Building Customer Relationships
No matter your industry, having deep and authentic customer relationships is essential. The following is a collection of ideas and occurrences on how to develop better relationships with people. A majority of this information was pulled from two of my favorite books, The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Both are truly incredible, and I highly recommend reading them. But if you’re just looking for a summary, this blog is a great place to start. I have broken the ideas into nine important sections.
Part 1 – Know Who You Are Working With
Wow – I know. Common sense, right? As simple as it may sound, it is unfortunately too often forgotten. Growing up in the sports world, I always heard the line “know your players.” As a coach, you always need to know the ins and outs of each person on your team. What makes them “tick”? How can you behave around them to help motivate them to reach their true potential? Someone that needs soft guidance and a lot of positive reinforcement probably would crumble if you raised your voice to yell at them after a missed shot. Instead of feeling motivated on the next opportunity to score, they will feel crushed and unconfident. Whereas someone who likes proving people wrong might enjoy being told that they are “terrible” every once and a while.
Mr. Carnegie gave a great example of this in his book. He talks about how much he loves berries and cream. It is by far one of his favorite desserts. On a completely different note, he also loves fishing. Now when he goes fishing, even though he loves berries and cream, he knows not to put fruit on a hook and expect to catch fish. Fish love worms; therefore, worms are his bait of choice.
Remember this whenever you are working with new and existing customers. What is going to “hook” them? You have to make sure you are approaching them with their interests in mind first!
Part 2 – Be Genuinely Interested
This is by far the most important component. Being genuinely interested in your customers’ lives will really win them over. This can be shown in so many ways. A huge thing – always, always, always, address people by name. People love hearing the sound of their name. Also, ask deep and personal questions. Get to know about their family. Ask how they got into their industry. When people open up and share a story with you, don’t be so quick to jump in to share a similar experience that you had. First, ask the individual more questions about their story. This shows that you are actually interested in what they have to say, rather than just jumping in at the first opportunity to hear your own voice. Generally, people do like to feel relatable, so sharing a personal experience isn’t always bad. However, you should make sure you hear all they have to say about their story first.
Now you might be thinking to yourself, “I meet way too many people to be able to remember everyone’s name, let alone the names of their family members.” I have good news for you – you don’t have to! I used to work at a resort in the event industry where I was the manager for one to three multiday corporate events a week while simultaneously planning fifty-plus future events. This meant I was meeting new people constantly – easily hundreds every month. Since a majority of my events were annual, I knew it was incredibly important for me to remember the names of everyone I met and worked with because, more than likely, I would be working with them again in the future. What I am about to tell you is going to make me sound creepy, but you know what? This strategy worked, so I am willing to appear that way if it means I can help someone a bit! I created a client spreadsheet where I would jot down every bit of information the client would share with me. That way, the next time I spoke to them, I could be very specific with questions. Instead of asking, “How is your daughter doing?” I could say, “How was your daughter Jill’s dance recital last month?”. People LOVED it. It was never that I didn’t genuinely care; it was just that I was having a hard time retaining specific details when I was meeting so many people. Remember, just because a client tells you something unrelated to the project you are working on does not make it unimportant. Jot that information down and ask them about it at a later date. They will just appreciate you showing interest.
Here’s a quote to live by: “You can make more friends in 2 months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you”. If you are authentic and making an effort, people will take notice.
Part 3 – Do Not Hesitate to Admit Fault
Simply put, when you’re wrong, you’re wrong. No ifs, ands, or BUTS about it. Seriously. Stop using the word “but” or “however” in your apologies. Our instincts tell us to defend ourselves, though you are more likely to gain empathy if you do not make excuses for your actions. Let’s say you’re a cashier, and at the end of your shift, you realize you are about $20 short. More than likely, when your manager finds out, he or she is going to be upset with you and probably speak to you about being more responsible. He or she might then begin listing off consequences for your actions. Instead, try to go to your manager first. Tell him or her that you have made a mistake and apologize profusely. Then go on to explain how it was irresponsible and start listing off some of your own consequences. More than likely, your manager will step up to defend you! He or she will be more understanding that mistakes happen and will mention that this is unlike your character.
Part 4 – Changing People Without Causing Offense or Resentment
Rather than telling someone not to do something, tell a personal story that ended in failure, or at least did not end well. The last thing you want to say to them is, “That’s an awful idea,” which can be said in different ways than just verbatim. Instead, compliment them for their initiative, but then go on to say, “I once tried something similar, and here’s how it played out for me….”. If done successfully, you enter a realm of empathy here. You would not have made this connection if you had just pointed out that they are wrong.
Part 5 – The Idea Does Not Have to Be Yours
Never get too hung up on your pride. Let people within your group take credit for things, even if you think you were the one who thought of it first. When meeting with customers, it is your job to make them feel good. If he or she feels good about themselves during your conversations with them, they are going to have those positive experiences implemented into their brain. They are going to want to continue developing a relationship with you as they like the way they feel around you. Depending on your industry, there has to be a good balance here. You don’t want the customer to think that he or she can do everything on his or her own and not need your services. As long as we do a good job executing his or her idea or service request, does it really matter who came up with the idea or solution in the first place? Harry S. Truman once said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit for it.” If you execute your job correctly, your customers will always come back.
Part 6 – Get People Saying “Yes” Immediately
Get your customer comfortable with saying “yes” by asking them something small immediately, then eventually working your way up to larger questions and requests. People will feel a lot more comfortable agreeing to things if they are eased into it. There was a case study done on how to increase volunteers at animal shelters. A shelter went to a college and gave a presentation on animal rights. After the presentation was complete, the animal shelter asked the students to sign up to volunteer to work two hours at the shelter on a Saturday morning. Only 18% of the students said they would participate. Later on, the shelter went and presented at a different school. This time, they asked the students to sign a petition on animal rights and did not mention anything about volunteering. Only after the students signed the petition were they asked to do the two-hour volunteer work. To their surprise, the number of volunteers doubled! When the students were asked after they signed the petition, they felt like they were already a part of something. Since the students had just pledged on the petition that they were for animal rights, they felt as if they needed to prove this in some way.
Part 7 – Give Honest & Sincere Appreciation
Let your customers know that you truly appreciate them. A note here, this is NOT flattery. Remember, flattery is of the tongue; appreciation is from the heart. Don’t ever just say, “thank you.” Say “I’m thankful for…” and explain in detail what you are grateful for. It does not have to be some grand gesture.
Back when I was in the event industry, I would send a handwritten thank you card to each of my clients. In this card, I would include one positive memory I had from their event and something I was looking forward to when I had the chance to work with them again. This way, the individual could tell that I was not just copying from a standard script that I sent to everyone after working with them (we will get more into breaking the script in part 9). I was writing them a very personalized note.
There are so many other ways to show appreciation as well. You can give random customer shoutouts on social media, send gifts, host events, send happy birthday wishes, and so much more! People just enjoy being recognized.
Part 8 – Give Your Customer a GREAT Reputation
If you are meeting a new client for the first time and have heard about your client before, tell them. Tell them all the positives you have heard about them and their business. Tell them about your high expectations. Believe it or not, they will want to live up to whatever it is you tell them. This can work on the opposite end as well. If your client messes up, you can call them out on it. Mention how the behavior is unlike them, and reiterate the high opinion you have of them. Typically, they will try their best to live up to the standard you set for them.
Part 9 – Memories are Built off of Peaks and Valleys
It’s time for you to break the script. Customers are no longer amazed by what is expected. You have to go above and beyond to be recognized and remembered. Our memory is built off of a series of peaks and valleys. Meaning, long-term, we generally only remember life’s greatest and worst moments. Listed below are several great examples of how companies have done more than what was expected of them.
The Magic Castle – Los Angeles, California
Okay, I need you to stop here briefly and go google The Magic Castle in Los Angeles, California. Go ahead – I’ll wait. What you will see is what comes to my mind when somebody says “think of your typical beach motel.” Nothing too special. If anything, maybe slightly run down. It has everything it needs to be a functioning hotel, but at first glance, there’s nothing eye-catching about it. In fact, it looks incredibly drab compared to hundreds of other extravagant hotels that LA has to offer. You would never guess that this hotel is the 8th highest ranked hotel out of 396 in Los Angeles. How, you might ask? For starters, they have excellent customer service. But that’s not all – they offer something very unique compared to their competitors.
This hotel knows its primary target market is families. They have introduced a cool feature at their pool called the Popsicle Hotline. It is a red telephone that kids can use at any time to order any flavor popsicle they like. A man or woman will then come out dressed as a butler with white gloves carrying a tray full of popsicles. The kids LOVE it, and the parents love that their kids love it. Everyone is happy. It’s such a simple gesture, but it goes a super long way with their guests.
Ritz-Carlton – Amelia Island, Florida
Another extraordinary hotel example is what the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island did for a family of three after they had checked out of the hotel. The young son of this family had accidentally left his stuffed giraffe, Joshie, at the hotel. He was absolutely devastated without his stuffed companion. To console his son, the dad told him that Joshie had just decided to extend his vacation at the hotel. The dad reached out to the hotel management team and asked if they were able to find his son’s giraffe and if they would be willing to ship it to them. A few days later, the family received a package in the mail. It was Joshie, but he wasn’t alone. Inside the package, there was also a binder full of pictures. The hotel staff had taken Joshie around the entire resort, taking photos of him by the pool, at the spa with cucumbers over his eyes, driving a golf cart, and more! The boy was ecstatic, and the parents were super impressed. You have to imagine that they told almost everyone they knew about this experience, as it is such a heartwarming story. The hotel by no means had to do any of this, but they wanted to make that little boy’s day and provide an overall excellent experience.
Restaurant – Location Unknown
A restaurant decided that they wanted to do something a little different to help their customers remember them and to also show appreciation. At the beginning of each shift, the manager would select a couple of members of their team to give away a free item off their menu to the table of their choosing. That employee could give away a drink, entree, appetizer, dessert, etc., to whatever table they would like. Customers loved it. It was great and unexpected. The key thing here is that it was random. The customers never expected it and didn’t come back thinking they would get it again. However, receiving that free gift implemented a positive experience in their mind about the restaurant.
Disney World – Orlando Florida
Disney World is arguably one of the best, if not the best, theme parks in the world. For those of us who have been, most would say that their trip was incredible and a definite “peak” experience. Why is this? The book The Power of Moments dives deeper into what they call the “Disney Paradox.” If you think about it, Disney World was built in Florida, in the middle of a swamp that was originally the designated habitat for bugs, alligators, snakes, and more. For most of our trip, we are surrounded by large groups of sweaty people and screaming children. It is incredibly humid, and everything is way overpriced. So why is it that we love it so much? Based on those facts alone, we should HATE it, right?
We love Disney World because it allows us to spend time with the ones that we love. We can ride fun roller coasters that pump our adrenaline. We are surrounded by an excellent staff that treats us like we are “special” and make us feel like we matter. For parents, we can see our kids smile. And for kids, they are surrounded by their favorite characters from their favorite movies. It is a truly magical experience.
Resort – Personal Example
When I worked at a resort, we were encouraged to speak to guests. My office was located on the top floor of one of our hotels. You know that uncomfortable feeling when you get on an elevator with a complete stranger? And there is this lingering silence between you as you impatiently wait for the elevator to arrive at your destination? Well, that was my life, multiple times a day. EVERY DAY. So yes, I essentially lived in an introvert’s worst nightmare. But with our company policy, we had to interact with guests. Understandably, I was always nervous to strike up a conversation. What if they ignore me? What if the conversation goes south quickly? However, I found that oftentimes, people do enjoy talking! They just need to be prompted. I realized that while I might be at work, most of our guests were on vacation and typically in a wonderful mood. They wanted to share their day and their vacation, even if that meant talking to a stranger on the elevator. I met several wonderful people by doing this and found that even though I was technically “required” to interact with them, I wanted to!
There is one woman in particular that I remember meeting in the elevator. She was young, maybe late 20’s or early 30’s. She told me she had come to the hotel every year since she was born. It was a family tradition that she now got to share with her two children. She then told me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer earlier that year and was afraid she was not going to be able to make the trip. Luckily, she had been feeling well enough to come and was ecstatic that she had decided to push through everything and come. Once again, she was having a wonderful time with her family, as she does every year. The trip was allowing her to escape from her situation a bit.
At the resort, managers had a “charge” card that we were encouraged to use to treat guests as we saw fit. I went and purchased two toys, one for both of her kids, a massage for her, and a round of golf for her husband. I then went, and hand wrote a card and had the management office sign the card as well. We purchased a Milk and Cookies room service delivery that evening and included these gifts along with it. It felt great being able to do something for such a dedicated person.
Resources (Books & Videos)