Recently, I was driving my wife’s car and the engine light came on. It was a busy day and I was on a tight schedule; the last thing I had time to deal with was dropping off a car. Needless to say, I was already upset.
Within minutes of calling the service department, my service advisor was waiting for me – with a loaner. He apologized for the issue, knew I was on a schedule and said he would take care of everything. I was on my way in less than a minute. The experience made me believe these people really care and understand their customers. Because of that, I will always be a loyal promoter.
This all-too-familiar experience for many is a great example of how customer obsession not only differentiates a business, but also defines it.
When customers are the key that aligns a company’s actions, and the business is hyper-focused on their customers that doing the right thing is a reflexive action, then customer obsession is realized. Becoming customer obsessed is a journey and a decision that a business must not commit to, but constantly reinforce.
Here are five habits to develop along the journey:
Empower Your Employees to be Customer Obsessed
Saying and doing are very different. If employees have to ask permission – or even worse, get push back for doing the right thing – then you’re not truly obsessed with your customers. The Ritz-Carlton is well known for empowering all of its employees with the ability to spend up to $2,000 to solve customer problems – all without asking a manager. That is per incident, not per year.
Give your employees leeway to help customers in the moment. It may not be $2,000, but give them some dollar amount or giveaways they can use in the moments that matter the most to customers.
Active Listening Unveils Huge Opportunities
Customers provide clues through their words. When customers mention a recent challenge in life – a death in the family, natural disaster, slow down in business, a birthday – all of these are opportunities to show you care about the people, not just the business they give you. A simple recognition of the event goes a long way, but consider taking it a step further by sending a card, flowers or tangible goods, depending on the event. This is where customer obsession shows through and your thoughtfulness will go a long way.
Solve for the Customer, not Your Company
Buyer’s remorse happens sometimes when businesses force their agenda on customers, and deliver to them a service or solution that does not match their needs or expectations. Providing the right solution or service based on customer needs is closer to customer obsession. You know this is true when a business is willing to forgo a sale when their product or service will not meet a customer’s needs.
The timeless example of this is the scene in “Miracle on 34th Street” when Santa Claus working at one department store sends a customer to another store because the other store has a better deal on a toy. The customer was so overwhelmed, she mentions this to a manager and tells him she will be a customer for life. You may not want to send your customers to a competitor, but you can make doing business with you easier by reviewing your refund policy. If it is not flexible, consider changing it to a longer time period. You will be surprised how much repeat business you get as customers feel you really care about them and their needs versus your own.
Go Above and Beyond
Forgive the cliché, but it’s reality that just simply meeting a customer’s expectations is not customer obsession – you have to exceed their expectations. Understanding when opportunities present themselves to give something extra, then acting in the moment is critical – just like with the car service advisor. Having my loaner waiting without the need to do any paperwork was definitely above and beyond.
Look for ways to give a little more than customers expect, and you will see amazing results. It could be as simple as always taking packages to their car, wrapping gifts for no charge or providing an extra service. There are many inexpensive ways to do this, and your customers will love it.
Apologize When You Have Caused a Problem for Customers
At times, this is one of the hardest things for businesses to do because they do not want to admit guilt. However, it is one of the most effective ways to keep customers engaged in your business. If you find yourself in the position of having to apologize, do it quickly – with empathy and authenticity – then outline how you will resolve it and provide what will be different going forward. These are keys to getting the business/customer relationship back on track. Believe it or not, there are many times when a real apology is all the person wanted. That’s how you show strong customer obsession.
These habits are certainly not the only ones to take. However, genuinely being customer obsessed can strengthen customer relationships, improve employee commitment and improve your bottom line.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Small Biz Daily.