The Zombie Apocalypse. It’s a full-force pop culture phenomena. After all, Huffington Post has a page devoted to it, and even the government is in on it - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has its own Zombie Preparedness section. But what does this have to do with your small business? As an entrepreneur, you know exactly how much effort and investment goes into attracting new customers. But attracting is not enough -- you must also entice them to purchase and keep them satisfied so that they will bring repeat business and referrals.
For the small business owner, every single customer is a vitally important customer (tweet this)
In short, what your small business needs are zombie loyalists - a band of customers and fans who love you with an almost evangelical zeal. The kind who will love everything you offer, rave about you to their friends, and yes, take up arms to fight zombies at your side. In the current market, with companies creating more and more products and services, it has become harder to stand out from the crowd. In order to thrive, you must transform your customers into fervently loyal fans – the kind who purchase your products, spread the word and stand by you through thick and thin (or maybe the return of an army of the walking undead). Clearly, it is imperative to wow your customers, delivering above and beyond content and service that will delight, amaze and keep them engaged and talking. Unfortunately, sometimes the attention, time and investment given to those grand gestures can negatively impact the foundation of your business. Regardless of the demands of the rest of your business, the basics of customer service and engagement require regular attention. Even mediocre service can permanently injure your reputation and have a devastating impact on your revenue.
Just The Facts
Fact One: There is a gap between perception and reality
In a survey of 362 businesses by Bain & Company, 80% reported that they were providing superior service. However, when customers were asked the same question, only 8% of the companies were actually delivering on their promises.
Fact Two: Bad news travels fast
Yes. It’s one of those die-hard clichés that is absolutely true. When bad things happen, people talk, and in the age of social media, this is more true that ever.
Fact Three: Poor customer service costs money
The numbers don’t lie -- keeping your current customers engaged and happy is far less expensive than attracting new ones.
The Case for Customer Service: If you didn't think being nice was good enough, it's also profitable. ~Peter Shankman
Why is customer service and engagement challenging for many of today’s small business owners?
- Small business owners are often working alone or with very little help. When you are the sales team, the marketing team, the customer service team AND the CEO, keeping up with the nitty gritty of day-to-day customer service can seem a daunting task.
- Just like any long-term relationship, building a lasting connection to a customer takes effort and dedication. For newer business working on establishing trust and social proof, this can be even more challenging.
- Customer needs and wants change over time and keeping up with these changing desires is a time-consuming process. Even with a full understanding of what customers really want, translating it into action is often complex.
- Multiple social media channels and remote interaction can make it more challenging to maintain open and honest dialogue with customers than when in-person or phone interaction was the norm.
Fortunately – creating a lasting positive relationship with your customers does not have to be an overwhelming process. Peter Shankman - author of Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over--and Collaboration Is In - has shared some tried and true secrets to creating a base of customers so loyal that they’ll have your back during a zombie apocalypse. Good news, it’s not as complicated as you might think.
Peter Shankman’s Four Secrets For Creating Zombie Loyalists
Every single time a business interacts with a customer, that business can either reinforce their relationship with the customer, or they can end it. ~Peter Shankman, #ICON 14
Transparency rules the day
We often think of customer service as it applies to doing things well, but customer service is even more important when you don’t do things well. It’s inevitable: you will make mistakes, you will miss a deadline or fail to deliver on a promise, you will eventually disappoint a customer or client. How you respond to your mistakes is what will determine if your customers stay or go. Own your mistakes. Make amends. Move on.
Yes, it can be hard to know what your customers want. Especially at times when they are unhappy. The best way to find out? Ask them. We currently have the digital world at our fingertips, yet, according to Peter Shankman, we use less than 8% of that digital world to ask of customers what we can do to help them. Customers who are asked what they want become 3 to 4 times more invested in your company than customers who are not asked. And invested customers are both engaged and satisfied. If you want your customers to feel cared for, ask what they want and need, then find a way to give them exactly that. Give your customers what they want, when they want it and how they want it and they will remain loyal.
Short and Sweet
Modern life moves at a lightening pace. With social media and electronic communication as the name of the game, the average amount of time you have to reach and connect with your customer is getting shorter and shorter. According to Shankman, small businesses have approximately 2.7-3 seconds total to gain a customer’s attention – a duration that happens to coincide with the maximum 140 characters of a tweet, or the length of an average text message. In fact, the average user spends less than ten seconds on a webpage and switches screens 27 times in an hour. This minimal time impacts both your ability to connect with customers and your opportunity to serve them well. This makes brevity the new success metric. Learning how to deliver content and service as succinctly as possible will maximize your opportunity to reach your customer. In order to feel understood and connected, customers need to understand what you will do and how it will benefit them. Quickly.
Stay at the top
In order for a small business to succeed, it must stay at the top of customers’ minds. To do this, business owners must dedicate themselves to both forming a sincere connection and providing solid service to customers. Without these factors in place, even the best social advertising will not work. In the current market, customers have become so accustomed to poor service that it is almost expected. In order to rise above the competition, you must aim higher than expectations. By bringing random amazement into normal situations you will create the sort of customer loyalty that businesses dream of.
What do successful small businesses do?
- Focus on treating customers in ways that bring them back for more and ensure they will refer friends.
- Are aware of what their customer’s most important issues are at all times. They find a way to listen to real customers feedback at every possibly opportunity
- Realize that keeping promises is what matters, not just making them.
- Respect and empower frontline employees to deliver superior customer service.
- Understand that solid customer service and engagement is directly related to revenue.
- Don’t forget to maintain focus on the little things, even when the big things threaten to get in the way.
- Use their small size as an advantage to allow them to maintain a personal relationship that is impossible for a larger company.
The Bottom Line
Be brilliant at the basics. Do that, and everything else will come.
— Peter Shankman (@petershankman) May 8, 2014
A continued focus on providing solid and consistent service that focuses on keeping your customers engaged, fulfilling on their desires and responding to concerns will bring them back every time. Satisfied customers are customers who spend money, refer friends and maintain relationships – three vitally important keys for a successful small business. And, just in case that zombie apocalypse moves from frequently referenced pop culture sarcasm to actuality, you can rest easy knowing that Peter Shankman’s advice will have you covered.