A Guest Post by Chris Wallace
Which came first — the product or the customer service? These two facets of running any business go hand in hand, each relying on the quality of the other to survive. If you’re a small business owner, chances are that you established several relationships before your first sale. Or maybe you’re at home, working on your new fashion label, one dress at a time. You can’t sell those on the street corner ñ you’re going to need to market.
Remember the Seinfeld episode with ‘the Soup Nazi?’ “No soup for you!” he yelled at customers who ordered incorrectly. That kind of customer service might work on a television show, but no matter how good the product, he’d never survive in the real world.
The most important part of building and maintaining a customer base is to make them feel appreciated. From the moment they walk in the front door to after they plunk down cash on your product or services, clients need to feel wanted and welcome. It’s even important to continue that relationship once they’ve returned home. Consider these creative ideas for saying ‘thank you.’
#1: Give Them Something Just For Visiting
My town has two major natural foods stores. One has been here for years, succeeding with the demographic of citizens willing to pay a little more for organic food. A second store opened recently. Their prices are about the same, but there is one key difference in the shopping experience. Around every corner, there’s a free sample to try. Slices of dill havarti! Fresh strawberries! Chips and guacamole! Which store do you think is thriving? A treat can be as simple as a free cup of coffee, a bowl of candy by the door, or even crayons and a simple coloring book for kids. Let your potential customers know that you want them to be happy.
#2: Help Them to Remember You
Any waiter or waitress worth their salt knows that being friendly and personable equates to larger tips. When your check comes with a handwritten “Thanks guys! ñKelly” scribbled next to your order, chances are you’re not going to stiff Kelly after she’s been serving you for two hours.
The moment when a customer pays is also a good time to establish a permanent connection. Put an email sign-up sheet next to the register. Indicate that it’s a ‘monthly newsletter’ sign-up (you won’t be spamming them) with exclusive free offers and discounts for loyal customers. If your business sends invoices rather than handling storefront traffic, you probably already have your client’s contact info.
You’ve already gotten these people in the door once, so take advantage of that. An email once a month offering a free dessert, a free hour of tanning, or whatever your business does and can afford to give away or discount, will ensure a steady stream of return customers.
#3: Throw a Party
I used to live in a small beach town that exploded in population from April to September, then dwindled to a handful of locals each winter. That’s tough on small businesses. In a tourist economy, you make your money when you can and squirrel enough away to get through the hibernating off-season. The smart restaurants on our beach didn’t go quietly into winter — they threw a customer appreciation party.
With the first chill nipping the air, a few of the bars and restaurants would send an invitation to the whole island to come out for free drinks, food, and music. Of course, everyone came, even those locals that hadn’t ever been a patron before. Many discovered an establishment they’d never given a chance, maybe because it was always filled with tourists. Others are simply inspired by the generosity to return the gesture by making a point to dine there over the winter.
The point is, you make lasting friends when you generously open your doors to your local customer base. Don’t think of giving your product away as a waste of money ñ consider it an investment in client loyalty. In time, earning a customer’s respect will pay off tenfold.
Of course, product matters too. No amount of ‘thank you’s’ and customer appreciation will make a customer return if your product lacked quality. But conversely, don’t think that an incredible product will simply sell itself. A customer’s positive overall experience inspires word-of-mouth marketing, the most valuable form of advertising there is.
Never let someone leave your business and say, ‘The food was great, but the service was terrible.’ Make them feel appreciated and important every moment of their experience, and you’ll find customers who say ‘Wow!’ and return with friends in tow.
Christopher Wallace, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing, has more than 20 years experience in sales and marketing. At Amsterdam, a leading provider of personalized pens, promotional pens, and other personalized items such as imprinted apparel and customized calendars, Christopher is focused on providing quality marketing materials to small, mid-size and large businesses.