You’ve got something the big box retailers don’t.
You’ve got the willingness and the flexibility to create unique and memorable experiences that will really WOW your small business customers!
You don’t have to worry about corporate bureaucracy or outsourced call centers--you’re on the front lines, interacting with your customers face-to-face and over the phone each and every day.
So what can you do to blow their shoes and socks clean off without having to break the bank?
Here are 6 low-cost/no-cost ways to achieve that WOW factor:
1. Be incredibly responsive
How many times have you heard friends, family, and customers complain about a lack of follow up from businesses large and small?
As a consumer, I know it’s something I experience more often than not and I always find it incredibly frustrating.
When people reach out, they’re looking for answers—especially when they’re faced with an issue or problem. The longer you make them wait, the more frustrated they become, the more times they call, and the more difficult it is to make them happy.
One of the best ways to differentiate yourself is to follow up with your small business customers fast.
Set an expectation that all emails, calls, and social media comments will be answered within 24 hours (or less).
Additional cost? $0. Carve out time right after lunch, at the end of the day, or when things slow down to follow up with your customers.
2. Provide expert product knowledge
If there’s one area that has taken a huge hit when it comes to customer service, I’d have to say this is it.
One of the biggest value-adds of shopping small is actually being able to speak with someone who can tell you more about the product than what’s already printed on the package. After all, that’s information your customers can read for themselves.
Although it takes a little bit of time and effort, training your staff so they are able to speak knowledgably about your products and services is one of best investments you’ll ever make.
Additional cost? $0. Incorporate a brief (15 minute) educational component into weekly staff meetings or at the beginning of each shift.
3. Offer unexpected freebies
If you’re old enough to remember a time when restaurants offered you a free dessert on your birthday, you’ll definitely appreciate how exciting an unexpected freebie can be.
At a time when customers are looking for more value for their money and businesses are cutting back so they can reduce costs, offering your customers an unexpected freebie can definitely go a long way.
It can be as simple as including a thank you card with every order—something that brought a smile to my face when I received an order from MOO.com—or free giftwrapping over the holidays.
Additional cost? $0-$2. The price can obviously vary based on what you’re giving away, but with a little creativity you can really WOW your customers without spending a lot of money.
4. Create a warm and welcoming atmosphere
I know. I know. This one should be obvious. But sometimes it’s not. I recently visited a locally-owned small business for the first time and the person behind the register didn’t even look up. No hello. No eye contact. No nothing. She just sat behind the counter doodling on a tablet.
Given what appeared to be a lack of interest in being there and her unwillingness to assist any customers, I’m pretty sure they would have been better off without anyone working the register—at least they would have saved whatever it was they were paying her per hour to doodle.
To keep that from happening, look for every opportunity to make your customers feel welcome. Encourage your staff to be friendly and approachable during each and every touch point and interaction.
Additional cost? $0. A genuine smile, eye contact, and a brief hello are all free!
5. Seize every opportunity to go above and beyond
You can’t WOW your customers unless you exceed their expectations and that means you’ve got to go above and beyond the call of duty.
I was recently speaking with someone who shared just such an experience with Zappos.com. His daughter was looking for a very specific pair of shoes that weren’t available on the Zappos website. The customer service representative he spoke with offered to do some additional research and call him back. He not only double-checked the Zappos inventory, he also looked at other sites including eBay even though that meant he wouldn’t make the sale. His number one priority was helping to find those particular shoes wherever they may be.
Going above and beyond can be something as simple as holding the door, helping a customer to his or her car, or offering to contact other stores ala the Zappos example above to help them locate a product.
Additional cost? Nominal. Depending on your phone plan, you could incur some long distance charges. Holding the door and helping customers to their vehicle are both free.
6. Really get to know your customers
Cue the theme song from the TV show Cheers. When it comes to WOWing your customers, they were onto something. Sometimes you do “wanna go where everybody knows your name. And they’re always glad you came.”
Stop and think about how good it makes you feel when you’re visiting one of your favorite local businesses and the staff recognizes you by name.
You feel a personal connection. A sense of belonging. A sense of loyalty. And you don’t need to purchase a fancy and expensive customer relationship management system to make it happen.
A great example is Restaurant ECHO. They had a patron with very specific dietary needs and food allergies. Instead of creating a one-off meal and then moving on to the next customer, they created a detailed spreadsheet outlining his individual preferences that they then were able to use during his next visit. They not only took the time to get to know their customer, but with that one gesture they also went above and beyond, created a welcoming atmosphere, leveraged their product (food knowledge) and were incredibly responsive—WOW!
Additional cost? $0.
How do you WOW your small business customers?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
By: Shawn Graham
[Image: Flickr user Low Jianwei]