Going Off-Script to Delight Customers

I had an exciting moment while grocery shopping last week. After 10 years of going to the same market and seeing the same checkers, one of them actually pronounced my name right as I was leaving.

I know my last name’s a bit hard to pronounce, and clerks have spent the better part of the 21st century asking me how to say it. I also know that, at the market where I shop, clerks are instructed to thank customers at the end of transactions by using their last names — as in, “thank you, Mr. Bucholtz.”

It’s a way to try to mandate that the checkers are involved in creating the customer experience. Little things like that do matter — but do they matter as much when the employee interacting with the customer is required to do something?

Act Naturally

No customer has ever said, “I really enjoyed my experience buying from that company because of their CRM application.” However, you hear all the time from customers whose experience was made better by an employee.

We all have stories of employees doing something that made a buying experience special. It might be a bit of specialized service, something free thrown in with a purchase, or just something nice said because the employee knows you as a customer well enough to remember something personal about you.

The one thing all these experience boosters have in common is that none of them is scripted — they all occur naturally in the course of the buyer-seller interaction.

If you’re trying to architect an experience for your customers, it’s extremely difficult to schedule and mandate these interactions. They’re special because they’re based on the customer — personalized, you might say — but they occur naturally during the course of business. Trying to wedge a “special” moment into the process is extremely difficult.

There’s also the question of whether any activity the employee is required to engage in every time can be special. Customers have a knack for detecting proscribed vs. spontaneous behavior, and they tend to have a negative opinion about inauthentic attempts.

The Right Stuff

Still, there are ways to encourage more of these memorable interactions without building them into flow charts or writing them into scripts. The first way to encourage them starts very early — in your hiring process. When you’re interviewing customer-facing people — whether they’re clerks in a retail store or salespeople in a B2B setting — look for people who can effortlessly make connections and instinctively understand what things they can do to add to the relationship.

The old saw about hiring for attitude and training for skills holds true; it’s a lot harder to train someone to be empathetic to the customer than it is to train nuts-and-bolts role-based skills.

The next step is one few businesses engage in: development of customer relationship skills. Your employees are customers themselves, so when you present them with examples of “special” interactions with customers, they’re going to understand how they increase loyalty, motivate good word-of-mouth, and increase the lifetime value of each customer.

Arm them with examples of employees doing this well, especially within your organization — but don’t leave out good examples from other, similar businesses.

Being able to connect with customers and make them really happy when you can isn’t just good for the business — it’s usually a lot of fun for the employees too. Create ways for them to share their experiences and reward them for particularly successful interactions. Encourage customers to share, too, through a discussion forum on your website, a Facebook page or a hashtag on Twitter.

These aren’t tasks for your CRM manager — but your CRM manager will be able to tell you how well they’re working.

We have a lot of technology at our disposal these days for helping create great customer experiences — but the technology doesn’t create those experiences. People do. If you can align your technology with your employees’ enthusiasm for creating special experiences, you can lay claim to the promise of loyalty and increased customer value that CRM has long promised.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is director of content marketing at Relayware. Bucholtz is also a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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