Your customers’ sense of belonging

 

A friendly place

A smiling face

I had occasion to go into my local bank branch yesterday. As I walked to the service till, the cashier (teller) said with a smile “Good morning, Mr. Stow”. How did that make me feel? Well, immediately it wasn’t just a simple transaction. The service was personal because the lady had recognised me and remembered my name. I felt wanted. Whatever I say about my bank and banks in general, which can be quite a lot, I had a sense of belonging and a reinforcement of loyalty to my local bank’s staff.

 

Just cheap

We can all learn from that, or at least be reminded that an individual or personalised service at whatever level helps us to keep our clients and customers. Of course it depends on the business you are in. Both in retail and in services, some people just want the cheapest they can get, regardless of the service, so they will look for the lowest priced option without any brand loyalty. They buy the cheapest washing powder or the cheapest services.

In business services we might see the offer to complete a tax return for as little as £50, or $80. You don’t get much for your money and you do not get any advice as to whether you are claiming the right allowances and deductions. What you get is a cheap production line product without a guarantee except that they produce the tax return according to your instructions.

Cheap and value for money

Of course one can get a more rounded product with a good service which would also be cheap in terms of being a very reasonable price for the service provided, but that would cost a bit more. You get what you pay for. Then you would probably have some customer loyalty. If you are really happy with what you get including advice and support you will recommend the provider and stay with them.

Cheers!

At whatever level it is important to talk to our clients and customers individually, and to remember their particular issues. It makes them feel valued, wanted and belonging as I do in my local bank and as people did in that bar where everyone knew their name.

Don’t you believe in the personal touch?

And remember this?

Customer service and that nice warm feeling

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Why the personal touch is important in business

 

One of the patients

Small businesses have a huge advantage. They know their customers. Large businesses don’t. Small businesses which become large businesses forget their customers.

I wrote a while back about our extreme disappointment at our treatment by a veterinary practice.  Quite apart from the excessive charges levied in the face of my wife’s and my distress, there is another underlying problem with the practice and with many other veterinary practices in the UK. They have been acquired by large chains.

What is the effect for the customer of dealing with a large chain of vets? Well, we rarely get to see the same vet twice. There is often no continuity in the case of an ongoing treatment. The usually junior vets we get to see are still learning their profession but are not used to building relationships with the animals’ owners even if we do have any continuity in their dealing with a case.

Young vets have to learn their business. Our previous family veterinary surgeon, before he sold out to the chain, always had a young assistant vet. Most of them lasted two or three years before they naturally moved on in their career progression. That meant that they had a relationship with the owners of the pets brought in. Of course we had known the senior vet for a long time, so felt we could talk to him more easily than to a business-like trainee of the current vogue who probably has developed little in the way of people skills.

Small business owners can beat the big chains simply by being there, by talking to the clients and customers on a regular basis, by perhaps visiting their premises or homes and even inviting them to celebrations and networking events. We can make them feel they belong, which of course they do.

Customers who feel they have a relationship with a business owner or with the staff are less likely to move on and are more likely to value the service they get. They are more likely to be happy to pay more for the personal touch. Small businesses can compete very well with their larger competitors because although sometimes the big boys and girls will pile high and sell cheap, there is nothing like being able to pick up the phone and talk to your supplier as a person you know.

How often with large companies must we press the phone keys for multiple options just to get through to an offer of more multiple options? Hours of our lives can be wasted hanging on the telephone.

It will be no surprise to you that we have moved our cats’ healthcare issues to another veterinary practice where we can make an appointment with any one of several veterinary surgeons we know and like, and whom we can see are really caring. One in particular has given us great advice on dealing with a problem without even prescribing a medicine. There was huge value in the advice and it was well worth paying for.

Against big business, we generally have the upper hand if we have the facilities to provide the same basic service as they do, and then add to it our personal touches and ourselves. Remember we have the advantage, and make the most of it.

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Family cooking trouble in your business?

Last night my wife happened to switch the TV over to an edition of “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares”, featuring a restaurant in New Jersey. I didn’t take too much notice at first, thinking it was just another cooking programme. Whilst I am interested in food and cooking, we have an awful lot of shows involving food and chefs. However not many minutes passed before the TV had my full attention.

The restaurant was run like many other tired family businesses where one dominant personality makes all the decisions, and typically is resistant to change. In a sense there is one with the power of a decision maker who simply doesn’t make decisions. It was the old story of “if you do what you’ve always done…”

The restaurant was in the sort of place where they could expect many drop-in patrons. It was not a gourmet restaurant, yet it had a very extensive menu. The whole place needed a cosmetic makeover too. It was simply not delivering what the customers would want, and with its tawdry decoration looked distinctly unattractive. Therefore it wasn’t making any money.

To cut a long story short, Mr. Ramsay gave the restaurant owners the medicine he has had to take for his own restaurants which he has managed to keep open (some have closed). Apart from having the place painted, he simplified the menu drastically, reducing the number of dishes available and bringing back more basic dishes such as the sidelined husband’s meatloaf (his wife is the non-decision-maker in question).

If we try to do too much in a small business we fail many of our customers and clients. In the restaurant they were cooking a large number of dishes badly, because there were too many to watch all the time and properly cook to order. By having fewer dishes, they could prepare them more quickly and watch them better, they reduced waste and above all they put the dishes in front of the customers more quickly. Not only was the food fresher and better, but they had improved customer service at a stroke.

So often, small businesses try to be all things to all men and women and fall short. It is much better to deliver what we are good at quickly. Customers and clients will appreciate that, and if we have a good network then we can reach out and find most products and services we cannot offer but our network can. Our clientele will thank us and respect us for that too, and they may even refer and recommend us.

This is a world of instant gratification. People do not like to wait when they lead such busy lives. If we are small we deliver what we are best at doing. If we were Amazon or Walmart we could deliver everything from a plasma TV to a microwaveable hot water bottle, without the friendly personal touch, but as we can offer a personalised service to order we should concentrate on that.

Whilst Gordon Ramsay’s show is a sort of reality TV, he should be congratulated on his insight and from having learned from his own mistakes. He sets an example for others in his acumen if not in politeness. Of course sometimes we do need to get our point over forcefully.

Well done, Gordon! You teach a good business lesson.

© Jon Stow 2010

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