I am both thrilled and saddened by the amount of e-Christmas cards I have received this Festive Season. Thrilled because it is saving trees of course and also some of them have been very creative and fun to watch. Saddened because a fantastic opportunity to connect to your clients in a personal way has been missed.
Let me explain my thinking. Everybody likes to feel that somebody has gone to some trouble on their behalf; to be made to feel special. Any kind of hand-written note will do this but a well selected and personalised Christmas card is just the absolute best.
Running through a CRM database and ticking the names of people who you want your e-Christmas mail to go to is not really the same as a personal message written in your own hand with a nice ink pen. Plus the fact you can’t really fill your desk with emails unless you print them off and then that’s more dead trees.
Wishing somebody a happy Christmas alongside a shared experience from the last year; something you will be doing together in the year to come or just a simple “thank you” will really connect and reinforce a personal relationship.
I wrote mine last night. It took a couple of hours with Mrs Ames as my glamorous assistant packing the cards into the boxes. Not only is it a good thing to do but I really enjoyed thinking about the people I was sending them to.
It’s not too late, dear readers. Even if your firm has pressed the button and unleashed 10,000 emails into the Christmas ether you can still slip round to Smiths, buy 50 nice cards and send them to your special clients and hot leads. I promise they will appreciate it.
You know it makes festive as well as business sense.
Yesterday we went on one of those open top jump-on-jump-off jobbies around Manhatten. We were the first pick up of the day but because it had rained briefly in the night the seats were wet.
Now, why is this relevant I hear you moan? Well, the way it was handled illustrated a widespread trap that many service providers fall into: The Tick Box Gap. This is the difference between what a person’s job description says and the way their clients actually expect to be treated. Interestingly enough the effects of the gap are usually out of proportion to the size of the gap itself.
So there we all were faced with a 45 minute coach journey experienced with decidedly damp under-kecks; and what did our noble tour guide and host do about this? Well for starters he had a big argument about it with one of the other passengers. He then took the microphone and proceeded to tell us that whilst he was sorry we had moist posteriors his job was to point out interesting sites and give us little known facts about them it was not to wipe our seats clean.
Fair enough. I am sure he was genuinely bothered by our discomfort and I am also pretty sure his job description did not include a line about drying seats after a bout of drizzle but nonetheless we did have soggy pants and my wife (Mrs Ames) was wearing cream trousers which she was convinced would be stained (they were but we all said they weren’t).
So what could he have done? He had two choices really.
- Knowing that it rains in New York and therefore deducing the likelihood of wet seats he could have kept some kitchen roll in his bag and before we all got on given the seats a quick wipe-over. 5 minutes absolute max.
- Alternatively he could have handed out a paper towel to each passenger as we boarded the bus and we could have cleaned our own seats. Easy-peasy.
So where does this take us? Well firstly I know that occasionally I concentrate on my job and the tasks I have to get done more than I do thinking about my client’s comfort and convenience – sometimes just doing the job is not good enough. I wonder if I am the only one?
Secondly, whatever our clients want, despite what our job descriptions might say, is what we should deliver. Sometimes it is down to us and sometimes the system is just broken and needs to be fixed. Either way we need to do something.
What can we do? Well here’s a suggestion. Have a think about the way in which you interact with your clients and the service you provide to them. What things or situations could occur that would spoil the clients’ experience? Think it through and then join together with others (see my blog entry Ideas Having Sex) to identify possible danger spots that you could prepare for. Then it is just a matter of making whatever preparations and contingency plans you can (within time and budget constraints) to be ready should these possibilities actually occur.
Ultimately forethought and preparation can go a long way to heading off niggles that can turn into issues that do have a habit of turning into problems.
Was a wet bum a big deal? Not really but we didn’t leave him a tip (mostly because he was a terrible tour guide) and they missed an opportunity to differentiate themselves. It’s all in the little things you know.
My eldest son is getting married in November and he and his fiancée, well mostly her really, are chasing around getting things organised. The biggest decision to be made was the location for the reception, which of course can make or break the big day so it has to be right.
The other morning I was having coffee with the soon to be Mrs Ames when she said something that made me sit up and take notice although it really shouldn’t have.
She said that when she approached each venue by the time she had set foot into the reception it was either a definite “no” or a “maybe” – no surprise there then but then she went on to say that the final decision was made by the conduct of the venue’s representative; no matter how much she liked the old pile if the face at that front got it wrong the deal was off!
What she wanted was somebody who was organised, attentive, well informed about their own venue and highly inquisitive of her (and I suppose son #1′s) wishes. If they didn’t deliver the goodies then it was a big fat “so long sucker”.
The people she met represented and reflected the venues they worked for: if they didn’t give the right impression and show a keenness of attitude then perhaps everybody else in the joint would be the same and the whole gig would be a shambles. Harsh? Maybe but it’s her day and she quite rightly wants it to be right.
Damned if she hasn’t got my vote on that one.
Here’s the question though: how many other people make the same judgements? The small details aren’t attended to, the accuracy isn’t there, the attitude is decidedly under-cooked – maybe I’ll just go someplace else.
Here is the future Mrs Ames’s list of what a great customer experience should look like: -
- Turn up on time and be prepared: everything to hand and a clear idea of what needs to be done.
- Know your product, service (or hotel) inside out and back to front: be able to answer any question asked.
- Find out what your client or prospective client really wants; don’t play your own trumpet over their tune.
- Make notes and ensure you fully document what you need to make their wishes come true.
- At the end of the meeting agree actions and deadlines then deliver what you promise.
- Maintain an up-beat, positive and can-do attitude all the way through.
I’m sure you have been subjected to a million similar messages to this one; Heavens to Betsy I know I have but when the future Mrs Ames was telling me this story in a way it all became extremely real to me again.
They aren’t buying what we sell they are buying us and we forget that at our peril.
I was reminded recently of the story of Bob Golomb. He was, and still is I think, a car salesman at a Toyota dealership in New Jersey but Bob is not just a common or garden variety: Bob is a super salesman. Apparently at his peak he consistently sold twice as many cars per month as the average US car sales person. Now why am I interested in him?
Well since he was selling something that you could get from any other Toyota dealer, and remember I do mean get exactly the same; the same physical car in fact, he could not have been differentiating himself based upon his product. No, his differentiation was based upon the way in which he delivered that product to his clients. If you want to know more about Bob I suggest you read “Blink! The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”, by Malcolm Gladwell. In essence Bob treated everybody the same so he would engage a spotty 18 year old youth looking at a top of the range car exactly the same as he would an affluent looking be-suited business person – always! He also listened to his clients. If they wanted to talk about 0 to 60 times or BHP then Bob got technical, but if they wanted safety features or fuel consumption then Bob delivered the goodies here as well.
This chameleonic approach to sales is much harder to do than it sounds: we all get excited by what we are selling and so want to talk about all its features and benefits especially the ones that we like – this is a mistake and a mistake that the over-performing Bob Golomb does not make. Mmmmm.
Ask yourself this simple question: what three things can I change about the way I deliver my product or service that will a) be of benefit to my client, b) make them feel like an individual and c) make me stand out from my competitors? Remember the smaller the thing the better but just make sure you are consistent – people like to rely on things so consistency is vital when creating these new stand-out features.
I love hotels. When you visit a hotel you can tell so much about the way it is run, what is important to them and whether you will be looked after almost as soon as you walk through the front door. Recently we went to Paris and stayed in a small hotel called Jays on the Rue Copernic not far from the Trocadero. When we arrived they knew who we were “ah hello Mr and Mrs Ames did you have a good journey?” and the first thing they did was sit us down and offer us a drink. Check in was not at a desk but a coffee table by the sofa in a comfortable sitting room.
Each of the Maitre D’s knew us by name, took an interest in our itinerary and offered enormous amounts of local knowledge as well as tickets to various attractions so we didn’t have to queue. Also any piece of paper they gave us had our names on whether it was the weather report for the day or a Google map giving us directions to the restaurant they had booked for us.
Now why is this important and why am I bothering to tell you about it. Here’s why. They made us feel special, important even as though we really did matter to them and that they were genuinely interested in helping us to squeeze every last ounce of pleasure from our trip. This feeling made us feel connected to them – win:win situation then. Fair enough but with only five bedrooms and a sizeable tariff to play with I suppose you could argue why wouldn’t they. Well the important thing for me wasn’t what they did but rather how they made us feel the way they did. I came to the conclusion it was because of the following reasons: -
- They used our name a lot. If someone says your name in a crowded room you are likely to hear it – apparently it is important to us.
- They took a genuine interest in us. They really wanted to hear where we had been and what our plans were; isn’t time one of the greatest gifts to give?
- They actually wanted to help in any way they could – they were clearly chosen because of their knowledge and personality but nonetheless I believe that they were really keen to help.
So how can you translate this into your world I wonder? Names on things that you give to people where you would not normally expect to see a name, contacting somebody just to see how they are and no other reason or perhaps just giving people the gift of time when you meet them.