Never say thank you for your business?

I came across an article the other day, written by a “certified sales coach,” that recommended you never say “thank you for your business” to a client. His rationale is the customer is buying from you because what you offer makes the most sense for his organization. The solution you offer is a better value than what your competitors are presenting. If you say thank you to your customer for his business, you are weakening your value.

What? That makes no sense at all. I do agree with the guy that once the contract is signed, you need to get to work on proving to your customers they made the right decision. Of course you need to deliver what you promised you would. But does saying thank you for your business make you look wimpy? I think not.

Depending on your business, the timing of when you say thank you to customers for business may vary. Financial advisors for example may want to send a thank you to clients along with all the paperwork they need filled out at the beginning – something to make the task more palatable. Roofing, painting or plumbing contractors may decide it’s better to send thank yous after the jobs are finished, perhaps with a request for a testimonial or a referral. If you’re a high level business coach or a contractor with a project scheduled over many months, it might makes sense to write a thank you note at the start and deliver a thank you gift to your customer further into the coaching relationship or assignment.

But never saying thank you for business? That’s just rude. It’s that kind of attitude that gives clients reason to question why they’re working with you. Sure, you may be solving their problem, but someone else could probably help them just as well – someone who would be more open about expressing her gratitude. As I heard Sandi Krakowski say, “if you’re not saying thank you to your customers, you don’t deserve to be in business.”

It’s a big, big mistake to assume your customers know you appreciate their business. Not saying thank you seems so 1980’s greedy. And while it’s still quite a common blunder in 2013, once you know better, you’re obligated to do better. Don’t you think?

It’s a competitive marketplace. Good manners and gratitude are a great way to differentiate your business from everyone else’s.

What’s your take on saying thank you for business? Does it make you look weak and desperate? Or do you agree it’s a smart investment in building a strong relationship?

Can clients find you? And what image do you portray once they do?

My friend Jennifer is moving her home from one state to another in the next several weeks. She visualized her way to the quick sale of her current house and now she and her husband need to find a new house right away. HouseSearchImageSince she doesn’t know any real estate agents in her new area, and she’s belonged to a BNI (Business Network International) chapter in her current town, she figured she’d start out asking for referrals from the regional BNI leader there. Her contact was reluctant to recommend anyone in particular, for fear of playing favorites. Okay, but if you had to choose one over another, which one would that be, she pushed.

Finally the person gave her an answer. Like most of you reading this article, Jen then Googled the person to find out more about him. Nothing came up. In fact, none of the local BNI Realtors had an online presence. Okay, wait, some did have something, but then the links to their sites weren’t good or the information on their sites hadn’t been updated in years. Seriously, she told me one woman’s last blog post was in 2007.

With an impending trip to the new state coming up next weekend, she was under pressure to find someone who could show her houses in the town she wants to live in – someone great, a real expert, because when you’re making such a huge, life altering decision, who’s okay with just mediocre representation?!

She sSearch_Imagetarted Googling for general information about Realtors in the town she was targeting. One woman kept coming up. This person had a great website, lots of testimonials from different people, a professionally done head shot, and up-to-date information and resources. Jennifer found this woman mentioned favorably in several places. Plus, she has lived in this same town for years, she has kids around the same ages as Jen’s, and clearly she knows how to present herself as an authority in her area and industry.

They’ve spoken, set up their search schedule and the woman’s follow through has been impressively consistent with the expectations she set in her online presence. Here’s to the intention that Jen finds the perfect house for her family.

What’s the lesson for you in regards to generating new business and building strong relationships with clients? If you want customers who take you seriously, who are willing to pay you what you’re worth and work with you the way you like, you absolutely must present a professional image everywhere you go! From the design of your website (and yes, in this day and age, you must have one!) to the pictures you post there and in your professional materials, to your business cards, to your blog, to your social media presence, to what you look like and how you act at networking events and in public. Whether you think it’s fair or not, potential clients are watching and judging your professionalism and competency.

Make no mistake though, professional does not mean boring or plain. Somewhere long ago, in a far away place, a rumor started that in order to present as a professional, you must wear dark formal dress and scrub all distinguishing characteristics from your business world.

Not true! There is plenty of room for your personality and it’s actually imperative you add that component so you really connect with your market. People want to know they are dealing with another Highlightersperson, making a human connection. Somewhere in the information Jennifer saw about this real estate woman was something about her family and because she and Jen have kids around the same ages, Jen realized a common connection. On top of the professionalism, this commonality helps build trust.

And it’s okay if who you are doesn’t resonate with everyone. You’re not looking to serve everyone; you’re looking to connect and build relationships with only the right people for you.

Creating a Consistent Customer Experience

I was lunching last week with new friend Carol, who helps organizations teach outstanding customer service to their teams, when she shared a story about her own customer service experience. She suggested it would make a good lesson for a blog post, so here it is.

She found a pair of shoes she really liked at a store in the mall, but they didn’t have her size in the color she wanted. No worries, the store clerks were very accommodating and said they could easily have them shipped to her home, no charge. [great customer service]

The shoes arrived as expected, but when she opened the box, she saw they’d not been wrapped properly; they were pretty much just thrown in a shipping box and sent off. There were a few scuffs on them and she was disappointed, but figured they’d end up looking like that after a few wearings anyway, so she didn’t make a fuss about it. [not so great customer service]

A company’s customer experience should be consistent throughout the process, no matter how many departments are involved.

A few days later Carol got an email from the company asking about her experience. She responded and told them about the condition of the shoes she’d received. She didn’t ask for any kind of compensation (although she really would have liked a discount or coupon for her next purchase); she just wanted them to know what had happened.

The woman responding from the company said she would send Carol a new pair immediately [great customer service] and apologized for the service she received in the store. [What? The store clerks were good.]

Carol emailed back some clarification on her fine experience in the store vs. the package that was shipped and received another email from the customer service department contact who admitted not reading Carol’s entire first email, hence the confusion. [customer service is taking an annoying turn.]

Nevertheless, she restated she would ship out a new pair of shoes right away and Carol could return the ones she had to the store.

Fortunately for Carol, she decided to wait to return the shoes she had until she received the second pair, as the replacement pair never showed up. Further attempts at communicating with the customer service person went unanswered. [very bad customer service]

What happened here appears to be a case of inconsistent training or lack of standards or both at this shoe company. From the outside, it looks like everyone is left to act on their own accord without any accountability for outcomes. If the salesperson is innately good at serving, the customer experience is a favorable. If the salesperson, or warehouse packager or customer service rep isn’t so adept at making sure his job is done well, or doesn’t have a clear explanation of what is expected, then the customer experience isn’t so nice.

There are many points of contact in Carol’s entire experience and therefore many places where things could go awry. If you’re running a business with a lot of moving parts, you’d best make sure you have clear instructions for each step and everyone knows exactly what is expected of him/her. I am transitioning over Zen Rabbit’s fulfillment to a new organization this week. I know what it’s like to have to create detailed instructions for every step of every task. It’s certainly no fun to put together. BUT, once it’s done and in place, you can be reasonably confidant everyone involved is on the same page. The customer experience will be consistently good. Spend the time and effort creating touch point templates now or pay for it later.

Properly Setting Customer Expectations

Last weekend I spent two and half days at Sandi Krakowski’s Social Media Smartphone GPS event at the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort. I love hotel experiences because they offer so many opportunities to observe customer service practices. This one was no exception.

Upon arrival, the lobby smelled inviting and pretty. I know, those aren’t actual fragrances, but it’s the best way to describe it. It just smelled GOOD. Staff was friendly and accommodating at check-in. Since I was a speaker at the event, my room had been upgraded to Executive Level. These occurrences, along with the architecture, set my expectations fairly high and I looked forward to a great stay.

It’s interesting how just one or two employees can taint a guest’s, or client’s, overall experience. Boxes I had shipped ahead to the hotel were to be delivered to my room and when I inquired about them, I was assured they were in my room. But I’d just come from my room and unless they’d been stored under the bed, the boxes were not there. Oops, they’d put them in the wrong room. Mistakes happen. I get it. No worries.

Later I asked the concierge for a recommendation of an off-property place to eat. He insisted that the kind of place I was looking for was no less than 20 minutes away. But after getting our bearings (we’d both been to the area before, but not recently) my friend and I found several such places much closer. Seems like someone in that position should know the area better.

And now to the one experience that never ceases to amaze me. At hotels and conference centers that host events all the time, it astounds me that so many of them are so ill-prepared to efficiently serve the attendees lunch and/or dinner in their restaurants.  This hotel is not alone in its struggle to manage such a task. But when you have a facility regularly holding events that give attendees an hour for meals, one would expect you have the experience, staff and systems to handle it well.

In our particular case, we weren’t served any water or other beverages until we’d asked at least five times and were just about finished with our meals. I saw a manager and mentioned our frustration. To his credit, he comped lunch for everyone at my table, but giving away meals doesn’t make up for decent service.

I’m just finishing up the book “Setting the Table,” by restaurateur Danny Meyer. In it, he talks about all the components that must be in place to provide what he calls “enlightened hospitality.” The takeaway I’m getting is that it all comes down to people (employees), systems and your sense of purpose. The lessons are not just applicable to restaurants; they apply to every business. Look for my full review of this book within the next week or so. Right now, suffice it to say that you are in control of setting a customer’s expectations. Once you do that, you are then obligated to fulfill them or you risk losing that customer as well as any referrals that person may have sent your way.

Understandably, not all hotels can provide the level of service you find at a Ritz-Carlton. But I would argue that each does need to live up to the expectation it puts out there at the outset. In order to thrive, your business, regardless of industry, needs to do the same. Take an honest look at the experience you’re providing your clients to make sure it’s consistent with the bar you’ve set.

Most People Don’t Matter

It’s a funny thing about people. They say they want x, y or z, but are completely unwilling to commit to getting it. You’ve heard the phrase “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Most people pay that lip service. They “believe” it, but when it comes down to brass tacks, it’s easier for them give up than to figure out the way, and so they do.

Seth Godin’s blog post today is titled “Most People.” Read it. Has this been your experience? Maybe it describes people you know. The part I take out of it and find relevant to what we’re doing here in regards to increasing customer retention and loyalty is that “most people aren’t going to buy what you’re selling” but that’s okay because your best customers are not “most people.”

Look around. Most people either do not care about customer service or don’t know how to deliver it – that much is quite evident in many customer experiences you’ll have this week. But the ones who do are the ones whose businesses are thriving, regardless of what’s happening in the economy.* They are not deterred by the idea that most people aren’t their customers. They are driven to find the ones who are and start conversations with them. Realize that it may take some persistence until those best customers recognize how you are not most people. Don’t be discouraged, like most people would be. YOU are okay with staying on track and weeding through most people to get to your best customers.

You are not doing what you’re doing for most people. Whatever your industry or profession, YOU are offering something very special and it’s only for your best customers. Understand your best customers are different from someone else’s best customers. This is why the idea of competition as a market force is on its way out.

Now once you connect with those best customers, it behooves you to continue treating them as valuable. Taking the actions necessary to make sure they know you appreciation their business is imperative. Consistently saying thank you to your loyal clients is an investment of resources most people won’t make. Good thing we’ve already established that you’re not most people.

*If you deliver fantastic customer service and your business is not thriving, it’s simply because not enough people in your target market know about you. That’s easily fixed through better marketing. Need help coming up with creative ideas for getting the attention of your ideal clients? Let’s set up a short, complimentary call to see if you can benefit from a full-out 2-hour strategy session.

Responsive like a Porsche

Andy’s one of the “new guys” in my leads group so he and I met up in a one-to-one last week. About a year ago, he left his corporate job to start his own company and now he’s serving as the IT department for companies that aren’t big enough to have someone full-time in-house.

Porsche_911I asked why his clients like working with him and to his great credit, he did NOT say, because we provide excellent service. (If you’ve been a long-time Rabbit Rouser reader, you know that response is way too overused, means nothing and completely sets me off. Ha Ha.) He said responsiveness. His newest client signed on with him because her previous vendor wouldn’t respond to requests for days. In contrast, he’s been getting back to this client’s employee’s requests within hours. Even if he can’t fix it right away, he at least lets them know he’s aware and on top of it. Not surprisingly, they are thrilled with him.

In fact, Andy told me one of the criticisms his boss had for him in corporate was that he set client expectations too high. Perfect! Now he’s just set the bar higher and made it more difficult for anyone else who comes along thinking they can poach his clients.

Acknowledgement and attention will win you fans every time. Sure, auto-responder generated emails make it easy for requests to be acknowledged, but everyone knows those aren’t personal responses. Technology is great, to a point. Even in the tech industry, people want personal. Clients want to know their issues are worthy of your attention and you will be providing them the service they want and need, hopefully soon!

Even in today’s mostly service-based economy, many clients feel the need for touch. (Get your mind out of the gutter, you.) I mean, they like the idea of personal communication and seeing something physical. This is why face to face meetings are still important, and why sending thank you notes written on paper or gifts that come in boxes make such a huge impression.

Don’t be afraid to set the bar high and make that mark the new standard in your industry or community. Making the new rules means stronger client relationships, happier customers and better client retention. The only ones who won’t look good are the competitors who can’t keep up.

Respect for Time

Doctors appointments are one of those things that you just can’t delegate to someone else. Today was my third visit to Dr. H and the first time I didn’t have to wait more than 25 minutes to see him. So not only does he get to inflict pain, as there’s some physical therapy involved, I have to wait around for it.

When I show up on time, I expect him to do the same. And while I get sometimes there are emergencies that can throw off the schedule, it would be nice to have notice if that is indeed the case. How about a text message to say they’re running 30 minutes behind, or at least a heads up when I arrive.

Everyone’s time is valuable and in my book, it’s a matter of respect to honor someone’s time by not wasting it. Updates are equally important when it comes to serving your customers. Companies such as Amazon and Zappos have set the bar for delivery expectations pretty high. Stories of deliveries made less than 24 hours after order placement create a belief that every company can, should and will be able to do the same.

Fair or not, it is what it is and it’s your job to set the proper expectations for what your business can and will deliver so you still look good. You will boost client retention by letting them know ahead of time what to expect from doing business with you. Can you pledge to return phone calls within two hours? Keep them waiting no longer than five minutes? Ship packages within 24 hours? Whatever it is that you do, give your clients the guidelines of how you do it so they know what to expect and aren’t disillusioned or disappointed. Now they have an increased level of comfort, which makes them more likely to come back again, and share their experience and recommendation with others.

PS: Today I didn’t have to wait because I learned if I make my appointment for 2:00, I’ll be the first one after lunch, so no one ahead of me to mess up the schedule!