Making the effort to connect and engage with your customers before they even arrive can lead to an all-round better experience, not just for your customer, but for you too.
First impressions are formed way before your customers walk into your business or even pick up the phone. From the moment they find out about you, be that through word-of-mouth, a Google search, or walking past your front door, your customers will start to form their own impression.
And the more we are able to engage with our customer the more likely that is to be a positive first impression (which might even sway the decision to come and talk to you, arrange a meeting or buy from you in the first place), and leads to a sense of positive anticipation.
Engaging with the customer before they arrive means we're better able to anticipate their expectations, start to build a relationship and earn their trust, and the better we are able to pave the way for a happy customer. Who of course is then inclined to spend more, and return more often and recommend you to others.
The converse is when your customer experiences a total lack of communication, leaving them uncertain, leading to ‘buyer's remorse' and questioning their decision to come to you. And as most of us know from bitter experience, if a customer comes with a preconceived idea that they're going to be disappointed and they'll look for every opportunity to find fault to back up their perception, so it generally becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The way in which you engage needs to be right for your target market. You know how sometimes you read something and you just sense that person is talking directly to you, and speaking your language? This is what we're aiming for at each and every touch point on your customer's journey: be that your website, in your marketing messages and throughout the sales process.
Five ways to engage with customers to give a better customer experience1. Show your personality
Start to engage by showing your personality in your initial communications. What does your website say about you? Stuffy, formal and corporate; or relaxed, welcoming and friendly? Tell (and show) your story via your website, emails, blog and social media, and help people determine what makes you different, interesting or exciting, not just another vanilla business.
Get involved in conversations about your business on appropriate social networks to help build a relationship early on, and show you're listening. Nothing gets a prospective customer's attention more than a speedy and friendly response to their mention of you on Facebook or Twitter, or a response to a discussion on LinkedIn.
What do your online reviews – and more importantly your responses – say about you? Customer focused and service orientated, or disinterested, defensive or even aggressive!2. Switch off the auto pilot
Booking engines, automated confirmations, and auto responders are a godsend. But does this come at a price? Rather than relying solely on automated e-mails, personalise confirmation of bookings or orders so they know there's a real person involved, with something that's personal and relevant to the nature of their enquiry or purchase, and your existing relationship with that customer, not just an automatic email.
Add a bit of humour if you can. Speak in your customer's voice, use their language and terminology, and use these to build rapport not alienate.
Add some variety e.g. if you have regular callers change the answer phone message from time to time, use as a way to promote your business and explain why you're not there that shows you and your business in good light. Make light of your automated queue systems (but demonstrating empathy of course).
Use some positive language in your messages such as promise, grateful, personally, appreciate, you, please.
And finally make it really simple for a customer to have a real conversion with a real person if they want to – no hiding behind web forms or recorded messages.3. Ask questions
Show your customers you care about them by talking about them, not you. No one cares how much you know until you show how much you care. Get to know what's important to them. Listen and show your interest.
Ask questions, (in a conversational way, not an interrogation), confirm requirements, let them know what do to next, offer helpful suggestions and information. Train your team too to ask questions with the aim of finding out more about their needs and expectations so you have a greater our chance of fulfilling and exceeding these.
The more you get to know your customers the easier it is to anticipate their needs, and deliver what they want on a consistent basis to keep them satisfied.
The more you know about their priorities, the easier it will be for you to give them what they want and home in on the things that will add value. Keep up-to-date with what your customers want from you by listening to them.
People like people like themselves. Find things you have in common with them and relate to these. If nothing else use their terminology, their phrases and words, not yours, that then relate to your customers and keeps them engaged.4. Add value
What else can we be doing to help customers get the best from their purchase or initial visit or meeting? What do they need to bring, prepare or think about to speed up the process, help with their decision or get the best from their purchase? What information might be useful for them (and help build your credibility and create trust at the same time)?
Simply things like helping them have a smoother journey by advising of best routes, roadworks to avoid, parking, etc. all add up to building the relationship.
Be proactive and be one step ahead of your customers by offering them things they want. This involves listening and responding, but also imaging what else either complements what you offer, or what's the next logical step – even if they don't know they want this yet!5. Build anticipation
Once people have planned to visit or do business with you get the dialogue going to build anticipation. This will be easier in some industries than others, but if their purchase is for pleasure start to build on the emotions as early as possible. If their purchase is a needs purchase then help to take the sting, pain or mundaneness out of it by continuing to build your credibility so reassuring them, but if appropriate add more to demonstrate your personality and your USP.
Not just through direct e-mail or phone, but if relevant to your business watch what's being said on social media. If someone is mentioning you on twitter tweet back – not just how you're looking forward to seeing them, but giving little teasers on the experience they can expect. If someone posts a comment on Facebook, keep the conversation going to build that sense of anticipation. This then starts to engage with their friends too, so starts the cycle for the next generation of customers……In summary
Don't throw away all that early goodwill. Get to know your customers by being visible in your business, making personal contact with your customers to build rapport and trust. They are then far more likely to tell you what they want and what would encourage them to return.Caroline Cooper is founder of Naturally Loyal who helps businesses to get more sales through their existing customers. Caroline specialises in working with hospitality, tourism and leisure businesses, helping them build loyalty through giving customers outstanding experiences and staying on their radar to trigger repeat business. She is author of the ‘Hotel Success Handbook'.