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Spend Less, Make More

That title sounds like a cheesy infomercial pitch. How can businesses forced to cut costs grow sales at the same time? I was skeptical when I heard about a new book by veteran consultants Chip Bell and John Patterson called "Take Their Breath Away". Ok.

Bell and Patterson specialize in customer loyalty, and they've worked with firms like Ritz-Carlton and USAA. They write that customer loyalty is now easier than ever to lose as the internet has become a powerful forum for reviews--beware the wrath of TripAdvisor. Angry customers are more likely to comment online than happy customers are. "The customer is not always right," the authors say, "but the customer is always the customer." The authors say to satisfy customers, you need to create a memorable experience. So I asked them to come up with some specific examples of creating that special experience without spending a lot. They gave me a dozen real life cases which I found pretty interesting.

1. Enchant people who are important to your customer.

Miller Brothers, an upscale men's clothing store in Atlanta put a large colorful gumball machine on a table at the store entrance. Beside it was placed a large bowl of pennies. Guess where junior goes when daddy is trying on trousers? Guess which men's store is the buzz at cocktail parties? Sales are up for the store "with the gumball machine".

2. Don't be afraid to do things silly or funky. Today's customers are bored.

Hotel Monaco is a medium priced hotel and part of the Kimpton Group. While most hotel chains are struggling, Hotel Monaco is on the rise. Why? They seek to enchant their business traveling guests with quirky additions to a same-old same-old boring hotel stay. The bathrobe is not plain white, it is leopard skin. Guest can have a goldfish in their room (taken care of by the housekeeper). And, instead of the proverbial mint on the pillow at turn-down, guests find an unexpected treat (a foreign coin, a flower, a lottery ticket, a small bag of popcorn, or who knows).

3. The way to a customer's pocketbook is by way of their heart.

Nicholson-Hardie is a nursery & garden center in Dallas known as the "garden center with the cats." Why? Lounging on top of the large check-out you will find one of two calico cats. Beside them is a business card holder with their business cards: Frankie Cat and Sammie Cat. Their job title? The Rat Pack.

4. Surprise customers with something they do not expect.

A large brokerage company added a twist to their toll-free telephone cue: "Punch 6 if you'd like to hear a duck quack!" Word of the playful feature spread and soon millions of people were weekly calling to hear the duck. The company ultimately removed the unique feature because it overloaded their phone system and ran up a huge tab! But, by the time it was removed, new sales had jumped significantly. The company looked for similar unique ways to create a marketplace buzz.

THINK OF CUSTOMER SERVICE THROUGH YOUR CUSTOMER's EYES

5. Think of customer service through your customer's eyes.

A Boston family adopted an Asian girl. No sooner had she arrived in the U.S. than the family learned she needed to have major surgery. The nine year old child--who spoke only Chinese and had life experiences limited to a small Chinese village and her trip to the U.S.--was very anxious. As she was about to be discharged following successful surgery she was asked through an interpreter, "What most surprised you about your stay here at Children's Memorial Hospital of Boston?" The child smiled and proudly responded, "I did not know my doctor would be Chinese!"

6. Build on what has worked before with customers. (note from Jane: this specific case might scare me...)

A friend of ours raves about Shirley the housekeeper she met during a recent vacation to Walt Disney World. "The first day, when we checked in, I saw the 'Your room was cleaned by Shirley. Have a great stay' note. I noticed the 'i' in Shirley was dotted with a little Mickey. That was cute, but we were at Disney. The third day Shirley really wowed me. I'd left a note asking for more towels. When we returned to the room, there was a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on our bathroom door. Inside, Shirley had taken our morning paper and the eye glasses I'd left by the sink and arranged the extra towels in the form of a man sitting on the toilet reading the daily paper. I laughed so loud - I don't think I'll ever forget that."

7. Think of your customer's world and what will enchant them.

Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, OH, is in close proximity to one of American Honda's large automobile and motorcycle manufacturing plants. To better accommodate Japanese-speaking patients and their visitors, the hospital has provided a card for all employees that gives Japanese translations for common phrases like "When can I see my doctor", and "Please call my family". For more extensive conversations, Japanese interpreters are on call 24 hours a day. Preadmission and patient-education materials also have been translated and reprinted in Japanese, and special menus are available.

8. Empower employees to deliver miracles to your customers.

An elderly patient at Aurora HealthCare's St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee was being released to the custody of her son for a week in bed following surgery. She was only to get up to go to the bathroom. On the day she was to be released, her son had to leave to go out of town for two days. She insisted the hospital let her remain since she had no way to get out of bed without help. A creative nurse allowed her to take home a hospital step down with rails if she would sign a handwritten contract for its return. To the patient it may have looked like an extraordinarily empowered nurse with an "I trust you" attitude. In actuality the hospital allows front line employees to negotiate handwritten contracts with patients when unique circumstances warrant.

9. A little TLC always works to delight customers.

It's the special touches at the Marriott Rivercenter in San Antonio that customers love. Take the business traveler awaiting the arrival of her husband and son for a weekend getaway after a long business conference. They were delayed by severe weather in Dallas, which she mentioned to a hotel staffer. To her surprise, he had milk and cookies sent to her room when the two weary travelers finally arrived at 10 p.m. "The simple, unexpected, gesture of milk and cookies was a welcome surprise," she says.

USE OCCASIONAL MAGIC WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS

10. Use occasional magic with your customers.

Kauffman Tire in Woodstock, GA enjoys taking their customers' breath away with their own special form of magic. When Steve Holloran walked in the store to purchase a tire, he was greeted with, "Welcome back, Mr. Steve." He was blown away since he not visited the store in long time. Pressing the clerk a bit closer on the secret of his incredible memory, the clerk reluctantly admitted how the magic was performed. "When you pulled in the parking lot, we plugged in your license plate number into the computer and then cross referenced the name with our records. We knew you were a prior customer by the time you got to our front door!" Advocate Steve has repeated his special story over and over.

11. Show your customers you really trust them.

The waiters or waitresses at Vincenzo's Ristorante in Omaha, Nebraska, greet patrons at their table with a pitcher of "honor wine" - an excellent Chianti. "Enjoy this if you like," she said to a group of us recently. "We charge by the glass. At the end of the meal just let me know how many glasses you had and I'll add it to your bill." When we asked the owner on our way out how many patrons drink the Chianti he smiled and said, "Most do...it's one of our best features!"

12. Personalize the service experience in ways that surprise customers.

Chip uses a service for refurbishing his laser-printer cartridges. When the "toner low" sign flashes on his laser printer, he pulls the cartridge, ships it to Toner Service, Inc. in St. Louis and within 48 hours gets a refurbished cartridge for about half the cost of a brand new toner cartridge. A "personalized" form letter accompanies the returned laser cartridge. But one letter contained a handwritten P.S.: I'll bet you're real proud of those Cowboys!" The clerk or packer or someone noticed Chip's Texas business address and scrawled a little "value-added" to the letter.

Great Locations:

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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