With the busiest time of year fast approaching, it is easy to overlook the holidays that bookend the season. In the mayhem of adding more staff, squeezing in additional training, and going over new protocols, it is sometimes easy to forget what the season is about: gratitude. You don’t need me to remind you of the importance of showing gratitude throughout the year, but today we’ll focus on four ways to show gratitude to all those who make your business possible, namely your employees and customers.
As businesses seek out more efficient ways to remain competitive, sometimes what gets overlooked are the personal touches that are so important to customer and employee retention. It is no longer enough to simply deliver customer service in a courteous and prompt manner. Forging lasting relationships with customers and employees requires a genuine emotional connection, with gratitude at its core. With our 24/7 tethers to technology, a human connection becomes increasingly important. The underlying theme in the following four tips is authenticity. If your efforts aren’t authentic then they’ll ring hollow and your efforts will be for naught.
Tip #1—Emotionally Connecting
Thanking your customers is different than expressing heartfelt gratitude. Saying “thank you” at the close of a transaction is a common courtesy, not a genuine expression of gratitude. To express gratitude is to elevate the customer service experience to a business strategy that can be woven into your company culture. Customer retention goes hand-in-hand with a company culture that recognizes the importance of customers being acknowledged, thanked, and recognized for their loyal patronage.
The same holds true with employees. Happy, loyal employees lead to happy and loyal customers.
Creating successful customer appreciation programs hinges on authentic customer experiences. Customers can easily sniff out thinly disguised merchandising programs designed to generate sales, so it’s important that your appreciation program is personalized and genuine. Some ways to offer personalized care include:
- Going off-script—Give agents the autonomy to connect with their customers by having a conversation
- Using people’s names—Using a person’s name lets them know you’re focused on them as an individual
- Writing handwritten notes—Whether employee or customer, a quick handwritten note lets them know they are important enough to merit a few minutes of your time to express your appreciation
- Communicate with a smile—Speaking with a smile sets a positive tone and even if you can’t be seen, your attitude can be detected
Tip #2— Acknowledging Complaints with Gratitude
While dealing with complaints may not seem to have an obvious correlation with gratitude, it does. Customer complaints provide opportunities to turn them into positives and learn where service gaps may exist. If the customer has taken the time to complain, it’s important to take the time to respond, and quickly. Some simple questions to keep in mind when someone complains are:
- How can this complaint help us improve our service or product?
- Was there a gap in our service that our customer just identified?
- How can we learn from this complaint and add value to the customer’s experience?
Being on the receiving end of customer complaints is no easy job. Agents who spend their day diffusing customer complaints feel the toll of being on the front-line. When managers take the time to acknowledge the challenge inherent with the job and show their gratitude for a job well done, the employee feels appreciated, which makes doing a good job easier. Gratitude flows both directions: from manager to employee, from employee to customer and ultimately from customer to company.
Tip #3—Open and Honest Communication
Communicating openly and honestly creates a level of trust that allows messages of gratitude to be taken to heart. If conversations are passive-aggressive, then your messages of appreciation will be dismissed. Honest communication needs to happen between manager and employee and employee and customer. It is okay to say, “I don’t know” rather than give an answer that you can’t be accountable for. Training is essential to teach employees how to say “I don’t know, but let me find the answer for you.” Customers would rather hear the truth than be placated and disappointed in the end. When communication is open and honest, our words then mean something, which builds trust and leads to a more authentic experience. Even if the message contains a criticism, if a culture of trust is in place then these criticisms can be heard and acted on knowing there is no hidden agenda.
Zappos has posted their core beliefs on their website, and belief number six states: “Fundamentally, we believe that openness and honesty make for the best relationships because that leads to trust and faith.” Zappos is often recognized as one of the top businesses in delivering excellent customer service and creating a culture of respect and loyalty amongst its employees, so rather than re-invent the wheel, why not follow in a successful business’s footsteps!
There is no getting around the fact that loyal customers expect some perks for sticking with your company or product. Loyalty programs are a great way to let your customers know that their business is valued. Successful loyalty programs don’t take a scattershot approach, nor do they rely solely on discounts. The idea behind loyalty programs is to foster and encourage a long-term relationship with your best customers. Physical prizes or earned bonuses have more impact with customers rather than a discount. Your loyalty program should dovetail with your overall brand strategy, so customers are given a reason to return to your business or product, even if they don’t need it.
If your loyalty rewards program is built on accumulating points, make sure that redemption isn’t cumbersome or complicated. If there are too many hurdles your efforts may backfire and leave the customer feeling frustrated rather than flattered.
Loyalty programs built off metrics that track buying patterns will help you identify those customers who matter most to your bottom line. It’s easier to retain a customer than try and woo a new one, so use these metrics to learn who your most loyal customers are and then reward them appropriately.
Some of the best places to work are those where teams are grateful for what they receive and aren’t afraid to express sincere appreciation whenever it is merited. The healthiest places to work are those where individuals, no matter what their position, accept and give compliments gracefully without second-guessing the motivation. When customers are recognized and feel appreciated for their continued patronage, they remain loyal. When businesses seek to expand team and individual gratitude and graciousness, the work environment becomes healthier. Negativity slips away, employees feel appreciated, customers feel valued and your efforts will be reflected in the bottom line.