A while ago I visited a client's offices for the first time in about six months. Amanda, the office junior, greeted me with a smile and asked me if my journey from Sheffield had gone smoothly. I was impressed. Not only was she expecting me but she remembered where I was from.
The she asked me if I wanted something to drink.
"It's coffee, black, no sugar, isn't it?" she asked.
Right first time. But how did she know? It turns out that she keeps a little card index system with the details of all the regular (and not-so regular) visitors to her company. Now that's someone who cares about her customers and demonstrates it every day.
I call this 'planned spontaneity', and it's something that every business can build into its day to day activities. Here are 10 simple examples:
I saw this and thought of you: Let customers or contacts know you're thinking about them by sending an email with some useful information, advice or an idea. Simply say 'I saw this and thought of you'. (Do NOT send any marketing material or try to sell them something).
We were expecting you: let your reception team know who's coming today so they can greet people and let them know they were expected.
Get personal: add a "PS" to the end of correspondence that relates to something specific about them.
Cards: I don't just mean birthday cards, although they can work if there's a good relationship there. And I certainly don't mean cards at Christmas with photocopied signatures of people I don't know. But why not something like 'Thank you – you've now been a customer of ours for 12 months / 2 years / 3 years etc.'
Ask for feedback and acknowledge it specifically: I once completed a questionnaire after staying at a hotel and mentioned a particular staff member who had been outstanding.
I got a lovely letter back from the manager thanking me for the feedback and telling me that this member of staff was one of his star players and that he'd be letting her know I'd mentioned her. Specific acknowledgement demonstrated to me that he was listening and that my opinions counted for something.
Give Me Space! Reserve car parking spaces for visitors and put their names on them! Preferably as near the reception door as possible. There's nothing more annoying than a sign that says 'Parking reserved for Directors and senior staff only' (Translation: 'Customer - you're not important!')
Ring me back: When you said you would. Give me a specific time for the call back and then do it. It's amazing how impactful that can be!
How are things? : Call me, email me and don't try and sell me something – take an interest in my thoughts and views. This works particularly well after the first purchase.
Thank you for paying on time: Do you have standard letters that your accounts department sends out saying 'According to our records you are 30 days, 60 days, 90 days etc. Overdue'?
How about a 'standard personalised' letter that says 'According to our records, you paid us on time. We really appreciate that – Thank You!' (Hey, even accounts departments can 'demonstrate' they care – this is revolutionary stuff'!)
Do none of these things: But, do something. Ask your people how you can build 'planned spontaneity' into your business. There's a good chance that they'll have some great ideas that you can implement quickly and easily.
Planned spontaneity is not a gimmick, and it's not about covering up for poor products and services. It's a way of enhancing the customer experience, and crucially, it's a great way of engaging your people in helping demonstrate to your customers that you do actually care.