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Anticipation is Key to Customer Loyalty

I don’t know of a single business who doesn’t want loyal customers. Yet few know how to create the kind of experience that ensures customers come back again and again. Even more powerful is developing customers who not only come back but bring others with them. I like to call these customers raving fans. Anticipating what customers want and what puts the experience over the top is the key to creating true customer loyalty. 

We all understand the basics of getting customers to leave satisfied. Satisfiers are the factors that customers expect. Things like ensuring that the customer leaves with their needs met. That the people they interact with are pleasant. That the price feels reasonable to them.

Satisfiers are things that leave customers dissatisfied if they are missed but may not even be noticed otherwise as they are expected. Consider clean dishes at a restaurant. If the fork is dirty, you notice and are dissatisfied. You don’t see many positive reviews praising the establishment for having clean forks! 

However, delivering only satisfiers won’t create raving fans. It may not even create loyalty, if the customer feels your product or service was so similar to someone else’s that they don’t see any reason to choose you the next time.

When we think about how much effort it takes to get new customers, it makes dollars and sense to figure out how to keep them. The formula is simple but not easy. Deliver what you promise. Be pleasant. Anticipate their needs and proactively meet them. Identify things that others do that they find annoying and eliminate those things. You can create customer who won’t consider going somewhere else. 

Every business will have something unusual happen that results in a poor experience from time to time. Your raving fans are significantly more likely to forgive you and stick with you. Their loyalty is almost protection against the inevitable mix up. Of course, you need to apologize and take the necessary steps to correct the issue. However, the fact that you have been so attentive to their needs in the past will often give you grace when something does go wrong. 

The kind of customer experience that drives loyalty goes beyond the basics. That doesn’t mean it costs a lot more or takes a lot more time to add delighters. It does require you to step outside of your frame of reference as the business owner so you see your customer experience in the way your customers do. 

There are two kinds of delighters. One is eliminating things that cause annoyance and frustration. The second is adding things that make the experience better. The best organizations employ both. 

If I had to pick one, I’d pick eliminating those things that cause annoyance and frustration. As soon as your customer has shifted to feeling annoyed, their experience can easily snowball into dissatisfaction. 

To you, waiting 20 minutes for an appointment may seem reasonable. To your customer, who planned to only take an hour off work for the appointment, it feels like 20 minutes wasted and a risk that they won’t be back to work on time. They begin to feel annoyed. Then the receptionist can’t find the paperwork that was sent in advance and asks the customer to do the forms again. The customer is asked to explain why they are there to three different people, none of whom talked to each other, so they had to start over each time. Now they can’t wait to leave and don’t plan to come back. It is easy to think that things like this aren’t happening your business, but have you taken the time to be sure? 

To figure out the gaps, you need to figure out what processes and procedures are creating frustration for your customers. Your staff can probably tell you which things people complain about or don’t like. There are probably some of your customers that you know well enough to ask for feedback. You want people who will tell you what they wish was different. Really listen and then consider what can be done. Not every suggestion from an outsider is feasible but some of them will be. 

Speaking of customer feedback, what kind of input is included on your customer satisfaction survey (or, if you don’t have one, maybe you need to start asking customers for input on a regular basis). 

When there is a procedure that can’t be changed, you can ease the discomfort by changing how it is presented. When you ask people to assist you, saying please and thank you, that helps. When you add why the policy is necessary, in customer friendly terms, the customer still may not like it but they are less likely to shift all the way to annoyed. 

Next let’s talk about the little things that create delight. Delighters are the unexpected and very welcome things done in anticipation of the client needs. These clearly set you apart from your competition. Imagine going into a restaurant where you have a reservation. You are having dinner for your anniversary and you mentioned that when making the reservation. You arrive at your table with a reserved sign that has your name on it and are given a happy anniversary card. The waiter greets you by name and wishes you a happy anniversary. Suddenly the entire evening feels a little more special. When you think back to that night, what do you remember? Where will you go the next time you have a celebration?

These delighters cost the organization little other than time and attention to detail. They clearly listened when the reason for the meal was shared and then did something with the information. This means they had training for their employees, had greeting cards on hand and printed a paper sign for the table. 

Before you say, this applies to restaurants and hotels but not to my business, let me provide a different example. 

In my community there is a home service company that gets glowing reviews. They know that it is more likely to be women at home who need to feel safe. These women also don’t want to have a lot of extra housework to do after the job is done. They do the satisfiers, every employee in a uniform shirt, a truck that is well branded and their work is excellent. They also text the customer when the employees are on the way with a picture of each employee who is coming, so the customer can be sure they are opening the door to the right people. When the team arrives, they put on booties and lay mats down to protect the floors so they aren’t tracking any dirt in. When they are done, they vacuum up, any make sure they leave the house better than they found it. Is it any wonder they consistently get 5 stars on Google Reviews? 

The key to this is putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and figuring out what they expect and what would delight them. You must give them what they expect but the delight factor is what solidifies the relationship and keeps them coming back. It can also turn your customers into raving fans who are always telling their friends about your business. 

If you aren’t sure what would be a delighter for your business, start by thinking about the businesses you frequent because of the experience. What do they do differently? You may ask key customers for ideas. You may want to benchmark other providers who are highly rated and aren’t in your backyard. Look at what prime providers are offering in Beverly Hills or Manhattan for ideas. 

Really good delighters don’t cost a lot of money. If you think about the service company, they invested in floor mats, bought some disposable booties and took the time to send a text message and clean up. They invested a little and ended up with reviews that keep new and old customers calling for service – true customer loyalty.

To truly create a loyalty-generating experiencing, you need to look at the culture of your organization and determine how to make anticipating your customers desires part of the way you do business. Your employees need to be educated in why the behavior is important and they need to deliver with a positive attitude. The employee who says Happy Anniversary in an unpleasant tone with a scowl on his or her face just ruined the entire effect. As your team catches the vision, they may become the people best able to provide you with ideas for new ways to cement customer loyalty. 

This should be implemented incrementally. If you have major gaps in your satisfiers, you need to fix those first. Trying to fix satisfiers and add delighters at the same time merely means you have a lot of targets to try to hit all at once. When you get to delighters, come up with a list and then try one or two. Get those perfected and then see if there is another you’d like to add.