"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou
What is the key to engaging customers in a way that causes them to open their wallets to you instead of your competitors? Well, it has a lot to do with how you make them feel, and those feelings are based on their experiences with your business. Those experiences include simple interactions such as talking with a serviceman or salesperson; noticing your sign as they drive past your shop or store; browsing your website; or looking over an advertisement.
How do we give prospective customers an experience that feels good? This varies, depending on the type of business—a new car buyer wants a different feeling than someone calling the funeral director.
Stop and consider your customers. How do you think they want you to make them feel? If you are not sure how to take the customer’s point of view, start with the Golden Rule—how would I want the business to relate to me if I were a customer of my business?
Think about how you would feel if you saw this sign behind the counter in a local business you patronize: “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” This may communicate a valid point (and we may even feel that way about certain customers at times), but if we approach our customers with that attitude, we will likely leave them feeling stupid, frustrated, or even angry.
That kind of attitude doesn't demonstrate the Golden Rule, and it's not good for business either. Showing sympathy and understanding and doing everything in our power to help—even if we are unable to do very much—will leave a powerful positive impression.
Last month's article was on marketing channels—the processes, people, and work involved in selling and shipping goods from the manufacturer to the end consumer. A significant piece of any marketing channel is the gateway.
The gateway is a place or communication forum through which product is purchased. Gateways are a significant influence on how customers feel because they create the customer's “first impression” as they begin to pursue a purchase.
You may want to review our previous article titled "Do Your Customers Feel COURTED?" The concepts in that article are the basis for creating successful gateways.
We will consider five common gateways, and how you can work to improve them.
Your store should be clean on the inside and outside. Pick up the trash, wash the windows and the front door, and remove any spider webs from the hand railing.
Keep the shelves of your product displays fully stocked. Stacking the product high generates sales. Once, a variety store keeper put an entire skid of coffee mugs in one large stack. The mugs started leaving the store quickly, but as the pile dwindled, so did the sales. The smaller the pile, the less he sold. Finally there was one mug left. The mug on the top of the pile had sold within minutes, but that poor mug on the bottom sat alone for weeks.
Clear signage looks professional, and on a practical level, it gives customers information they need. Be sure the lights are bright and cheery to keep your space from looking drab and dreary. Customers also appreciate clearly marked prices and cheerful staff who understand when to approach with help and when to give them space.
How do customers feel about the way you treat them when they walk into your office? Train your employees to offer common courtesies: a friendly greeting, a handshake, and proper introductions as the situation calls for.
If customers will need to spend time waiting, make sure to have comfortable chairs and something to occupy their time—magazines, flyers, or even an aquarium! Let them know what to expect—whether someone will call for them, how long it will take, and so on. For meetings, consider offering bottled water or coffee for everyone.
The look and feel of your office space makes a subconscious (or even conscious) impact on how customers feel about your business. Beyond being sparkling clean, interior décor should be crisply professional or appealingly homey depending on your type of business.
Mail Order Catalogs
If you depend on sales through catalogs and flyers, remember that products normally do not sell nearly as well if you don't show them. Professional photos and professionally written product descriptions make your products appealing. This also lets customers know you are serious about your business and that you know what you are doing.
When putting together your catalog, organize the products into categories to help customers find and browse the products they are most interested in. In addition to photos and descriptions, list item numbers for each product. Try to answer your customer's questions in advance. Spell out how to order different colors or options.
Before the catalog goes to press, talk with your printer about the best paper for your situation. Ask for samples of his paper recommendations. Catalogs printed on paper that looks and feels like a newspaper don't do justice to your high-quality products.
How many ways do you accept orders? Make the order forms faxable, and accept email orders if you can. In between your regular catalog mailings, stay in touch with customers through low-cost reminders like postcards and flyers throughout the year.
If you have a website, focus on clarity and simplicity from the user's perspective. Organizing your information and simplifying navigation around the site (including “breadcrumbs” showing the user their location within the site) improves the user's interaction with your business.
Your website manager should report online traffic trends to you: From what other sites are people coming? Where on your site are they spending the most time? Analyzing these trends will help you make changes which can improve conversions (the number of visitors who end up buying from you).
Your online ordering system should be set up to send customers an order confirmation and any other necessary information after they purchase.
Are your telephone operators making a positive impression on those who call your business? Invest in telephone etiquette training to teach employees how to communicate clearly and professionally over the phone.
For example, when your phone receptionist answers the phone with, "Hello, thank you for calling Sensenig's Service Center; this is Susanna," does she speak clearly and slowly enough that the customer catches both the business and personal name?
If the caller is dealing with background noise or a bad connection, they can become frustrated with your business for the simple reason that they cannot hear clearly.
After a customer places the order, review the order details with them to ensure accuracy. Give the customer information about when the product will arrive, or when they can expect the service to be completed.
There are several unobtrusive ways of asking for more sales over the phone. You can ask, "Is there anything else I can do for you?" Or, "Would you like to take advantage of (special offer)?"
Irate customers are a greater challenge over the phone than in person. Even on the phone, smile to remind yourself to stay cheerful, and the caller will be able to tell the difference. Deal graciously with complaints and returns.
Now that we've considered how your customers might feel after being introduced to your company, how do you feel about your marketing gateways? If you've identified several weaknesses, pick the one you think may be making the biggest negative impact on your prospects or customers, and work to improve it.
Keeping your gateways wide open and appealing for people to enter is an ongoing process of making your business a greater blessing to your customers and securing your relationship with them.