According to the dictionary, going the extra mile means “to make more effort than is expected of you.” In business, this principle can’t be just an occasional or an ad-hoc attitude. The relationship of trust that companies strive to create with customers is built one interaction at a time across a wide platform of communication highways. This means that the “extra-mile” culture can only be achieved if everyone — from boardroom to front line— is on the same page and passionately believes that the company’s primary purpose is to put customers first.
So how can you go the extra mile in your interactions with customers? Here are nine ways:
In every customer interaction, there’s a basic level of performance — the business does what’s required to meet the consumer’s need and the transaction is completed. But only by consistently going above and beyond the basics will a business create customer loyalty — and more profit.
Even the smallest of gestures counts and can help to build relationships. Whether it’s the grocery store employee who offers to carry heavy bags of groceries to a customer’s car or the hair salon that loans a newly-coifed client an umbrella when it’s raining, tiny gestures can create a strong and lasting impression — and even more so when they are unexpected.
Throwing in a small product or service for free is an excellent way to reinforce a buying decision your customer just made. Everyone loves receiving something for nothing.
Businesses can be wary of giving free extras because of cost implications, but it’s a strategy that doesn’t have to incur huge cost. Psychologist Norbert Schwarz found that as little as ten cents can create reciprocity between two people. And for every cent you spend investing in your customers, you will reap multiples in return. Compare this to the income forever lost when you lose a customer.
When you’re interacting with customers, you must take the time to determine if they have an immediate need or challenge that you can help them address. Fixing a problem they’re having may turn out to be the unexpected extra that makes their day. This is more than being kind and helpful, it’s watching to see if you can help your customers when they might not even know they need help. You must be on high alert and anticipate what your customers might want or need before they even know themselves, and that means drawing from your own previous experiences, or stepping into their shoes and seeing the world through their eyes.
In the Four Seasons hotel in Paris, for example, an employee noticed that visitors were sometimes dazzled by the unexpectedly bright sun in the courtyard. Sunglasses of various styles are now kept on hand so that no guest need ever squint again! A small detail—but what a thoughtful touch of class.
When things go wrong, a business must not only apologize and rectify the situation — it must make the customer feel even better off than before. Say, for example, you purchase a faulty toaster. You take it back and get a replacement or a refund. Technically, the store has done right by you. But your experience could have been much better. If the store had given you that replacement or refund plus a voucher for a 10 percent discount off your next purchase for the inconvenience, you would have left with a spring in your step, feeling far happier and ready to come back and do business again. Studies have found that customers often switch allegiances, even when they’re pretty satisfied with a product or service. They don’t need an excuse to stop doing business with you, so give them an excuse to remain loyal.
The personal touch is vital in today’s fast-paced world, when consumers often feel that the companies they do business with treat them more like numbers than individuals. Whether in person or on social media, you must interact with and engage in your customers’ needs in a genuine, timely, and authentic way. Get to know them and let them get to know you. At Buffini & Company, we have found that writing personal notes (something that used to be so much more common) is a highly effective way of connecting with customers. We send out tens of thousands of notes each year, which is one of the things that has contributed to the sense of personal connection our customers feel with our staff.
If consumers feel disrespected, they will be disinclined to talk to you again, never mind give you repeat business! Whether it’s during a run-of-the-mill interaction or when attempting to resolve a dispute or issue, showing your customer respect is paramount to creating a long-lasting relationship. If someone feels respected, they feel important and valued, which means they will be more inclined to share valuable feedback that could prevent similar issues from arising again.
Too often businesses undertake surveys and ask for customer feedback, but then do nothing with the information gathered. This just shows your customer that you don’t value what they have to say. But if you tell your customers that communication is a two-way street — that you want to hear from them — you are creating an environment that welcomes their suggestions to improve your product or service. In the process, you will strengthen their trust in and loyalty to your company. But remember: There’s little point in asking customers for their honest feedback unless you act on it when you get it!
By the same token, for better or worse, it’s imperative to keep customers informed about changes to your product or service. Customers don’t like to be surprised — they can become very attached to the way things have always been done — so it’s important to keep them in the loop. If you’re planning to change something or you’ve added a service, made a mistake, or done something well, communicate it with your clients. This is the only way to create true transparency and trust.
We all know how it feels to be taken for granted, so be sure not to let your customers feel that way. Always thank them for their business — let them know how much they are appreciated.
Brian Buffini is the author of THE EMIGRANT EDGE: How To Make It Big In America. He is one of the nation’s top business experts and founder of Buffini & Company, based in Carlsbad, California.