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Departing From Your Customers – 'Goodbye' or 'Until We Meet Again?'

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29th Nov 2006
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We all focus on attracting and retaining customers. Our efforts, resources and creativity are geared towards this goal. However, very little attention is given to the manner in which we depart from our customers.

Over Thanksgiving, I stayed at a hotel in Las Vegas where I noticed something that had I never paid any attention to in the past – the express check out line. The express check out line which seemed to be everywhere, appeared to live by the motto "get it done and over with as soon as possible." The way I understood it, the hotel was saying "you gave us your money so now it is time for you to leave. We’re busy with new customers. Don’t bother us until you’re ready to come back and give us your money."

This is a common practice, one that we have all come across many times before. Most hoteliers will tell you that they are only trying to save their customers time and hassle. However, the "express check out line" is not unique to the hospitality industry. Many industries are interested in departing from their customers with a minimum of time and human interaction. While this practice is routine, I find it to be flawed. Long-term relationships are seldom built on the type of short-term transactions typified by the express check out line. Repeat business and on-going relationships require behavior that exemplifies our longing to see the customer again.

Long-term relationships lie at the core of business, particularly in the hyper-competitive Las Vegas hospitality industry. Yet, the express check out line which is all too common throughout this industry detracts from the type of long-term relationship that we seek. It is cold, uncaring and in a sense, too efficient. From a business perspective, the presence of the express check out line strips the company of several opportunities such as:

  • Ensuring that the customer was satisfied and reaffirming the company’s commitment to the customer
  • Adding a differentiating human touch
  • Creating a better experience
  • Demonstrating that even when the experience is over, the company still cares
  • Inviting the customer for return visit
  • Soliciting feedback or a referral
  • Illustrating the ability to solve problems before they balloon into bigger issues
  • Highlighting the company’s desire to compensate for a poor experience (if applicable)

In a world where the customer has to do everything and where corporate disinterest in the customer seems to be growing, companies have the opportunity to show that they care. All too frequently, customers see the disinterested looks on employees’ faces, feel disenfranchised and see little reason to come back. If they do, it will often be on the company’s website to see if the price is cheaper than its competitor.

We ought to plan for the customers’ departure. Even when you think the customer might not come back, he might very well share his experience with his family, friends and colleagues (especially if it’s a Las Vegas trip!). Our world is steadily shrinking and our margin for error has never been smaller. Actions follow us and reputations are becoming increasingly more difficult to change. Departing customers need to be treated with care and respect. While me might be tempted to point them in the direction of the express check out line, remember what we are here to do – solidify relationships, drive repeat business and increase profits. Talk to your customers. Use their departure as an opportunity to build on the next phase of your relationship. Considering how little thought is put into this touch point this could be your opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Be kind to your customers and your customers will in turn (through repeat business) be kind to you. As the saying goes "kindness, like a boomerang, always returns."

Lior Arussy is the President of Strativity Group and the author of several books. His latest book is Passionate & Profitable: Why Customers Strategies Fail and 10 Steps to Do Them Right! (John Wiley & Sons, 2005). Read an excerpt of this book.

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