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10 ways to improve the customer experience with 'planned spontaneity'

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29th Nov 2010
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So many businesses are great at saying ‘the right stuff’. Ever heard this when you’ve called someone? “Your call is important to us, please hold..........”? If it’s that important, why am I waiting? Ever read this when you’ve received an email from a supplier? “Dear ‘Valued Customer’”? You mean so ‘valued’ that you don’t know my name? What about this in the reception as part of a ‘Mission Statement’ “Our customers are our biggest asset” ‘Assets or assholes? Why is the receptionist so rude?

So many businesses say the right things, but unfortunately, don’t deliver it. They say they care, but the reality is that their actions imply they don’t. The vast majority of us judge people not by what they say, but what they do – and that includes your customers too. Even if you do care about your customers, do your actions reinforce this? So many businesses simply fail to ‘deliver’, not because they don’t care, but because they are so busy doing ‘other stuff’.
Why do some businesses appear not to care? Sometimes it’s the systems, sometimes it’s the processes, sometimes it’s the people, and often it’s the leadership (or lack of it). What’s the reward in your business for an individual who ‘goes the extra mile’ for customers? Usually, the ‘reward’ is more work!
I once turned up at a client of mine’s office for the first time in about six months after I’d done some customer care training there. Amanda, the office junior greeted me with a smile and said ‘Hi Andy, good trip from Sheffield?’ I was impressed she was expecting me and remembered where I was from. ‘John will be with you in a minute,’ she said ‘Would you like a drink?’ ‘Yes please’ I replied. ‘It’s coffee, black, no sugar, isn’t it?’ She said! ‘Yes!!!’ I said ‘How did you know?’ ‘It’s my job to know!’ she replied with a smile and went off to get my coffee! Turns out, she had a little card index system with the details of all her ‘visitors’. That is someone who cares about her customers, and demonstrates it every day.
I call it ‘planned spontaneity’, and it’s something that every business can build into its day to day activities. Here are 10 simple examples:
  1. I saw this and thought of you..... - Let them know you’re thinking about them by sending an email with some useful information, advice or an idea and simply say ‘I saw this and thought of you’ (Do NOT send any marketing material or try to ‘sell them something!)
  2. We were expecting you - let your reception team know who’s coming today so they can greet people and let them know they were expected.
  3. ‘Get Personal’ – include ps’s in your correspondence that relates to something specific about them
  4. Cards – I don’t just mean birthday cards – they can work if there’s a ‘relationship’ there (certainly not cards at Christmas with photocopied signatures of people I don’t know), but why not ‘Thank you – you’ve now been a customer of ours for 12 months / 2 years / 3 years etc.’
  5. Ask for feedback and acknowledge it specifically - I once completed a questionnaire after staying at a hotel and mentioned a particular staff member who had been ‘outstanding’. I got a lovely letter from the manager thanking me for the feedback and telling me that this member of staff was one of his ’star players’ and that he’d be letting her know I’d mentioned her. Specific acknowledgement demonstrated to me that he was listening and that my opinions counted for something.
  6. Give Me Space! – Reserve car parking spaces for visitors and put their names on them! Preferably as near the reception door as possible. Nothing more annoying than a sign that says ‘Parking reserved for Directors and senior staff only’ (Translation: ‘Customer- you’re not important, please clear off down the road’!)
  7. Ring me back – When you said you would. Give me a specific time for the call back and then do it – it’s amazing how impactful that can be!
  8. ‘How are things?’ – Call me, email me and don’t try and sell me something – take an interest in my thoughts and views. This works particularly well after the ‘first purchase’.
  9. ‘Thank you for paying on time’ – Do you have ‘standard letters’ that your accounts department sends out saying ‘According to our records you are 30 days, 60 days, 90 days etc. Overdue’? How about a ‘standard personalised’ letter that says ‘According to our records, you paid us on time. We really appreciate that – Thank You!’ (Hey, even accounts departments can ‘demonstrate’ they care – this is ‘revolutionary’ stuff’!)
  10. Do none of these things – But, do ‘something’. Ask your people how you can build ‘planned spontaneity’ into your business. There’s a good chance that they’ll have some great ideas that you can implement quickly and easily.
‘Planned spontaneity’ is not a gimmick, and it’s not about ‘covering up’ for poor products and services. It’s a way of ‘enhancing’ the customer experience, and crucially, it’s a great way of ‘engaging’ your people in helping demonstrate to your customers that you do actually care.

Andy Hanselman is a speaker and consultant at Andy Hanselman Consulting.

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