Stop Taking Your Customers To Lunch
by Allyson Lewis
Imagine walking into your favorite Italian restaurant. You likely have been looking forward to it all day and when you simply walk in the front door and smell the delicious aromas your heart begins to pound just a little bit faster. You sit down at the table with your family and friends and subconsciously your senses begin to register all of the different things that are occurring. Your ears hear the pleasant chatter of friendly conversation all around you, the soft music gently drifts by, the artwork on the walls is pleasing to your eyes and oh yeah, there is the smell of all of that delicious Italian food.
The reason you love this place is that it involves all of your senses -- you can see it, touch it, smell it, taste it and hear it. You are much more likely to feel strongly about an experience when it involves all of your senses than when it does not. Involving the senses will create "anchors" in your customers' minds regarding your business. When you take them out to lunch at a fabulous restaurant, while they may appreciate your gesture, they are "anchoring" the happy experience with the restaurant and not necessarily with you or with your company.
With this in mind, we decided we would stop taking our customers to lunch and begin inviting them to our office for those lunch meetings. We make it a point to have something that has a strong, delicious smell. As soon as the receptionist lets us know the customer has arrived we move into action. The table has already been set, the glasses filled with water or tea and the salads and desserts are already on the table. All we have to do is place the main entrees on the table and we are set to go. Once all the food is on the conference table, we move quickly to greet our customers and walk them back to the meal. There is almost always an immediate physical response, as soon as they smell the food, they will turn to us with a huge smile on their face -- glowing with appreciation for our efforts and say, "Wow, this looks delicious!" You can almost see in their eyes that they are a little surprised by the efforts we have taken for them. This little extra effort makes them feel extremely appreciated and important, but more importantly you are "anchoring" this strong sensory experience of a pleasant event to you and to your company. Now when they think you doing business with you, their sub-conscious mind will go into action and remember those feelings of just how much you cared about them.
When you stop taking your customers to lunch, and you begin to feed them -- you will be miles ahead of your competition.
Seven ways to differentiate yourself from the competition:
1. Make everything you do experiential. Involve as many of your customers' physical senses as you can. Make sure you have greenery and flowers outside your building. Make sure your lighting is appropriate for what you are selling. Take a walk through your business and experience what you offer. What can your customer see, smell, hear, touch and taste? The more you can involve your customers' senses, the more you will stand out in a crowded field.
2. Providing Reliability. As a provider of services, I am constantly seeking to provide a reliable standard of service to the customers I work with. Consistency should be your goal. Regardless of whom the customer is or what service they are buying from you, you want every experience they have with you to be consistent. From the way they are greeted when they walk in the front door, to the way the transaction is handled to the follow-up service they receive. Your goal should be to deliver reliable and consistent service.
3. Training and Competence. To stand apart from the competition you must be willing to invest in training your employees. I recently read that the average employee receives a total of seven hours of formal training for their jobs. We live in a microwave age and the last thing a customer wants to deal with is an untrained employee. Be willing to create written systems and processes for each contact that a customer has with your business. Once these are standardized make sure all of your employees have increased their personal level of competence so they can breeze through the daily grind of dealing with a variety of customer service issues.
4. Focus. When working with a customer, we must fully focus all of our attention on that person. Make sure you are fully aware of their needs, listening to their questions and concerns and then delivering what they are asking for, not what you would like to sell them. Work to deliver more than they are expecting, you can only do this by fully understanding their needs.
5. Body Language. While the words you say speak to your customers, your body language screams the real message. By remembering that you often have as little as two seconds to make a first impression, make sure every customer is greeted quickly and politely. Follow your greeting with positive eye contact and a warm smile. And, concentrate on communicating with relaxed and interested energy.
6. Surprise and Dazzle. The best way to differentiate your company from the competition is to constantly exceed their expectations. If we meet a client's expectations, we gain no competitive advantage. Ask your customers about their hobbies and interests and mail them notices about attractions or information related to that information. Send anniversary cards on the date they first became your customer. Send pictures of your children in your next Christmas card. Write two hand-written thank you notes per day. It is often the most personal touches that will be remembered the longest.
7. Create a Strategy and a Story. Chose one strategy to be known for and then tell that story over and over. As a motivational speaker and strategic consultant, our story is "Change happens in an instant, it happens the moment you decide to change." Our story is in all of our materials, on our website and known by all of our customers. Decide what strategy you will stand for, and what story you will tell and then begin to shout it from the roof tops. Soon your customers will also recognize how different you are and they will be telling your story for you as well. When you have a recognizable and memorable story, you will shine light a beacon of light in a world looking for change.
Allyson Lewis, author of the book "The Seven Minute Difference: Small Steps to Big Changes" (Kaplan 2006) , has spent the last 24 years developing and teaching concrete yet actionable life changing concepts. She is also a renowned motivational speaker and strategic business consultant. For more information, please visit www.TheSevenMinuteDifference.com, or call 870-897-4494.
The Seven Minute Difference: Small Steps to Big Changes was written to help people rediscover the sheer joy and excitement of their daily work and life. Change really does happen in an instant, it happens the moment you decide to change.
Allyson is married to Jonesboro attorney Mark Lewis. He is an instructor of law at Arkansas State University. They have two children, Abby (11) and J. Mark (9).
Since 1984, Allyson has worked for a major New York brokerage firm. Like many of us in the audience she knows what it is like to work in the same job for over 20 years. Allyson found herself asking questions like:
• How can I be more productive? • How can I do a better job for my clients? • How can I really be different tomorrow than I am today?
Allyson Lewis may be contacted at www.thesevenminutedifference.com or firstname.lastname@example.org