Have you ever asked a slightly larger albeit decidedly unpregnant lady when the baby was due? Ever referred to a squeaky-voiced guy as ‘Mrs’ over the telephone? Don’t worry, you’re not alone; these faux pas are an unfortunate (if slightly amusing) fact of life.
But despite best intentions, it’s not so amusing to be on the receiving end of a misplaced nicety. I’m sure you don’t need me to give you a lecture in playground etiquette and ethics; I just mention it because, despite how obvious the pitfalls are, they can still prove difficult to avoid.
Likewise, interacting with your customers isn’t rocket science but it can be easy to say the wrong thing or make the wrong impression. Here’s three simple ways to cultivate stronger long-term brand loyalty.
1. Cut the BS
All too often a brand—or more accurately the brand ambassadors within the company such as sales teams and copywriters—will start to believe their own hype. Don’t get me wrong, a certain amount of faith and belief in something is required in order to sell it; but so is the ability to have an open and honest two-way dialogue, maintained with an empathetic ear and a grounded outlook.
People have more choice than ever when deciding who to buy things from. As a result, they’ve heard it all before from competitors. If you’re the next phony in line to deliver empty promises and cheesy sales lines, you’ll do more harm than good. The following check-list should help you stay on track:
- Don’t use rigid sales scripts – Listen to customers intently and tailor your sales approaches to add value to the individual.
- Don’t ignore or twist customer requests to suit your existing set-up – Twist your products and services to suit the customer wherever possible; and be up-front and honest when you can’t.
- Don’t insult the customer’s intelligence by trying to pull the wool over their eyes or divert attention – As the legendary ad-man once said:
The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife”.
So treat your customers with the respect they deserve!
2. Messages in context
Getting the right message across is crucial. However sometimes, if we don’t put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, it can be easy to get the right message across but in the wrong way.
For example, are the people you engage with your ‘customers’, ‘clients’, ‘guests’, ‘community’, ‘subscribers’? Perhaps they are ‘members of the distribution network’ if they would go on to re-sell your products and services. It seems like a small thing, but if you misinterpret (or miscommunicate) the role of the buyer in the relationship, they will feel like you misunderstand them as individuals—their aims, needs, goals etc—even if if your promotions and propositions address them all quite succinctly.
Ultimately, we all like to be treated a certain way and to be talked to in a certain manner. Show your customers that you understand them by addressing them in the terms that they are most comfortable with. They will respond accordingly.
3. Face the challenge – admit your mistakes
We’re not 5 years old any more. When we smash one of Grandma’s vases, we own up to it and say sorry rather than hiding the broken glass in the cat litter tray. Honesty and humility are just as important in business.
We all make mistakes: Emails get sent to the wrong recipients, return phone calls get forgotten, packages get lost. If you are only making occasional mistakes, the customers on the receiving end will generally understand… so long as you respond properly. For example, avoid;
- Adamantly denying any knowledge when the mistake was as clear as day.
- Telling the customer they are wrong (yes they can make mistakes, but the customer is still always right, particularly when they’re upset).
- Passing the buck to other departments or businesses in the supply chain.
- Getting defensive and/or taking offense to the complaint.
- Getting scared and doing an ostrich, burying your head and waiting for it all to go away.
But the very worst response—the sin of all sins—is to play the martyr. Too often I get told that a company who have messed something up will, “fix it this time [sigh]”, or make a “one-off” arrangement. That’s not good enough. The mistake shouldn’t have happened in the first place and the person on the receiving end absolutely expects that the fix (whatever that may be) will be done and will be done for free. It should be a given, not a favour.
If a customer is complaining to you, that means they were under the impression that you were in charge. If you’re not responsible, your mistake was miscommunication of expectations in the first place; so doing any of the things in the list above still won’t vindicate you. The one and only first step is admitting that a mistake has been made.
Then, go above and beyond to show the customer that you care on an individual level and that you are making a concerted effort to make sure it doesn’t happen again – not to them, not to anyone. And don’t act like you’re doing it just to put the ugly mess behind you; act like you’re embracing the mistake as an opportunity to strive for perfection. Involve them by asking them for even more feedback and suggestions.
Do that and you’ll soon find that you can actually create fantastic PR opportunities and strengthen relationships with your customers, even when things don;t go entirely to plan!