The truth is that personalized customer service isn’t common anymore. Make it the signature virtue of your business and you can harvest strong loyalty among clients…
By Mary Friese, Minuteman Press International
Summers spent upstate, NY, were filled with fresh air and fishing, but to this day, I remember the old man who owned the hardware shop in town with its rubber and mulch smell and creaky wooden floors. His name was John and he would chat it up with my parents about shared experiences travelling to Ireland and they would all exchange little updates about their kids and their plans for the rest of the summer. He always gave out watermelon-flavored candy sticks; and one time, he was giving out little toys to all the kids who came in with parents making purchases. My brother and cousin were handed toy cap guns and he got to know my family well enough NOT to hand me the play make-up cases he gave to all the other girls. He developed enough history with my family as regular customers that he knew enough to give me a toy gun too.
John didn’t own the only hardware store in town. He was just the best place to go because he welcomed us into his business with as much ease and comfort as he would if we were visiting him at home and he cared about finding solutions to challenges he knew he could solve. We all crave that kind of attention. It was worth something to us as customers and my family wasn’t the only one referring him to newcomers in need of hardware supplies to take care of their cabins. I’m sure the old guy didn’t think much about his “strategy” as he got to know all of his customers, but mastering personalized customer service kept his cash register hopping and kept us all coming back for everything we needed that he could provide.
I’m certain each person reading this can reflect on at least one similar story because the roots of personalized customer service run centuries deep and early entrepreneurs following gut instinct and void of the distraction technology brings simply knew how to deliver it. For the longest time, developing relationships with customers by listening to their stories and helping them with their challenges was the very foundation of customer service for businesses that flourished with healthy customer bases. Yet, with the influx of mass consumerism and heavy-handed digital marketing, more business owners got caught up in the tendency to view clients as faceless numbers – and online businesses simply do not have the ability to truly come to know the people they serve.
We are not just numbers. Look us in the eyes. Get to know us…
Personal attention and the chance to develop close working relationships with clients is taking a dip downward, it seems. Organic, personalized customer service experiences that endear local business owners to us are becoming less common as they lean more heavily on metrics and less on eye-contact and conversation. Truly personal service such as what we all crave has been bastardized in a way, with online companies simply tracking past purchases in order to predict buying trends and spamming us with come-ons that are all too sterile, almost invasive.
Matt Peretz, Minuteman Press International Vice President, confirms the trend many businesses are falling into that shuns personalized customer service with all the niceties attached to caring about and working with people in order to help them meet their own needs. As Matt says, “As we become a more digitally-centered world, customer service becomes very mediocre. Look online and you will see there really is no personalized customer service. When you offer it as a business owner, you stand out in people’s minds because they crave it and they are not getting it.”
Matt continues with a note of optimism for business owners ready to return to truly personal customer service, “If you are going to charge more than online stores you need to provide a reason for the customer to pay more. What the customer wants isn’t always what the customer needs. It’s very typical for a customer to not know the right questions to ask about your product. It’s your job to ask them key questions to better understand why they are buying and direct them to a product or service that fits their needs. For example, if you visit a local pet shop to pick up some food for your dog, you may just be thinking to get what’s on sale. If the staff is knowledgeable and friendly, they will likely ask you questions about your dog to identify what food will be the best. If your dog is elderly, buying the puppy food that’s on sale is not going to be wise. Hopefully, you’ll leave feeling good about your purchase.”
Entrepreneurs wise to the truth about what people crave when they seek services are focusing more energy towards putting the personal touch back into their customer service. Technology can be used intelligently and allow the use of pertinent customer data to help increase the quality of the entire experience of your business, but the trick is using the data to your advantage instead of using the data to do the work for you in a sterile digital marketing effort or an endless cycle of price adjustments based on the numbers alone. Rather, those realizing the unique value of personalization are partnering with marketing professionals within the B2B industry to craft very targeted direct mail campaigns, using variable data printing, for example. Combined with a commitment to interpersonal greetings and interactions at your place of business (where everyone feels known and at home) something as traditional as direct mail campaign that respects individual preferences, tastes and clients’ budgets can be very powerful if you do it as part of a package that protects trust and comfort and the personal attention people so crave. After all, true warmth and a sense of friendship is the cornerstone of personal service and the heart of a healthy customer base.
Gayle Meyeridricks, owner of Minuteman Press Somerset West, in South Africa, exemplifies personalized customer service as it is central to the culture of the number-one rated digital print, design and marketing franchisor, Minuteman Press International.
She thoughtfully composed 6 distinct reasons why the art of attending to your clients’ needs on an individual basis must never be lost if you wish to gain their loyalty:
1. Modern society is all about words like automation, digital, instant, convenience, user-friendly … but when all is said and done, customers want to speak to a person with a face and a name. As an owner of a Minuteman Press franchise, I realize this is crucial to building strong relationships and feel fortunate to be able to offer that to our customers.
2. Personalized customer service is the most powerful marketing tool you have has an owner. You are able to display integrity, offer value, and impart your knowledge and credibility as the owner.
3. Personalized service is key to building a relationship with your customers. As the relationship grows, you gain trust and only then does the trust lead to referrals. People value being valued and they are happy to spread that news. Word-of-mouth is so powerful!
4. I always tell my staff that every single person who makes contact with us, has a problem that needs to be solved. You may call it a need, however, needs become a problem when you don’t know how to solve them. We are thus in the business of solving our customers’ problems. In order to offer great personalized customer service, we need to be “tuned in” to what the problem is and then all we really need to do is sell the solution.
5. Unfortunately, things don’t always go right. It’s when we makes mistakes that you really get an opportunity to show your mettle. The manner in which you fix the problem is very revealing. It is here that personalized customer service is key.
6. Personal deliveries really give you a chance to meet your customer in their own environment. One can learn so much about them, just from décor, photographs and items on display. It gives you the chance to make a personal connection. It also affords you the opportunity to spot a printing need the customer may not have thought of, such as outdated promotional items with old logos, faded flags or posters and last year’s calendar. This attention to detail is really just personalised customer service.
A study from the UK Customer Satisfaction Index shows that customer satisfaction overall has fallen from where it has been. The research they released shows that companies with higher customer satisfaction also boast superior degrees of trust. With the growing complexities attached to technological change there has been a marked decline in trust and combined with economic pressure, customers’ emotional needs are heightened. It is clear from just this research that it is absolutely critical to find authentic ways to connect with your clients in order to encourage continued loyalty.
Jack Reynolds owns Minuteman Press in Torrington, CT and he is a business to business services industry expert with a knack for connecting on a genuine level with people seeking his services. His clients are treated with personalized consultations that serve them so well that they keep coming back for more. Customer intimacy is something that Jack and his fellow franchisees have been conditioned to protect and encourage from their franchisor, Minuteman Press International, a decades-established industry leader. In Jack’s words, “In our shop the way we differentiate ourselves from large stores and online businesses is through personalized consultation and design services. People are conditioned to point and click online because it’s ‘easy and quick’, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best. We have someone who speaks the language of business, who can give people the perfect, customized, personal look for their products and services.
Due to the fact that we have an in-house designer and that designer also makes an effort to get to know the business and the audience of each and every one of our clients, we are able to gain their loyalty and trust. It’s more than developing a look. It’s also what’s going to connect with your clients’ audience and becoming a partner in making those connections happen for them. In a very real sense, we make business owners feel as if they have a marketing person available to them of their very own.”
On top of your existing competition, you must contend with the rise of new businesses online and those who are taking the time to analyze trends and identify what customers really want. If you are among the business owners able to identify the craving for personalized customer service as stronger than ever before, you will be able to nestle into the hearts and minds of clients that will help ensure loyalty and repeat business.
It is clear that that there are basic needs human beings have in order to make meaningful connections and business owners who ignore personalization in favor of just looking at numbers will become irrelevant within their markets, in spite of how tech-savvy they may be.
A business owner really needs to know and practice a few basics
“Know who your customers are. Many times, at Minuteman Press, customers are employees of companies that are simply trying to do their job and part of their job involves buying our services,” adds Michael Jutt, Executive Vice-President and Director of Training. “And frequently, clients of Minuteman Press are owners of their own companies just trying to make a buck. If we serve them properly, treat them with respect, and deliver a great looking project, we make them look good. Always remember, they are people just like us. They want you to know their names, shake their hands, and truly care.
If we make a mistake or if they make a mistake and something goes wrong simply ask, “How would you like us to fix it?”, or “What would you like to see happen?”, or “How can we make this better for you?” It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; just make it right. Just give them what we all want…good old customer service.”
Find your local Minuteman Press design, marketing, printing and promo center at www.minutemanpress.com.
Learn more about Minuteman Press franchise opportunities at www.minutemanpressfranchise.com.