Relationship Marketing is in the Details
By Terry Brock
You want to build solid, long-term relationships with customers. There are different types of relationships and it is not just the simple, “customers like you so they buy from you” type of thinking. Buying decisions can be complex and involve a number of factors – any of which can make or break the sale.
Yesterday I had an experience that will probably sound familiar to you. I needed to get some clothes for a trip coming up soon. I wanted to go to Wal-Mart because I’ve seen what they have and liked it. However, I didn’t have much time to drive over to Wal-Mart, deal with the inevitable crowds at that time of day and get what I needed. So, I opted to go to one of their competitors.
I won’t mention the name of the competitor but let’s call it OK merchandise mart. Our local OK merchandise mart is located about 1 mile from me but is usually dreary, drab and gave me the impression of being unkempt. However, they have good merchandise, usually good prices and very few customers there at any given time. I thought I’d give it a shot and see what would happen. What I experienced can be instructive for you and me in our own businesses.
When I walked in the door of OK merchandise mart no one greeted me at the door, like they do at Wal-Mart. I love this friendly and helpful touch to have someone direct me to the right aisle, find what is necessary and generally make me feel welcome. Since Wal-Mart introduced this years ago it has now become well-known. Why can’t OK merchandise mart do something like that? I had to wander around in the almost-empty store trying to find the right place where what I wanted was placed. This cost me more in terms of my most precious resource – time.
Little things like that can make a big difference in business. The Wal-Mart greeter sets the tone for the experience the customer has for that visit. This is a big part of relationship marketing. Your customers have a relationship with you. It can be 0 with very bad experience to a Nordstrom-type 10 quality where we rave about it to others. Each experience is different and it is up to us as business owners to determine the key factors in the customer experience and figure out how to tweak the experiences, the technology and the systems to optimize customer satisfaction and buying.
When I finally located the merchandise I wanted there was a good supply, lots of nice choices and the prices were very reasonable---actually cheaper than I had thought they would be. In this area, OK merchandise mart does a good job. It would be nice to have a helpful person to answer quick questions but such a person didn’t seem to exist when I visited OK merchandise mart..
Putting systems in place is more than applying the right technology. It means bringing in real, live human beings to assist customers when and where needed. Yes, we need technology. Yes, we use it a lot. But we always want and need that valuable, real, live human being assisting us.
I was finally able to get some good merchandise and they were on sale at very good prices. This was a good thing. However, checking out was another story.
Only two registers were open but each was clogged with the few customers in the store. One register was backed up and it appeared everyone was waiting for a check to clear from Outter Zambozia. There was no visible sign of concern from the cashier regarding the long wait for customers.
l saw a slight break in the wait at the other register and quickly jumped over. After another wait, I finally got up to the cashier who didn’t even look at me. She proceeded to scan the clothes I had selected but never made a comment. Being the ever-positive person I try to be, I tried to strike up a conversation with her. She seemed about as happy being there as she would be getting her toe nails removed in rubbing alcohol. Her comments were mainly on how she was looking forward to being out of there in a few hours.
How employees are treated affects customers and ultimately the bottom line. It was obvious that the employees weren’t happy working at that OK merchandise mart. When the ticket was finally rung up, I paid for the merchandise and she handed me the receipt, she said, “Have a nice day.” The plastic “Have a nice day” was about as sincere as a comment from a TSA bureaucrat at the airport.
As I left I felt sorry for the employees but thought how the good people in management at OK merchandise mart could improve. Hey, they really did have good merchandise and good prices. It was easy for me to get in and not a lot of large crowds. I want them to improve and stay in business near me!
See things from the customers’ point of view. Why are they in your “store” – however you define your “store?” What systems can you put in place that create a more pleasant and enjoyable experience? The good people at OK merchandise mart mean well. My experience was that they have good merchandise at really good prices. They are also extremely convenient for me. However, because of other factors, I’ll continue to use and prefer Wal-Mart.
Most of what could be changed wouldn’t cost a lot--- genuine smiles and caring from employees, someone available to answer quick questions, a more streamlined check-out system, etc. However, the difference is in the details.
Make it your goal to look at your business systems from the customer’s point of view. This is an integral part of relationship marketing. It is also critical to success in the bottom line. I just hope the OK merchandise mart can build on the wonderful strengths they have and improve their weaknesses. Then they could transform from merely “OK” to great!
Terry Brock is a marketing coach and regular columnist for Business Journals who helps businesses market more effectively leveraging technology. He shows busy professionals how to squeeze more out of their days using the right rules and tools. He can be reached at 407-363-0505, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at www.terrybrock.com.
Copyright © 2007, Terry Brock, All Rights Reserved Internationally. No portion may be reprinted or used in any way without prior written permission.