Growing up, my dad owned a small retail neighborhood store. From the time I was ten I worked during the holiday season with my dad collecting money at the cash register. I had fun, but more than fun, I got an education. I watched my father interacting with his customers as they came through the door. He welcomed everyone into the store as he would welcome that person into our home. If a customer doesn’t feel welcome immediately, this is the first step missed in generating repeat business.
Here are my ten tips for making customers feel welcome:
- Give customers the hope they have come to the right place: Say to customers, “I can help you with that.” That statement alone makes a customer feel good about interacting with someone who is going to take personal responsibility for handling their specific request. “I” is one of shortest words in the English language that has the greatest impact.
- Keep wait times to a minimum: When a customer is placed into a phone queue or needs to wait in a lengthy check-out line, the company in effect is telling the customer that their time is not important. How many potential customers hang up or walk out of a store when they wait time is unacceptable? Many, and it affects the bottom line.
- First-time customers in particular need special attention: Develop a detailed checklist of things you can tell a new customer they may not know; i.e. how long you have been in business, your business philosophy, return policies, etc. First time customers also appreciate when you spend extra time making them feel welcome.
- Don’t Ever Send “Do Not Reply” Emails: Unfortunately most companies send the customer a “Do Not Reply” email when they sign up for their e-commerce site. Especially if that is the first communication, the customer does not feel welcome. It may take more time to create a personalized welcome letter but the positive impact on the customer is priceless.
- Invite a relationship: It may not be possible to create or build a relationship with each customer on every interaction. Your goal as a company is to teach your associates how to “invite” a relationship. Customers will notice. People like to feel wanted and that their business will be appreciated. It as if someone is reaching out to shake your hand; it starts a connection.
- Make a human connection: Listen for the underlying emotion and acknowledge the customer is happy, frustrated, disappointed, etc. It sets the stage for a more meaningful dialog. When you listen for emotions, you communicate a feeling of warmth.
- Personalize the experience: Customers are unique. A customer who buys a piece of luggage may be going on a trip to Europe for the first time, another might be making the purchase for their child who is leaving for college. Finding out the customers’ needs will automatically personalize the encounter. No two transactions are the same.
- E-commerce makes it easy for customers to flee: By its very nature, e-commerce has been designed to be an anonymous and robotic transaction. If a company’s site has not incorporated a way for customers to still make a human connection if they have a questions or concerns or need pre-sales advice, it’s an easy decision to find what they need elsewhere.
- Don’t confuse customer satisfaction with loyalty: Customer satisfaction with the interaction is not sufficient and will not make customers go out of their way to return to your business. With few exceptions, the strongest bond is between two people; not brands, stores or businesses. Incorporating a human component will sustain customer loyalty. Loyalty is the glue, not just satisfaction. Without the connection, your company’s products will become just another commodity.
- First impressions still count: Growing up I learned the importance of first impressions. Your parents counseled you to look professional for your college or job interview. Customer interactions are interviews. Customers are deciding if they will purchase or purchase again. You probably only have one opportunity to make a great first impression; sometimes you have second chance, but don’t count on it.
Customers have infinite choices. Companies that train their associates to be welcoming and have mechanisms in place to give customers hope will flourish. Those that treat customers as widgets, will not.
Do you have any other suggestions to make customers feel welcome?