Yes! It is possible to make customers feel special, but not easy. Customers crave human interaction that leaves them with the feeling that associates really do care about them. When a representative is patient, sympathetic and provides detailed explanations and the customer has an opportunity to ask questions, the customer remembers. They want to do business with your company again. Customer satisfaction is just the beginning. True relationships are cemented with surprise and delight.
Years ago, one of my clients made special arrangements for me to stay in a small boutique hotel in San Francisco when I was there for a meeting. I travel a great deal, but still remember the experience of driving up to the hotel for the first time, the valet opening my taxi door, taking my bags out of the trunk and giving me a warm greeting, “Mr. Shapiro, welcome to the Pan Pacific Hotel.” How did that associate know my name? Probably from reading the luggage tag. It was a little thing, but it made such a big difference. He escorted me to the third floor lobby, where as soon as I approached the front desk, again, from behind the counter, “Mr. Shapiro, we are so glad to see you today.”
I felt welcomed, important and appreciated. A few months later, I traveled again to San Francisco and returned to the same hotel. When I got to my room, I realized they had upgraded me to a small suite and there was a handwritten card on top of a large fruit basket. “Mr. Shapiro, we welcome you back to the Pan Pacific Hotel. We appreciate your business.” They knew in advance of my arrival what room I would have and thanked me for returning to their hotel. What a nice surprise.
The hotel’s actions indicated an attention to detail and a level of forethought that I really treasured. The small steps made me feel my business was significant and I knew they valued my return. It’s the little things that make a difference. Say my name in a meaningful way, smile like you mean it, write a unique, handwritten note. The combination of actions and words are powerful. I still remember driving up to the hotel almost 20 years later.
Surprise! Just the word itself is memorable. It is estimated that the element of surprise intensifies an experience by 400 percent.
A few years ago, Mike, a good friend of mine, told me a story about a restaurant experience. He and his wife were meeting another couple at the Tabor Road Tavern in New Jersey, a frequented choice. Mike’s favorite dish was short ribs. That particular evening, short ribs were not on the menu; that dish was a Saturday night special. Apparently, Mike had always dined at the Tavern on Saturdays and didn’t realize that short ribs could only be had on that day of the week.
The General Manager was asked if an exception could be made as Mike and his friends were very good customers. The GM apologized, explaining that it took hours to prepare the dish and he was sorry. Mike and his friends enjoyed their meal anyway and when they were leaving, the manager asked for his address. Mike didn’t really think about why. The following day, the doorbell rang and surprise. The GM arrived with short ribs!
Needless to say, my friend was thrilled. Tabor Road Tavern went out of their way. Of course, my friends are loyal customers for life.
Zingerman’s opened for business in 1982 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It now is in many other locations and online. My cousin pointed out a story about Zingerman’s on Twitter. A customer had placed a large order for the Christmas holiday. Nine months later, they received a box and inside was a cake with a note, “When you needed a gift last holiday season you chose Zingerman’s. That means a lot to us. We’re gearing up for this year’s rush and we’d like to help you make this season a delicious one, too. Thank you and Happy Holidays! The Whole Gang at Zingerman’s Mail Order.”
There are many ways for companies to distinguish themselves and make experiences that are memorable. Surprises are not necessarily high budget items. Organizations can use their imaginations to create appreciation. Segment customers and form a strategy.
The bottom line is that customer satisfaction is a minimal benchmark. It’s relatively easy to satisfy but not simple to create and build a relationship. Companies need to show their customers they matter long after a sale has been made. A surprise makes someone feel special. A memory is created and not forgotten.