Thursday, September 07, 2006

The difference a note makes

Nothing appeals to me more as a customer than the sense that a business cares about me as a human being. Usually, I can get basically decent service most places I go, but it's the added touch of personality that endears me to a store and compels me come back. Most of the time these touches require very little extra effort on the part of the service provider, but they do require a great deal of extra thought. Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:

Church of the Customer displays a personalized note that the author received from a J. Crew salesperson after a recent visit. The salesperson even remembered that the author was a Steelers fan - now THAT'S personalization! I've received a similar note from a saleswoman at a jewelry store. Even though I didn't purchase anything, she thanked me for stopping by with a hand-written card. I still haven't returned to make a purchase, but I'm 100% sure that when I finally get around to making a decision, I'm going to buy from her.

Calls from salespeople are usually nothing more than a minor nuisance. But I was impressed when one retail store gave me a call to remind me that my coupons were about to expire and that I should stop on by to use them. Far from annoyed, I was actually glad for the call because I did in fact forget about the coupons I intended to use. Plus, the girl who called was quite friendly, which reinforced my positive experiences with the store. Granted, they just wanted to get me to spend more money that I intended to spend anyway, but it was money I felt better about spending because they took the time to contact me personally.

Everyone likes getting free gifts, but it has to be the right free gift. Not too long ago, I bought a new car from Mazda. It was my first new car in fact and so it was a pretty momentous decision for me, particularly since I switched to a new-for-me make of car. How was I rewarded for taking this financial leap of faith? With peanuts. That's right...peanuts. I'd heard stories of new car buyers getting showered with flowers and all manner of nice gifts, but I got an ugly tin of stale, inedible peanuts. They were probably better off sending me nothing rather than this "present" because it said a lot about how they valued me as a customer (not much).
[Update: In retrospect, I was a little hard on Mazda here, given my less-than-comfortable sales experience. The company has redeemed itself over the past year. They sent me a nice note on my birthday and a letter on the one-year anniversary of my purchase. Their service is outstanding too. So, overall, they do a good job with customer service despite the icky peanuts.]

The point for librarians here is that you don't have to spend a lot of time or money to impress upon patrons how much we value them. Sticking to our promises, personalizing our interactions as much as possible, and surprising our patrons from time to time with a little something extra can help to demonstrate our appreciation for them and go a long way toward differentiating ourselves from alternatives. From a purely marketing standpoint, it's also important to remember that customers evaluate a service every single time they use it (and in-between uses). Encouraging patrons to use our services once doesn't mean they'll come back a second time. We need to offer continuous evidence that they're making a good decision to come through our doors. A small gesture can make all the difference.

Update: Yet another example of the little ways in which organizations show they care (and mean it), from Panera Bread.

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