€™s food in the fridge that is to your taste), youâ€™re missed when you leave and sincerely welcomed back when you return, the maintenance is done without you even noticing.Â This is what â€œjust like homeâ€ means to a customer and what can turn a customer into a loyalist and ambassador for your brand.
Thereâ€™s a lot involved in creating a true loyalty-building, â€œhomelikeâ€ situation for your customers, and Iâ€™ll be exploring it over the course of these posts. But I hope the homebuilding metaphor will give you a place to start: When you conclude an interaction with your customer, let her know that it matters to you that she come back soon (Iâ€™m assuming here that youâ€™re not a surgeon or an undertaker). And when that customer returns from an extended absence, let her know that sheâ€™s been missed. Most of all, work on fulfilling, in that great phrase of The Ritz-Carlton, â€œeven the unexpressed wishesâ€ of your customers.Â Customers shouldnâ€™t have to draw you a diagram to get across what they want from you. Figure it out yourself.Â Itâ€™ll be worth it.
Micah Solomon is a business keynote speaker, author, and customer service consultant. Micah offers keynote speaking and consulting on customer service issues, the customer experience, and company culture â€” and how they fit into todayâ€™s marketing and technology landscape.Â See Micah in action â€” including video and free resources â€” at http://www.micahsolomon.com. Or, click here for your own free chapterÂ of Micahâ€™s latest bestseller,Â High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service (AMACOM Books).