A Good Product Or Service At A Good Price Isn’t Always Enough

When you’re a small business owner, your product or services and price will only take you so far. If your customers don’t feel appreciated, they’ll eventually walkThe-Little-Things away.

Recently, one of my Facebook friends asked me if I had ever attended the local martial arts studio her son is enrolled in. I hadn’t, but I know of the owners because they had attended the same studio I did in years gone by. My friend told me, although the owners are fantastic with the kids and offer a wonderful training program at a fair price, she’s planning to find a different studio for her son.

Great with kids. Excellent program. Good price. What’s the problem?

It’s simple—and sad.

The owners seem to think it’s too much trouble or just plain don’t think it’s necessary to acknowledge students’ parents with as little as a smile or a “hello” when they arrive at their studio.

End result: They are going to lose business because they aren’t willing to put forth the minimal effort needed to show they value their paying customers.

As small business owners, we’re human. We all get busy or distracted or stressed or frustrated and might slip up in showing our customers the appreciation they deserve. But NEVER can we let it become a habit. We can never take it for granted that our skills, products, or price will carry the load for us.

We have to put forth genuine effort and energy to show customers we value them. Fortunately for us, it doesn’t usually require that much of either.

Smile freely.

Say “Thank you” often.

Care.

A little can go a long way.

Ways Solopreneurs Can Create a Customer Experience Clients Will Want to Repeat

What you need to do to deliver a stand-out “customer experience” isn’t all that easy to pin down when you’re a solopreneur delivering professional services – often either remotely or in external environments over which you have little control.  There’s generally no decor, no music, no mood lighting, and no other sort of frills and fanfare to set the tone. So how do you make working with you a positive, memorable experience  that your clients will want to repeat? How do you embrace the “Power of the Heart” as Chuck Wall calls mentions in his book Customer CEOWhile you might not have all the resources that larger companies have at their fingertips, there are things you can do to harness the Power of the Heart when working with clients:

  • Be cheerful and make clients feel wanted and appreciated.
  • Communicate often so clients know that you care about their projects and that you’re making progress.
  • Be responsive to questions and concerns.
  • Be collaborative and demonstrate that you’re a partner vested in the success of their projects.
  • If you make mistakes, admit to them, say “I’m sorry,” and find a way to make it right.
  • If clients mess up don’t be accusatory. Diplomatically explain their errors and don’t use an accusatory tone. They most likely didn’t do it on purpose.
  • Deliver what you promise.
  • Deliver what you promise on time.
  • Say “Please” and “Thank you” often and abundantly.
  • When you don’t see eye-to-eye on some aspect of a project, listen to their point of view and take time to understand it before sharing your thoughts.
  • Stay in tune with their needs and direct them to resources that can help them solve issues that aren’t in your area professionally.
  • Embrace their uniqueness.
  • Be nice – always!

As Wall mentions in Customer CEO, most clients want to love what you do for them. They’re investing time and dollars in your relationship. Why would they want to waste either? Give them quality, exceed their expectations, and give them every reason to like you and come back for more!

Your turn! How do you make the experience of doing business with you something special? 

No Brainer Ways to Facilitate a Stellar Customer Experience

Though following through with quality stands at the cornerstone of an exceptional customer experience, solopreneurs need to consistently Happy Smiley Customer Faceincorporate other facets of customer service and communication to stand out and make themselves the number 1 provider who clients want to do business with.

Some strategies take time, analysis and expense to implement, but there are others that are (or should be!) “no brainers” that you can do right now with very little extra effort.

Do these things for every project and for every client and you’ll be on your way to building trust and solid professional relationships that will lead to repeat business and referrals…

  • Demonstrate that you care – beyond the work. This is so very easy, yet it’s amazing how often people neglect to do it. (That’s why you’ll stand out when you do!) In your emails and phone calls, add some friendly small talk before getting down to business. Ask your client how his weekend with the family was. If she was out sick for a few days, ask how she’s feeling. Inquire if you’ll see him at the next Chamber mixer. Inject appreciation of the opportunity to work with them. Crack a joke about the unseasonably cold weather in early spring (Given our uncooperative PA springtime temperatures, I’ve got a few I can loan you!). Seriously though, it doesn’t take much energy to simply be nice and not all business.
  • Communicate often and clearly. Especially when you’re working on a project that has a bunch of moving parts and a deadline that’s more than a few weeks out, make sure that you give clients regular updates on your progress. Once a week is a good interval for updates (unless the client requests something different). That will give them the peace of mind that you’re getting things done and that you’ll be delivering what’s promised on time. Besides the frequency of updates, the clarity of them matters, too. Make sure that you organize your thoughts into a logical order so there’s no confusion about what you’ve been doing and what’s left to be done. Demonstrating your powers of organization and attention to detail will definitely win points and garner trust. And when clients send you emails and phone messages, get back to them promptly (don’t wait longer than 24 hours EVER – unless on vacation or over the weekend), even if only to let them know that you received their message and will get back to them soon.
  • Share something that they’ll find interesting or find helpful. Whether they’re directly related to trends in your customer’s industry or applicable to doing business in general, share blog posts, videos or websites that might benefit your clients. Productivity tools and marketing tips are often appreciated and appropriate for just about any type of business. Of course, knowing something about your clients’ particular challenges and goals will help you identify resources that will provide value to them.
  • Support them on their social networks. Actively seek your clients out where they exist on social media – and follow them on those that you have in common. Like their Facebook page. Follow them on Twitter, Pinterest or YouTube. Add them to your Google+ circles. Connect on Linkedin and follow their company page. And then occasionally interact via liking and sharing their posts – especially when they make big announcements or share achievements.

Not rocket science for sure, but all of the above can serve as the launching ground for a stellar customer experience that will keep clients satisfied – and keep them coming back.

Your turn! What are the little things that you do to make your customers’ experience one that stands out from the competition?

2 Things You Need To Deliver In Every Customer Experience (the Good, the Bad and the Ugly!)

Communication and caring: If they’re MIA in customer interactions – especially the ones gone bad – kiss your credibility and your customer goodbye.  Lesson learned from my vacation experience with an airline that did it all wrong and an airline employee who did it all right.

Groggy, but excited to start our vacation, my family awakened at 3:30 a.m. last Saturday. We wanted to allow plenty of time to travel to the Baltimore/Washington airport, park the car, check our luggage, go through security and board our 8 a.m. flight to Texas.

Despite our punctuality, below is the situation we found upon arrival to the United Airlines check-in area.

A rocky customer experience

Worried? Sure we were. But we figured if things were going to get a little tight, eventually a United representative would call out our flight and expedite our visit to the desk so we could get on our way. So we waited.

And waited…

And waited.

The line hardly budged after an hour, and not a single United rep ventured anywhere close to our neck of the woods to pull people to the front for any soon-departing flights. Nor did anyone offer any explanation whatsoever about the problem in progress.

Getting desperate, we decided to try our luck at the curbside check –in. The line there was also long, but it had to be moving faster than the stagnant one we were standing in. It was. And even more promising was when the attendant asked for everyone in line with an 8 a.m. flight to go inside the airport. FINALLY, they were going to put us through baggage check and send us onward!

So inside we went…only to find what we did before. A long line with no official airport peeps providing any direction. We went back out to the curbside check-in attendant to politely ask what we were supposed to do.

His response, “Go to the back of the line.”

Our observation, “But we were already there, and our flight is leaving in 20 minutes.”

His response, “Not my problem.” (Truth. He really did say that!)

So there we were again…in the same line where we had originally been. Sadly, it still had not moved. In fact, it had grown longer since our first go at it.

As before, no United reps or other airport staff walked to our end of the earth to provide assistance or insight into to what was happening – or not happening as it were.

No communication (not even by email on my smart phone). No information. No alternatives.

Clearly we were going to miss our flight and had no choice but to wait with the other hundreds of people who needed to have their departure plans amended.

Eventually, after about two hours, an announcement aired over the P.A. system indicating that United had delays due to “airport conditions.” Oddly, the same BWI “airport conditions” didn’t seem to be affecting the flight schedules of the Delta passengers who we enviously allowed to cross through to get to their check-in desk. The relief on their faces was insuppressible as they realized they didn’t have to stand in our line!

After another hour, we decided to take our chances and join a few other United passengers in a separate line that we self-proclaimed as the “we missed our flight because of your ‘airport conditions’ so you need to make us a priority” section. Finally, around 10:30 a.m., we were at the desk.

Exhausted and frustrated with no high expectations for anything resembling satisfactory service, we met customer service rep Myra. Myra greeted us with a smile, compassion and a willingness to do whatever she could to get our vacation started as smoothly as possible considering the present circumstances. For two arduous hours, she scoured through the reservation system and talked us through the process as she searched to find suitable flights at BWI and nearby airports that would accommodate our party of 5. Although she surely was feeling stressed and at the end of her rope, Myra never took it out on us. No aggravated tone, no apathy. Just stellar customer service in a situation that seemed completely unsalvageable.

Despite Myra’s best attempts, we had to begin our vacation a day late and from an airport that was an additional hour away from home. Sensitive to the inconvenience we were experiencing, she secured reservations at a Washington DC hotel that was within 5 minutes of Reagan International airport and changed our return flights so that we arrived ½ hour earlier there than we would have at BWI.

Did that make it all better? No. But because of her positive attitude and hard work to make things as right as possible, Myra succeeded in diffusing much of our distress and disappointment.

Will we fly United again? Not sure that we will. But then again, I’m not sure that we won’t. And United has Myra and Myra alone to thank for us not completely wiping them from our list of carrier options. What a difference communication and caring can make – even in the most challenging situations.

Your turn! What customer experience have you had that got turned around (good or bad) by a solitary someone or something?