Stop Satisfying Your Customers:
Go Beyond Their Expectations

By Laurie Brown

Recently, Francine went to her favorite restaurant, Pesca, on the beautiful river walk in San Antonio. The staff was warm and friendly, and the food was amazing. While she was waiting for her meal the manager walked up and started a conversation with her. Francine told him how much she loved his restaurant, and that after her last meal at Pesca, she went home and tried (unsuccessfully) to recreate it for her husband. The manager then asked her for her email address. To her surprise and delight, he offered to send the recipe. Though she hadn’t asked him for it, he knew she would love to have it.

The manger wanted to provide those extras that would truly delight his customers. His approach was to simply talk to customers and listen for opportunities to meet or exceed their needs. He listens carefully for the clues that his customers give him. He admitted that he can’t always find the right “thing” that would “surprise and delight,” but that it worked a lot of the time.

The days when companies simply needed to meet customers’ needs to succeed in business are over. Customers are more and more demanding, and the merely satisfied customer is not necessarily going to be a loyal customer. Service needs to be taken to a higher level, beyond just satisfying customers. Their expectations need to be exceeded. Studies have shown that when a company does that, they are far more likely to create loyal customers.

What will get a customer to remain loyal? Better yet, what will turn a loyal customer into your best source of advertising ‑- someone who’ll tell their friends and family about your products and services? Simply put, you need to surprise and delight them. The following steps will help you:

Satisfy your customers: Before you even begin to try to surprise and delight, you need to make sure that you are doing a great job of satisfying your customers. Too often people rush into doing all the extras before they do the basics. Make sure that you keep your promises and provide good basic service. How can you be sure that you are doing what you need to do to simply satisfy your customer? You need to ask them. Survey your customers to see if you are providing the kind of service that your customers expect. Surveys can be simple to create. Make sure that you make it easy for your customers to answer. Four or five questions will suffice. Also leave room for comments. Often times, customers may need to tell you things that you forgot to ask. If you get a negative comment make sure that you follow-up with the customer and fix the problem.

Find out what your competitors do: Learn everything you can about your competition. Find out what they do for their customers. It is perfectly acceptable to use them as a benchmark.

Find out what your customers want: Once you are sure that you are meeting your customer’s needs, you can begin to learn more about your customers. You and your employees are in the best position to learn about your customers. Every time you get a chance, engage your customer in a discussion about what they want and need. If you discover something that you can do right away, do it. If you are not empowered to do what should be done, seek out a manager or owner and see if they will help you go the extra mile.

Make it your mission to surprise and delight: When asked, the people who provide the best customer service say that it’s their personal mission to provide great service to each and every customer. If you decide that your mission is to surprise and delight each and every customer rather than “make a sale” or “reach your quota,” you will have a much higher success rate. Write out your mission statement and review it daily to remind yourself how important exceptional customer service is to you.

Make it personal: Although you can and should have some customer service processes and procedures for all of your customers (i.e., provide a warm greeting, listen well, etc.), in order to really provide exceptional customer service you need to make it unique to the customer. This means that you need to listen carefully to the clues your customers give you. You then need to find creative ways to give them something they may not have expected. Always listen to your customer’s tone of voice and watch their body language to make sure you are properly gauging their reaction.

When you hear the words “surprise and delight,” is the first thing you think, “Okay, what’s it going to cost me?” Do you assume that the only way to “surprise and delight” is to spend, spend, spend?

Here’s the good news: Some of the most effective ways to “surprise and delight” your customers will cost you little or nothing. All you need is just the right intent and a bit of creativity. Start by thinking about the small things you can do on a regular basis. You might consider how you could add a personal touch to your business transactions. Here are some low-cost ways to “surprise and delight” your customers:

  • Thank your customer for their business by handwriting a note on your invoice or sending a personal thank you. With the advent of e-mails, a handwritten personal note has an amazing impact.

  • Follow up with a phone call to see if your customer is still happy. When you call them, ask about their family or something else personal that you may have learned about them.

  • E-mail your customer information about something you and he or she spoke about.

  • Contact the customer on their birthday with a phone call.

  • Be warm, welcoming and excited to provide service. Your exuberance will be contagious.

  • Have a great customer service recovery process. And make sure that you don’t quit solving your customer’s problem until they are fully satisfied.

It’s clear that the more you know about your customer the more personal the service you can provide. It’s this personal touch that really will make the difference. Start engaging your customers, learn what will “surprise and delight” them -- and then do it!

Read other articles and learn more about Laurie Brown.

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