Last Impressions Count too....
By Caroline Cooper
Saturday, 1st June 2013
We're all familiar with the sayings about a first impression: a first impression is a lasting impression, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, you only get one chance to make a first impression, you will form a lasting impression within the first seconds, etc. So does that mean if you make a great first impression that's all you need to do?

We sometimes put so much energy into a positive first impression that we then forget all about the lasting impression. What is the impression that stays with your customers when they leave your businesses or complete their transaction?

What will be the lasting memory that stays with them when they're thinking about buying or booking again, telling their friends or colleagues, or telling the world on social media or review sites about their experience?

When I'm working within a business reviewing the customer experience I always ask them to imagine the conversation or the feelings and thoughts they'd like their customers to have when they're on their way home from doing business with them.

In my world that might be the whole family in the car on their way home from an active day out, a couple sat on an aeroplane on their way home from a relaxing long weekend, or a walk back to the office having indulged in a lunchtime treat. But whether your customers come to you for – business or pleasure – ask yourself what would you want them to be saying or feeling after doing business with you?

Give people a reason to talk about you

Everyone has an expectation these days for good service. So if you want to get people talking about you and ultimately telling all their friends you need to be constantly looking for ways to that little bit extra. It doesn't have to be lavish, just that extra inch (that still leaves something in store the next time) to make your customers notice and make it really difficult for them to ever contemplate not coming back to you. Always leave them with that open invitation and temptation to return.

Find something that's the exception. Identify the things that are of perceived high value to your customers but relatively low cost to you so you can give added value. Do something to give people a real reason to talk about you. It's the exceptional and unexpected that gets you noticed and remembered.

Do something different

One obvious ingredient to add that element of the unexpected is to be different. What can you do to be different?

It's easy to be tempted to just copy what your competitors are doing. But assuming you know what's important to your customers you can start to tailor what you do to meet these needs. Certainly look at what your competitors are doing. But then home in on things that they don't do well, and find a way for you to do these brilliantly and make you stand out over and above them.

Do a little brainstorming. What types of unusual or unique approaches might appeal to your various customers?

Why not do something fun with your customers? Make it interactive – not just one way information. Pose questions, polls, puzzles, and competitions.

After all, you don't have to be totally "business-like" all the time! In any loyal relationship, there are serious moments as well as times of levity.

The one thing that will always be unique to your business or organisation is you and your team. So even if you are competing with half a dozen comparable places offering very similar experiences in the same geographic location, as a minimum you can make yours and your team's personality your point of differentiation. Personalise your messages by sharing your story, your values, or something about your team.

Keep talking

Of course leaving a lasting impression doesn't mean only showing your interest when customers leave. Being visible in your business, and making contact with your customers throughout builds rapport and trust. Once you've gained this you're in a far better position to identify customers' needs and expectations and gain valuable feedback first hand if anything needs refining or improving upon.

The same goes for your staff too, so encourage them to talk to your customers. Give them the appropriate training to ask for feedback in the knowledge that they are confidence to deal with it – good or bad – in a positive way.

Personal Touches

It's certainly the personal touches that can make an average encounter into a truly memorable one. People want to be made to feel at home and that alone can help convert a one-time buyer into a loyal repeat customer.

Think about your customer's experience with you to date. Are they already familiar with everything you offer? If not is this an opportunity to demonstrate what you can do so give:

The first-time customer a welcome gift: a personalised guide to your venue or business, a wallet for their membership card, samples of your relevant products or services?
Regular customers: a taster of your new offer or service to give them an opportunity to try before they buy?
Your personal touches might not be pre planned, but as a result of being attentive to your customers' needs. Train your staff to listen and be observant to what customers say or are looking for.

Customers love personal recommendations. And they love honesty. If they're not sure what they want, find out about their needs, tastes, preferences, and tailor your recommendations. Share the ‘insider's' view, your personal favourites, what other customers tell you about their purchases, experiences or choices. Give your own tips, advice, and suggestions to help them make an informed decision, not the one that will make you the most money!

And as you can't be there all the time, give your team authority to do something spontaneous if they see an opportunity to enhance the customers' experience.

Finishing touches

Identify the little finishing touches that you can give customers at the end of their transaction that will leave them with that wow factor. This might be picking up on an earlier conversation you've had with them that enables you to give them a little unexpected extra that's relevant to them, their situation or their purchase.

What is there that makes your offer or product unique, that they might want to take away or share with others? This shows your appreciation of their business and well as acting as a memento and reinforces your relationship.  If you leave them with information to take away, put it in a personalised folder or on a personalised memory stick. If you know their purchase is for someone else offer to take the price-tag off or gift wrap it.  If you discover they've got to carry it home on the bus, what can you do to make it more portable and enable them to get it home in one piece?

It might even be something that is dictated by the weather: if it's raining give them a (branded) umbrella as they leave, handing them a chilled drink or an ice lolly to take with them on a hot day;  I know of one hotel where they wash the swashed flies off the windscreen in the summer, and scrape the ice off in the winter before guests leave, and. Now who wouldn't remember that?

What could be your signature touch that is unique or unusual and reflects your brand or identity?

Fond farewells

What is the very last thing that happens at the end of their enquiry, visit or transaction? How genuine is the farewell? How sincere the offer of help if they have questions or concerns?

Do you let them know of other services, products, events or offers they might be interested in? All these add to the total customer experience.

The level of service a customer receives should be maintained right the way through to leaving the car park at the end of their visit.

Offering a helping hand with their goods to their car, having customers' invoices ready when they come to pay so their lasting memory is not one of hanging around to part with their money, reminding them of any little tips to help them get the best out of their purchases, travel advice, letting them know of any forth coming events or promotions from you or joint venture partners that may be of interest to them, and ending with a genuine appreciation of their custom.

These are all little things that the customer will truly remember and also recollect to their friends.  But don't fall at the last hurdle……

Who is the very last person your customers encounter as they leave, or the very last place they see?  If your customers collect goods or luggage from a collection storage point how comfortable or long is the wait? Does your doorman or security guard reflect the culture and level of service your customer receives elsewhere? If your customers take a visit to the toilets or leave via the back exit to the car park is there anything on route you'd rather they didn't see, smell or hear?

Whatever your business, reflect on what your customers remember most about their experience with you? What happens in the last few moments of your meeting or their visit will undoubtedly influence their lasting impression.

Identify the little finishing touches that can leave your customers with that little touch of magic that will stay with them for weeks, months or even years to come.

And if nothing else, a sincere heart felt thank you in person goes a long way.

About the Author: Caroline Cooper is founder of Naturally Loyal who help businesses to get more sales through their existing customers. Caroline specialises in working with ‘experience-based' businesses, where customers buy from them for the experience they are getting; such as hospitality, visitor attractions, retail luxury items and gifts.   Her focus is in helping businesses guarantee their visitors get outstanding experiences, so they're more likely to stay longer and willingly spend more. Then ensuring the business remains on the customer's radar to trigger repeat business and referrals, turning casual visitors and passing trade into long term naturally loyal customers.

She is author of the ‘Hotel Success Handbook' offering practical sales and marketing ideas, actions, and tips for small hotels. She's a regular columnist for a number of hospitality and leisure journals e.g. Hotel Industry UK, and speaker at industry events.
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