From a promotional aspect, word of mouth is what businesses should all be striving for. It means you're doing lots of things right, and it's free. Not only is it free, it's trusted. Quite simply, there is no better way to promote your business and when you leave a lasting impression on your customers, you'll likely find your business on the tip of people's tongues.
There are no prizes for saying that it all starts with a good product and great service. But with competition at every turn, customers need to know they are truly valued. They want that little something special, something memorable if they are to be loyal. And why not? They're holding the cards. They should be challenging you to offer that something special they don't get elsewhere.
I find that keeping the below in mind helps me, so let's get your creative and spontaneous juices flowing. As you're reading this, try and think about your business and what you might be able to do to leave a lasting impression on your customers. It's the difference between someone having a good experience with you, and someone having a memorable experience that they'll tell their friends and family about.
Communication is everything
Whatever your role is, if you're going to leave a lasting impression, contact is key and the starting point of all the below. The way we listen to and communicate with customers is deep within the roots and culture of our businesses. This goes all the way back to the people you put around you.
When I ask someone if they listen to their customers, it's generally met with a look of surprise and a teenage sounding "er, yuh". But I try to challenge. Are they really listening?
When you're handling a complaint, it’s natural that you filter the information you're receiving. You process and act upon what is key to handle the matter as effectively as possible. It's not as natural to filter in the same way when you’re having a normal, friendly conversation with a customer. It's easy to tell yourself to move on when you know you have a friendly or happy customer.
But it is here that we often miss wonderful opportunities to leave a lasting impression on a customer. I call it 'WOWing' a customer (nothing new there I appreciate).
Tip No.1 - Don’t let opportunities pass you by
Seems obvious, but it happens.
Tip No.2 - Make a note of snippets of useful information
This will help you with Tip No.1. Anniversaries and birthdays are the usual suspects; you may already keep that kind of stuff on a database. But you could have a customer going in soon for an operation or one running a marathon for charity. A daughter might be getting married, or a son is taking college exams or his driving test. They're only little snippets but they're personal, and it'll mean a lot when you act on them. It'll show your customers you're listening.
I'm not suggesting you carry a notepad and pen around which you whip out with every conversation; spontaneous is the word of the day. Writing stuff down might seem a little silly at first but if later you decide not to act upon it, no harm done.
Always try and acknowledge customer occasions, even if you've not seen them for a while. It shows that you always have them in mind; not just when they're spending money with you.
Tip No.3 - The little things are (really) important
If you act upon something that a customer doesn't even recall telling you, it's really powerful. A guest of ours once made a playful comment about not stocking his favourite beer. When he came back again the following year, he checked in to his room to find his favourite six pack in the fridge. I'd also left a note to say that we'd also stocked some behind the main bar for him.
A few bottles of beer is inexpensive when considering what that gentleman already means to us as a business, let alone his lifetime value. He loved that we listened and remembered. A quick personal gesture goes a long way in helping you grow better relationships (and loyalty) with your customers. It's clichéd, but the thought really does count.
Tip No.4 - Don’t be afraid to ask a question
You might unlock an opportunity to WOW and leave a lasting impression. Be careful though; if you're too inquisitive, it's annoying.
"A family checked in and our receptionist spotted them poking harmless fun at the daughter. They were still chuckling when they arrived at the desk. So our receptionist asks the young lady why she’s being ‘harassed’ by her family. The daughter was sheepish so the dad says they were lucky to arrive in one piece. She'd passed her driving test the week before and the family made her drive. They shared a joke, the family checked in as normal and they went on their merry way.
Tip No.5 - Think outside the box
"She found on our system the family had a reservation in our restaurant that evening. She got £10 from petty cash, popped to the nearest garage and bought a car air freshener, some fluffy dice and a road map.
Tip No.6 - Be memorable
"She put it all in a gift bag and wrote a little note.
'Congratulations on your freedom; maybe next time you'll make the family walk...'
"She left it on their table with a bottle of our house wine. The family thought it was brilliant.”
Frances Prior, Front of House Manager
By asking a simple question, the receptionist had unlocked an opportunity to leave a lasting impression. It was clear the family enjoyed a good sense of humour and she totally nailed it. What took seconds to establish, a few minutes of time and £10, she gave the family something to remember, on top of what is no doubt a good product with great service.
A bottle of bubbly would have been a great gesture I'm sure, but would've been more costly. Her gift was also thoughtful and relevant and as a result, much more memorable. In my experience, thinking outside the box does come more naturally to some than others, but no idea is a bad one. Also in my experience, it is often the quieter ones that have the best ideas.
Such a minimal investment won't do the lifetime value of those customers and how they'll talk about you any harm whatsoever. Yet, going back to the first seconds of that encounter, I wonder how often that party check-in as ‘normal’ and sent on their merry way.
Tip No.7 - Encourage a creative environment
Creating and fulfilling such ideas only works if staff are encouraged and empowered to act on them. Create that environment and if you’re responsible in some way for the bottom line, don't be a grinch. Trust that these gestures will more than pay for themselves over time, even if the ROI is hard to track.
Tip No.8 - Make a fuss of staff who go the extra mile
Telling stories of how a team member has WOW'd a customer is the best way to inspire others to do the same.
I'm not saying you should incentivise your team to create a WOW; we don't want canned experiences. And we definitely don't want to lose sight of key responsibilities. But when someone has done something memorable for a customer, make them feel special and appreciated in turn.
Put them on a silly pedestal for the day, give them a badge or ‘Star of the Day’ award. If you’ve seen the movie ‘Office Space’, give them a ‘Piece of Flair’! (Okay... bad example.) Keep a trophy handy that you award and they keep until someone else trumps them. You will find it sparks some friendly banter amongst your team.
Tip No.9 - Put systems to good use
The modern business has so many tools these days. Booking systems, CRMs, email, calendars, work apps like Slack; it’s easy to create reminders and fulfil opportunities to leave a lasting impression. When I put a six pack in that chap's fridge, I didn't have to remember to do it (we welcome almost 100,000 guests a year). I stuck it on my calendar the moment he mentioned it. If you’re not around at showtime, get someone else to pick it up for you.
Tip No.10 - Pick your moments
I probably shouldn't say this, but we can't WOW every customer, every time. We can offer great service to every customer, every time. So understand that there is a difference between 1) great customer service and 2) these opportunities we're talking about. Don't reach for a WOW. Let it come to you, but when presented with an opportunity, grab it in your own, unique way.
How to leave a lasting impression: the takeaway
Of course, giving great customer service 100% of the time is a given, but unique, memorable gestures will set you apart. The impact these can have on the loyalty of your customers shouldn't be underestimated, even if you can't exactly track ROI.
I leave you with one last example to highlight the above; where this time, I was the customer. On a meal out with my wife, she felt bold enough to go with the special, and a spicy one it was too. I remember the name; the 'Tyranno-sore-ass Chilli'. While she has a taste for spice, this dish took her a little by surprise. Having spotted this the waitress might well have chuckled, as we did at the name when we ordered it. Instead though, she brought over one of their special milkshakes, on the house.
It was a really simple gesture, but one that required just a little bit of 'outside-the-box' thinking. It was a gesture that left a lasting impression. We always remember that restaurant when planning our venue for date night. It has made us more loyal and to this day, that gesture prompts us to recommend them to others. It also prompted a 5-star review on Facebook that same night.
Not to mention the milkshake was tasty as sin, so we now spend more on drinks than we did before.