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How to Create and Build Customer Loyalty From Your First Customer Interaction

In 1992 the U.S. Congress proclaimed Customer Service Week a nationally recognized event, celebrated annually during the first full week in October. That’s next week.

This year’s theme is “Building Trust”

- acknowledging the importance of trust in forming healthy, productive, and lasting relationships with customers and coworkers.
To put that in perspective, this morning I stopped for a few things at my local supermarket, a national chain, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty. Having spent many years in and around self-service banking, ATMs, in particular, I tend to gravitate toward any self-service device.
My supermarket has several machines for self-checkout, for smaller numbers of items. Today, the unit I approached seemed to be not working. I pointed this out to the customer service rep who works that area, who came over, as did a supervisor. They proceeded to argue about what was wrong with the unit and how it should be fixed, while I’m standing there waiting to check out.

Finally, I just walked back into line and went to next available unit.

No biggie, right?

Well, not for me, but what if this was one of my first times either using the machines or, worse, my first time in the store. Do you think I’d think twice about either using the machine or the store in the future?
The early days of self-service technology taught me some great lessons about creating customer loyalty with every interaction. Interacting with technology before the internet and iPhones was a much scarier and intimidating circumstance for consumers to, initially, use and then, continually, depend on self-service technology. And one bad experience could turn a customer off from ever trying it again.  If we didn't make the first encounter a good one, we could lose them, forever.
Today, we take technology for granted, that sometimes the machines will not work, as the customer service folks in the store did. But you can never take a customer relationship for granted, getting a new buyer is always an objective. But keeping that relationship through every single touch point or encounter, customer retention, is a process. Customer loyalty is the result.
Here are six guidelines from the lessons I learned about how to create customer loyalty from your very first interaction:

First impressions count.

Sometimes, you don’t get a second one. Whether it’s how inviting and informative your website or social media is, how you answer the phone or how you respond to an inquiry, if a prospect’s first encounter with your company or your product doesn’t stand out or is negative, you may not get a second one.

Develop a “first encounters” plan that includes not only a proactive “reach out,” to introduce you to prospective customers, but addresses consistency in the message with your website and any customer interaction, whether by phone, email or social media.

Build a relationship before you make a sale.

People buy from people. Good customer relationships are still people-to-people. The more encounters you can have with a prospective customer, the better the chance of developing a relationship and creating a sale. And despite our email and texting mindsets, the more face-to-face those encounters, the deeper and long-lasting the relationship, the more sustaining the sales.

Take nothing for granted. Treat every interaction like it might be your last.

Like my encounter with the non-working self-service supermarket machine. Instead of making it about me, the customer, they argued about why it was down and how to fix it. I was forgotten in the interaction. And maybe I wouldn’t be back.
Take nothing for granted. Like, if possible, call a customer after every sale and ask them about their experience and how it could have been better. It’s amazing what you find that you might have overlooked.
Take nothing for granted. Like, long-term customers, by recognizing them on your website, through a company newsletter or a periodic personalized letter from the owner or CEO.

Give them a reason to keep coming back and doing business with you.

Customer service has to be more than just a slogan. Product quality has to be more than just numbers. Data points like system uptime, time to fix a problem or response time to customer inquiries should be sources of pride for both your company and your customers. And they should be the reasons customers keep coming back.

Continually ask their opinion…and listen and act on it.

Having lived in New York City during the era of one of the most colorful mayors the city ever had, Ed Koch, the one lasting memory I have of him is of him walking among the citizenry and asking “How am I doing?”

He was getting first-hand feedback from his “customers.” It’s something I’ve done and advised companies I worked with to do as well. Ask your customers opinion of “how you’re doing?” But not only surveying on a continuing basis, but listening, acting on those opinions and then telling them (and thanking them) about what you’ve done because of them.

Treat your employees like you want them to treat your customers.

In keeping with the theme for Customer Service Week – “Building Trust,” you need to build trust with your employees and coworkers before they can build trust with your customers.

Employees will treat customers exactly the way they are treated. If your employees feel challenged and valued, that feeling will be translated in every customer interaction they have. Do you want to improve customer service? It starts with improving how you interact with your employees!
Customer loyalty should be the objective of all customer relationships. To develop that loyalty, you need to work on making every interaction with customers a positive one, from the very first one.
"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things. He's been there. May success be with you!
Do you have a specific Customer Loyalty plan? Please share your thoughts in your comments. It can help another entrepreneur or small business owner.
If you like this post, by all means, share it with your networks and colleagues.

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