Monthly Archives: October 2012

Creating Loyalty with Exclusive Offers

Don’t you just hate it when you see that a company where you’ve been a loyal customer offers exclusive deals that are available to ‘new’ customers only? What happened to rewarding loyalty?!

I’ve had two just this week, and although I can see the reason they do it, all it does it makes me want to look at their competition to see who can match their offer. This is not the answer to business retention.

There’s always a cost to the acquisition of new customers and not just from the loss of income from the special introductory prices.

Make your loyal customers feel special by putting together bonuses, deals or events which are exclusive to them. This demonstrates your appreciation of their custom, as well as potentially prompting additional business.

Add value to attract attention, set you apart from the competition, and stimulate further sales.  Give people an incentive to try something new, buy something different, or make a return visit.

Allow existing customers to ‘Try Before You Buy’ to encourage them to try something new or entice them away from a competitor for a product they don’t normally buy from you, with no risk to them.  Hold taster events for your new offer or service, and invite existing customers to try out your latest facilities and experience what you offer first-hand, or invite them to bring a friend or customer with them for free next time.

By the way, this is a great way to get feedback too before you take a new product or service to market.


Are customer complaints a good thing?

Do you see complaints is a good thing?

Getting feedback from your guests is essential to gauge whether or not what you offering is right for your target audience. Whether it’s positive or negative and whether you agree with it or not is key to your success.

So why is it then that so many businesses seem to ignore this fact?

There was a time when customers were reserved about giving direct feedback, particularly complaints; they didn’t want to be seen to making a fuss, and anyway if they did complain they felt nothing would change. They would just vote with their feet and just not come back again.

Of course all that’s changed now with the advent of social media; people do complain, but all too often this comes too late for us to remedy the situation and instead of just telling us they tell the whole world.

So the more we can do to get direct feedback, warts and all, the greater the likelihood we have of resolving the situation there and then, turning it around and turning what could have been a tragic moment into a magic moment.

Unless we get people’s feedback we can’t do anything about it.

Most people accepted that with the best will in the world from time to time things go wrong, and how we resolve the situation gets remembered.

 

Prevention is better than cure

Make sure your guests feel comfortable to give feedback at every opportunity.

Face-to-face feedback will always be the most effective and ideally we need to get feedback before it’s too late to do something about it. If what you have provided fails to meet expectations you’d rather know about it before the guest leaves so you can resolve it, there and then.

As well is asking at the end of each course, the meal or their stay, be observant and look out for signs that things aren’t right or that someone wants to get your attention. For example if a diner has hardly touched their steak but eaten everything else that might suggest there was a problem with the steak. Or you hear a guest complaining about the temperature of their room to others in their party probably suggests something that needs investigating.

If you know that something’s not right be up front with your guests and let them know before it becomes a problem. Offer alternatives if necessary and then keep them informed of the situation.

For example if you know their room won’t be ready tell them the situation, offer them the option of afternoon tea in the lounge, or a nice walk they might like to take, and give them an expected time that their room will be ready.

Equally if you’ve a backlog in the kitchen and they may have a wait for their main course let them know as soon as possible. If they are on a tight schedule they may not be prepared to wait but at least they’ve been given the option to choose a simpler dish, skip a course  or as a last resort eat elsewhere before they are committed or you prepare something they don’t have time to eat.

 

Talk to your guests

Being visible in your hotel or restaurant, and making contact with your guests builds rapport and trust. Once you’ve gained this you’re in a far better position to gain valuable feedback first hand.  The same goes for your staff too, so encourage them to talk to your guests. Give them the appropriate training to ask for feedback in the knowledge that they are confidence to deal with feedback – good or bad – in a positive way. Bare in mind your guests will tell you things that they wouldn’t feedback to your staff, and vice versa.

 

Ask the right questions

Making statements such as “I hope you enjoyed your meal” or “was everything all right for you?” is not likely to get the customer to open up. We need to ask specific questions that will give something more than a yes or no. Open questions starting with how or what are the most useful; for example how would you rate …, how could we improve on …, what did you like most about ….

I don’t mean put guests on the spot. If you’ve already got a good rapport with your guests you’ll be able to do this quite naturally in a conversational way.

Guests will be flattered if you ask for their opinions. So also ask for their feedback on how things can be improved and their recommendations and new ideas. Then keep them up to date with the changes they’ve made to demonstrate that you have been listening. What a great excuse to invite them back again to show them the changes you’ve implemented?

Capture the good and the bad. Even if you don’t agree with feedback you need to find out (tactfully) what has led to their perception, as this may lead to the root of the problem.

Questionnaires are impersonal and few people like to fill them in except maybe when they’re really unhappy about something. The more you can find out through a two-way conversation with your customers the better. But it does give those who didn’t want to say anything at the time, perhaps because they were embarrassed or didn’t want to make a fuss in front of their party a chance to feedback.

 

Online reviews

Love them or hate them, online reviews do get read and will influence prospective customers. Sadly statistically people are more likely to be prompted to post a review if they’ve a bad experience than when they’ve had a good one. So aim to redress this balance, by encouraging as many as your guests as possible to post reviews, so you get the good ones as well as (hopefully only occasional) bad ones.

Display your confidence by encouraging your guests and website visitors to link to TripAdvisor and other review sites. One of the easiest things you could do is to put a link from your website, and on your post stay e-mails, and prompt people who have enjoyed their stay to post a review.

But the least you can do is show people you appreciate the feedback (good or bad) by responding quickly to the feedback you receive. Register with TripAdvisor, etc. and set up a Google alert so you know whenever anyone is talking about your business online, so that you can monitor your reviews by receiving notifications.

This is particularly important for negative feedback to show that you have looked into the situation and taken things on board. If I see a complaint online that the management hasn’t made a reply to I think they don’t care.

Feedback that you feel is unjustified can be frustrating, but the way in which you handle this will reflect on your professionalism and reputation, so deal with it in a constructive way. Take the discussion off-line as quickly as possible by asking them to phone you. This then provides an opportunity for you to get more detail and having a better chance of resolving the situation without having to share the discussion with the rest of the world.

Don’t be too concerned about the occasional negative comment. This demonstrates authenticity of the content and in some cases can actually help to highlight the type of hotel you are. For example, if you have a comment that the hotel is not child friendly, this may be seen as a positive for some potential guests.

Watch out too for feedback through Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites so you can respond accordingly.

 

Dealing with negative feedback

It can be easy to get defensive when we receive feedback, particularly when we feel it is not justified or we totally disagree with it. What we need to ask is what led to this customer’s perception. This sometimes involves asking questions in a tactful way. The key thing is to show some empathy with the customer’s point of view.

Even if we disagree, something must have triggered their perception.  So listen to what your guest is saying, and aim to turn a negative into a positive. The least you can do is apologise (even if you’re just apologising that they feel that way) and demonstrate what changes you’ve made if appropriate.

 

Empower your team

Develop a culture of customer service amongst your team. Give your team the skills and authority to deal with complaints as they happen. Encourage them and train them how to ask for feedback and just as importantly how to respond when they get complaints or negative feedback.

This is far better for the customer because it gets a quicker solution, far better for the team member because they’re able to deal with it which gives them pride, and far better for you because it means you don’t have to always been involved. This doesn’t mean to say that don’t want to hear about complaints particularly if there are common recurring problems that need to be resolved.

Don’t assume because you’ve told people how to do something they will be able to just go out and deliver it consistently.  It’s all very well knowing what to say, but you know how sometimes when you come to say something the words just don’t trip off the tongue as you might hope!  Let your team practise in a safe environment, based on different scenarios.

Agree with them their levels of authority so they know just how much leeway they have in offering the customer/guest compensation, and at what point they may need to involve a manager.

Observe how your staff handle complaints and give them feedback after the event on what they did well, what they could do more of, and give the appropriate support and guidance on areas where they need more help.

It’s all too easy when we hear of a complaint to blame someone in the team for the problem. Put the team first and they’ll reward you with avoiding problems.

 

Here’s a little checklist you may find useful:

LEAF

Listen

  • Listen to the customer – they want to get it off their chest – You need to identify the problem
  • Show you’re listening – remember your body language and keep eye contact
  • Reflect back to the customer to check your understanding and show the customer you’ve understood
  • Park the emotion and focus on the facts

Empathise

  • Apologise – this isn’t necessarily accepting responsibility, but apologising that they’ve been put out or disappointed or that they feel that way
  • Do not take it personally
  • Show you care and that you understand their concern, why they might be disappointed or why they feel angry
  • They’re not interested in excuses – even if the problem wasn’t your fault show that you’re looking to come to a solution to the problem for your guest

Action

  • And ask what they would see as an acceptable solution
  • Offer alternatives so the customer feels they are in control of the solution
  • Look to overcompensate by at least a few percent – there’s no need to go overboard but just consider what would be reasonable for both parties – It’s not always about throwing money at the problem
  • Tell the customer what you are going to do and not why things went wrong (unless that’s what they ask)

Follow Up

  • Keep your promise and deliver
  • Check that the customer is happy with the outcome
  • Learn from the feedback you’ve had and look into recurring trends – aim to prevent a similar complaint happening again
  • Pass on to your team so they know how to resolve similar situations in future

With the right approach complaints can turn a negative into positive. You can’t always get everything right, but when you don’t make sure you fix it!

Join me on my webinar this Wednesday when I’ll be discussing:

“7 critical things to ensure you stay on your customers’ radar to tap into the EASY business that’s right under your nose”

Register here

 

Caroline Cooper


5 Keys to Customer Loyalty

Why is loyalty important

There are only 3 ways to get more sales – get new customers, get customers to spend more, and get customers to come back more often.  Most businesses focus all their marketing efforts on the first option of getting more customers and miss the easier option of getting more sales from existing customers. It’s certainly a lot harder  (and more expensive) to gain a new customer than it does in getting repeat business from your existing ones.

So whatever your business be it a bar, hotel, B&B or restaurant, any business needs to place as strong an emphasis on keeping existing customers as it does on gaining new ones.

What you are doing to convert this extra business into loyal customers who will return time and again?

Loyal customers who know, like and trust you are also far more likely to refer you to others. So even if a repeat visit isn’t on the cards they may still generate more business for you indirectly.

Here are five key factors in establishing customer loyalty. None of these are new or revolutionary, but there may be one or two areas where you may want to make some minor changes to be making the best of the opportunities.

 

Understand and Love your customers

I won’t dwell on this point as I covered this in a recent post, but bear in mind no one will want to do business with you if there’s no rapport between you. The more at ease you are and the more you have in common with your customers the better you’ll feel and the better the experience they have too.

Show you understand your customers’ needs. The more you get to know your customers the easier it is to anticipate their needs, and deliver what they want on a consistent basis to keep them satisfied. Keep up-to-date with what your customers want from you by listening to them. Get to know your customers and be visible in your bar, restaurant or hotel, making personal contact with your customers to build rapport and trust. They are then far more likely to tell you what they want and what would encourage them to return.

Avoid being so bound by your own rules that you can’t be flexible. If they’d like something from the restaurant menu in the bar, or a dish from the a la carte to replace something on the table d’hôtel is it such an issue? If a guest wants a lie in and would like breakfast at 11.30, is this really that big a problem if it means they enjoy their stay and tell their friends? If they’d like to take their desert home in a goody bag because they are too full to enjoy it, then let them.

 

Giving Outstanding Service

Get the basics right. Ensure your customers’ second, third, or 30th visit is as good as their first. Have systems in place to ensure you’re able to deliver the same level of service on a consistent basis. Take the customer journey regularly, and see everything from a customer’s perspective. Be sure to under promise and over deliver. With regular customers this means continuous improvement, as they will have set expectations, which we need to strive to exceed on every visit. Simple things delivered well will always be better than trying to be over sophisticated and delivering it badly.

Wow your customer Do something different that help you to stand out from your competition. Home in on the things that are of high value to your customers but low cost to you so you can give added value. Give people a reason to talk about you. Always look for an opportunity to go that extra mile to wow your customer to make it really difficult for them to ever contemplate not coming back to you. Always leave them with that open invitation and tempt them to return.

Last impressions. What will your customers remember most about their visit to your bar, hotel or restaurant? What happens in the last few moments of their visit that will undoubtedly influence their lasting impression? Show you appreciate their custom; a sincere thank you in person goes a long way. Give them a little memento to take home with them as a lasting reminder: a box of homemade petit fours, jam or pickles or gift bag of your exclusive toiletries for your leisure guests, or quality logoed accessories for your corporate market. Obviously this needs to be in line with your margins, but even something as small as a print out of the ingredients of their favourite cocktail or the recipe of a dish they asked about, or printing out directions for their onward journey.

 

Spot Your opportunities

Listen to customers so you can spot opportunities for additional sales. Not just for your own business, but for other local, sister or complimentary businesses too. A visit to a neighbouring attraction, place of interest or even another hospitality business might still generate spin off business for you (and vice versa).

Ensure everyone fully understands your products and services so they can spot opportunities. This doesn’t mean ramming unwanted offerings down people’s throats, but picking up on an interest or need and helping to find the right solution or offering suggestions that the guest or visitor may not have thought of themselves or been aware of – a win-win.

Train and empower your team to be flexible so they can tailor offers to best suit the customers’ needs and make appropriate recommendations.

You team also need to know the level of service that your customers expect, and have the appropriate training, tools and systems in place in order for them to deliver this. Brief your team so that they too can recognise and remember your loyal customers and empower them to deliver what your customers want and expect. In the unfortunate event that your customers have cause to complain, give your staff the training, confidence and authority to deal with complaints promptly. Your recovery of the situation can in itself earn you brownie points.

 

Acknowledge Loyalty

I read recently it’s estimated that over two thirds of customers will fail to return if they feel unappreciated. This is the number one reason businesses lose customers.

Ask for feedback. Never take your regular customers for granted; ask for their feedback and resolve any shortfalls quickly. Problems or challenges are often your opportunity to shine and leave a positive lasting impression if dealt with positively. Now’s a chance to exceed expectations. Face to face feedback will always win over a comments form or questionnaire.  Ask them what they like and what disappoints them if anything, so you can learn from this and continually improve.  Customers will be flattered if you ask for their opinions. So also ask for their feedback on how things can be improved and their recommendations and new ideas. Then keep them up to date with the changes they’ve made to demonstrate that you have been listening. What a great excuse to invite them back again to show them the changes you’ve implemented?

Show your appreciation of their custom with a simple thank you message. Naturally you’ll do this in person. But for B&Bs or hotels you might follow up with a simple personalised thank you note a few days later to show your appreciation. Anything that will give them something to remember you by, especially if it is handwritten and tailored to them. Some think that in this web based age that this is out dated; how would your customers react to receiving something in the post, rather than clogging up their email inbox?

Remember them. Not only addressing your customers by name (although don’t under estimate the impact when someone remembers your name especially when you aren’t expecting it – and getting the spelling right when you’re writing it down). It’s also about remembering their preferences. Do they have any particular likes and dislikes, what is their favourite table or room, do they have any particular requirements such as a late check in or special diet. How do they like their drinks mixed? Do we know their birthday or any special anniversaries? Remembering such details will always be appreciated. And although you may know this regular customer, do your staff know them too. Record their personal details and any special requirements so whoever is on duty the welcome your customer receives is consistent.

Reward their loyalty with exclusive deals that have genuine benefits. How does it make you feel when you see promotions offering special deals for new customers that aren’t available to you as an existing customer? Make your loyal customers feel special by putting together packages or deals which are exclusive to them. This again demonstrates your appreciation of their custom, as well as potentially prompting additional bookings. As a loyal customer, the last thing you want to hear about is an offer that’s only available to ‘new’ customers.

Know your competition. Keep an eye on your competitors, what they are charging, new services they offer, improvements, marketing promotions, etc. Make sure your services are the best value for the money. You do not necessarily have to lower your prices when your competitors do, but make sure your customers know that you are worth the extra money. Stay competitive. I’m not just talking about other hospitality businesses; your customers will compare you with anyone else who delivers a service. So as long as you deliver a five-star service you’re going to compare favourably with all your ‘competition’.

 

Build Long term relationships

Keep in touch. Out of sight is out of mind so even if your customers are only likely to visit you once a year, keep in touch with them for the whole year so that when they are considering a night out, a celebration or weekend away you are very firmly in their mind.

Let them know what other things of interest you have going on, you never just know, it could just tip the balance in favour of them coming to see you as an extra visit. What are the things that they didn’t’ get a chance to experience on their last visit: something new, something seasonal, something they didn’t have time for – not just at your bar, restaurant or hotel but locally.

Continue to build credibility by letting your loyal customers know what you’ve done, awards, accolades, events, services they didn’t even know about.

Remain on their radar by your presence on social media. Do your homework first and find out the best options to suit your customers. If you’ve make a great impression initially this keeps this going, and makes the referral process much more likely too.

Remember: Out of site is out of mind; stay on their radar! Even if they don’t want to book anything with you next week, next month or even next year, if they remember who you are as and when they’re ready you’ll be the first place they think of and they’ll know where to find you