No one can deny that the 2010 business year hasn't been challenging, and as we head into the last quarter, working to improve customer experiences can mean greater customer satisfaction which translates into earnings. Even in the affluent South Florida Palm Beach County area where I live, the increase in retail vacancies and the restaurants that have closed their doors impart a profound impression of only the strong shall survive.
What do successful businesses do to stay alive? I think they start with values. Customers are more selective and demanding, and expect companies to care about them. Assuming retail businesses sell the same products, have the same prices, and offer comparable customer service, who's the victor? It's the company who offers a little more and does it a little differently. As an example, there's a local cafe that many of the area residents gather at in the morning. It's the place like Cheers where everyone knows your name, but there's at least three other local cafes that offer the same great customer service, recognition and friendliness, yet this one small restaurant leads the pack.
What does he do differently? Actually he does a few things quite differently, and he uses innovative ideas to appeal to customers using the community, environment, and charities to expand his customer base and their loyalty. He is very active in local charities, and although he doesn't give away the store, he steps up to the plate with his time. His exuberant personality attracts volunteers, and his sincerity and earnest smile makes him and his entire family irresistible. A few weeks ago one of his customers was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig disease; the cafe owner helped to cater (at a discount) the food during a fundraiser for his family. A month ago this same cafe owner was walking on the beach with me as we tried to save turtle eggs before an anticipated nor'easter.
It's amazing the way he shows his customers how much he really cares, and often employs social media to build relationships, and engage new people to participate in many of these charitable events. Besides knowing that I sneeze when I pepper my eggs, he knows I am a devout animal advocate, and has left animal photos in his cafe that are in desperate need of finding new homes.
Customer satisfaction stretches beyond the boundaries of return policies, surveys, blogs, and contests. It engages us in helping others too; an honorable mission statement for all mankind.