How to Turn Your Customers Into Evangelists

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When we talk about customer loyalty, it usually means the customer being loyal to the company. That should be a great result to aim for, but it isn't the beginning of the story. Real customer loyalty comes from you being loyal to your customers.

Exceeding expectations is a worn-out cliché these days, but like all clichés, it covers an important truth. In an age of instant gratification and heightened public awareness of consumer issues, your customers expect you to be good. Good is standard. Good is the average against which you are judged.

Good doesn't win you any prizes.

Bad, on the other hand, ranges from outright awful, to 'trying-hard-but-not-quite-there'. Any point on this long line results in three things - none of which you want: The immediate loss of a customer; the certain loss of their future trade; the probability that they will bad-mouth you to everyone they know, ensuring that a number of potential customers are lost to you as well.

Aside: In writing this, I am deliberately personalizing it to you. You are the representative of your company whether you are the boss or the messenger. Customers don't care about your position; they care about the service they receive. So whoever you are, whatever you do, the customer service buck MUST stop with YOU.

Let's get practical. How do you go beyond 'good'? There are three steps that every company should take, no matter how big or small they are:

1.) Empowerment

2.) Think like your customers

3.) Find out who is the best in your field, copy them, and go a step further.

Empowerment.

This is a little-understood, but immensely powerful concept. Too many companies are frightened to implement empowerment because they fear loss of control. They are so wrong. If the idea is introduced correctly, with every member of staff understanding what is expected of them, and the parameters under which they can operate, empowerment is the single most important action that a company can take to improve its relationship with its customers.

As a simple example, consider the famous hotel chain which discovered that it had a 'chain-of-command' problem:

A guest would complain about a problem to the desk.

The desk would fill in a form.

The form would go through channels to a manager.

The manager would, in time, read the report.

If the manager felt the problem was sufficiently important, it would be delegated to a operative to fix.

The hotel felt that is was responding to its guests complaints. In reality, the problem may have been fixed, but not for the guest who complained. That guest stayed disgruntled and probably took his business elsewhere. Perhaps even telling his friends and colleagues about the problem (which by now no longer existed, but it did in their minds).

Then the hotel learned about empowerment.

Now when the guest complained to the desk, the clerk is empowered to think and act. It is now her job to find a solution, not to simply pass on the problem. She has a modest weekly budget to use at her discretion for just these eventualities.

So now, when she is told by the guest that the coffee in his room tastes bad, she can ask him which brand he would prefer. Five minutes later, she calls in to the local grocery store, buys a jar of his favorite coffee, takes it to the guest's room and leaves the jar, with a card personally signed by her. The guest is delighted, and tells his colleagues what a fantastic place the hotel is. All it cost was a jar of coffee, a little thought, and ten minutes.

It even saved a heap of paperwork.

Empower your staff to solve the little problems and many of the big ones will vanish too.

Think like your customers.

How can such an obvious statement be ignored by so many companies? If you were buying from you, would you buy from you again? If your mother walked through the door of your store, would you treat her any differently to your other customers? If the answer is yes, you are wrong. You should treat every customer like your mother. Substitute the President, or the Queen of England, if you like. You get the picture.

If you are dealing with a customer who has a complaint, never try to rationalize it or justify it. Don't blame the problem on 'company policy'. As far as that customer is concerned, YOU are the company. YOU have to solve the problem. So think like they think:

Why is this a problem?

How would I feel if it had happened to me?

What solution would I want?

Think that way, and you will quickly get the irate customer on your side. Irate customers expect to be fobbed off with company rules and excuses. The best way to defuse them is to give them immediate solutions, without argument.

Over-copy your competitors.

Do some research. Ask around. Who is the best company in the field? Why? What do they do that is so good? Now, here is the clever part: ask what they could improve, what even the best companies do wrong. Then, when you copy the good stuff, you improve on the bad stuff as well.

There is nothing wrong with copying good ideas. We all do it all the time. The real trick is to put your own slant on the idea and freshen it up to make it your own.

When you have identified the little niggling problems that even the best companies get wrong - go out and celebrate! Once you have solved them, these become your most powerful benefit-laden selling points:

"Of course we have great prices and people willing to help you pack your groceries. Who doesn't? But at Bloggs Supermarket, you get our special double- reinforced carrying bags. We buy them specially so even if a whole quart of milk leaks out, your groceries will never fall through the bottom."

It is often the small difference that makes the sale. Not because of the item itself, but because it shows your customers that you care enough about them.

That way, they will care about you too.

Customers who care about the companies they deal with spend a lot of time telling their friends. Everyone like to boast about the great service they received.

They become your best promotional weapon: evangelists.

About the Author

Martin Avis publishes a free weekly newsletter: BizE-Zine - your unfair advantage in Internet marketing, business and personal success. To subscribe, and get 4 great free gifts, please visit http://www.BizE-zine.com

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