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Never Again

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Where have all your customers gone? Philip Nulman discovers their destination, and tells you how to stem the exodus.

THERE’S A VERY SMALL country with a population that consists entirely of customers who have vowed never, ever to shop in your store. The country has no standing army, beautiful beaches, and demanding but reasonable consumers who are treated very well by the local merchants. It’s called Never Never Again Land. You rarely know why your customers have moved to this welcoming new place ? like magic, they’re just gone. And the worst part is you can’t visit this country. Which means that once your customers have gone there, they’re never, ever coming back.  

But there are ways you can stem the exodus of customers to Never, Never Again Land. Start by taking the example of Ed Koch, who, when serving as mayor of city of New York, used as his most popular expression ?How’my doin?? He asked it often and was very serious when he did. Ed Koch understood that, when it came to his constituents (or even more apt, his customers), no news is bad news. Why is this the case? Because the most dangerous customers are the ones who you think you own, but who are quietly seething, burning up with hostility and anger over some real or imagined slight that might have occurred ? and that could have been corrected, if only you’d known

Extreme behavior begins by recognizing that anything that is perceived as negative, even an offense that exists only in the customer’s mind, can result in substantial attrition to your customer base. Conversely, anything positive remains in the memory bank of the customer forever until someone or something alters that perception. In recognizing extreme customer service, there is a good, better, best scenario that you can play out. Let’s take a look. 

You give away watch batteries for free as a means of exhibiting your generosity and encouraging repeat visits to your store. Every once in a while, a senior citizen in your community gathers all of his friends’ watches and presents them to you, expecting free battery replacements. Is this an abuse of your generosity and kindness? Sure it is. Do you throw him out on his ear? Bad move. So how should you handle it? I’ll give you the solutions, in good-better-best format: 

Good: Explain to the customer that the offer is limited to one watch per visit. 

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Better: Tell the customer that you’ll honor the collection of watches and replace the batteries this one time, but in the future, you will only replace the battery on one of the watches as it needs new batteries. 

Best: Replace all the watch batteries without any hesitation and include an incentive for the customer and their friends to encourage a purchase, repair or a new watch. 

Of course, by going with the ?best? solution, you will be taken advantage of ? but it’s only about 2% of the time. The question is this: How many additional sales that you will make as a direct result of your buzz-worthy watch battery program would it take to cover the cost of the batteries? In my experience, the answer is four mid-range sales over the course of a year. Don’t you think you could achieve that? Consider the cost of the batteries and labor to be a cost of promoting your amazing service to customers. It’s still cheaper than media advertising and it keeps customers coming back. 

Tom Peters refers to our time as ?The Age Of Narrowcasting? or ?one-to-one marketing?. This philosophy espouses that each and every customer becomes its own market. Therefore your store must cater to that customer with very customized services and products. For you, the best option is to assess each customer’s needs and react in kind. 

Here’s another example of customized marketing. A very good customer arrives at your store with a diamond ring he bought for his wife three years ago. Your policy dictates that he can exchange the ring for one of equal or greater value. But he simply no longer wants the ring because he just got it back in a divorce settlement.  

Good: You offer to take the ring on consignment and try to help him recoup some of his original costs. 

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Better: You offer to buy back the ring in exchange for anything else he wants in the store. 

Best: You give him back the exact amount he originally paid and thank him for his continued loyalty. 

By choosing the ?best? solution, what have you done? You’ve maintained ownership of a valuable asset. You’ve created a loyal fan. You’ve made a friend and ambassador to the community. You’ve lost nothing and gained everything. Retailers who are short-sighted are short-lived. Use your vision to see beyond the horizon and always opt for the ?best? option available. You’ll win, the customer will win and you’ll never lose a customer to Never, Never Again Land, the place where your business disappears.

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