Industry Research

What’s Your Secret Sauce?

Bill Atkins
Posted on October 11, 2012

Think about it. Why does a company such as Apple succeed and exceed expectations when so many others in their same category languish?

Steve Jobs was quite open about his secret sauce: “People matter, not technology.” Jobs focused on what his customers wanted and that’s what he delivered. Everything Jobs built was oriented around making life easier for you. It was rare to ever hear him ramble about the technical specs of features he created. Instead, he talked about how these products made life easier for his customers. Jobs once said, “First, you need to focus on solving problems that people are experiencing. If you can do that, you’ll stay ahead of the curve.” That’s great advice. Focus on your customers.
Fall out of love with your product or service, fall in love with your customers’ needs.

Keeping them coming back
We all know that good customer service keeps customers coming back. According to a recent study, 73% of customers will spend more money with a business that gives good customer service. How can you be sure to get that repeat business from your customers?

Take it one small step at a time. Try to remember the names of repeat customers, their last purchase, their preferences and special requests. By providing superior service, you rise above and become preferred over your competition. What can be better than that?

I’d like to share with you the recipe to make your unique secret sauce which will allow you to create loyal customers, achieve sales gains and have happier customers and employees. It’s not just the chef that makes the secret sauce, but all the people and things that go into the recipe.

Just as when an outstanding meal is served in a fine restaurant, first impressions matter. In the transportation business, it is the person answering the phone; the ease-of-use and aesthetics of your online reservation system and the front-line server; and your chauffeur’s appearance, professionalism and friendly demeanor.

When you consistently deliver what your customer wants, you have the secret sauce — all the ingredients make your customers’ experiences so outstanding, they will be raving fans and never consider anyone else but you. And they’ll tell their friends about you, too.

So, how do we know the secret sauce the customer likes and wants?

Making a difference
I want to leave you with this thought: If you were paying full price for someone important to you, such as your mother or spouse, how would you expect the service to go? Friendly, attentive and a great experience? Well, that’s how we need to treat every customer every time. After all, anyone can buy some cars and call themselves a limousine service, but to succeed is to know it’s the little things that matter and make a big difference.

01 Ask

As in a fine restaurant, the proprietor never just asks how the meal was (they’re guaranteed to get a non-specific answer). Instead, look to solicit a specific response. “You know Mr. Jones, you’re my best customer and if I had more customers like you, it would be amazing.” Then ask questions seeking specific responses. “Why have you traveled with us for the last 10 years?” or “If you were referring your closest friend or colleague, what would you tell him about us?”

02 Listen

Write down the specific things your customers tell you. Just as a waiter reads back the order, make sure you understand and let the customer say what’s important. Maybe it’s that you are always early for every pick up. Perhaps listening to your customer will help you know that when they get off the plane and their cell phone battery is dead, you have iPhone, Blackberry and Droid cell phone chargers available in every car.

03 Call

Another great way to find out what your customers want is to call them after their service and ask them how everything went. Everyone loves a follow-up call with a “Thank you” and a genuine concern for them. Don’t give them a preset checklist of what you think is important. After all, you are trying to figure out what’s important to them. It’s not all about you.

04 Write it down

A great recipe can only be consistently repeated when it is written down. To allow someone else to follow the same recipe, write down responses as you get them. Ask your staff to write down things they hear from your customers, both good and bad. You will quickly see some common threads of what your customers like and don’t like.

05 Meet with staff
Measuring the ingredients and ensuring consistency are ways to deliver a great meal every time. Have staff meetings that clearly define your customer service standards and expectations. Give real examples of great customer service. Write down your expectations. If your customer gets different service experiences depending on who they are dealing with, your company will not build loyalty. The way to implement high customer service standards is to have systems with non-negotiable standards. Be very specific in what you are asking so that your staff can implement your standards every time without fail.

06 Plan

As you tally these responses, make a plan to implement changes of how to do things different, how to solve the customer’s problem, and make them feel good about deciding to do business with you. Ongoing staff training and conversations will help you achieve this.

07 Impress

When someone first contacts you, you have an opportunity to set the first impression. Something important occurs when you exchange names. “Hi, my name is Bill, what is your name?” Then use their name throughout the conversation. This is the first and best way for your new contact to form an opinion of you and your company. People buy from people they know, like and trust.

Never underestimate the first impression you make. When someone contacts you, give them your full attention. You are creating the image of your company by what and how you talk to prospective customers and what you say. Is the person answering the phone friendly and helpful? Do you just say a price or do you first build a rapport? If it is a trip to the airport, do you ask where are they traveling to? Another way to overcome price objection is to change the direction of the conversation. Ask if they have ever used a limousine service like yours before. The natural next thing is that the person will ask you what makes you different. You again go back to all the things your best customers told you were most important to them. Did you ever call a company and the person was rude or indifferent? That person answering the call will never be able to get the customer to do business with you and certainly never be able to charge full rate if he or she isn’t customer friendly.
08 Set value prices

This process never stops, but continually gets better as you improve your results. Pricing is an extremely important ingredient. Be very careful not to cut your prices. No one raves and tells their friends about how great it was that the steak they had was mediocre, but the price was incredibly cheap. When you become the cheapest you run the risk of being perceived as being the cheapest quality. Instead of lowering your price, charge market rate but give your customers more value than they expect. You and your customers have a relationship. Give more than they expect and you will earn their business and loyalty. And earning repeat customers is always better than continually hunting down bargain hunters, who’ll abandon you as soon as they find a lower price.

If your customer says they found a lower price, talk about how you are not the most expensive and definitely not the cheapest either. Explain the benefits of why your service is worth what you charge. Maybe you have a competitive advantage such as you’re on time, free guarantee your experience, or any of the other specific things that you learned from your existing customers and what they told you were important to them. It’s OK to let the customers know that you are going to treat them really well. If a customer decides not to do business with you, still treat that person like a best customer and say, “Thank you for your interest.” Mention the customer’s name along with yours and remind the customer to call you with any questions.

09 Recommend service

Before giving a quote, always make a recommendation. “From what you are saying, I recommend the Suburban SUV. It will comfortably fit everyone in your party with enough room for luggage and your golf clubs. In fact, many times after using the Suburbans, our customers call us and say how much they enjoyed the ride.”

10 Find feedback

Don’t settle for anyone on your staff not treating your customer well. As you follow up and speak with your customers after their service, let your staff know honestly what was said, both good and bad. If good, here’s a great opportunity to let the person know the specific thing the customer mentioned and an opportunity to share that same action with the team so all your other customers benefit. If you don’t hear good feedback, use it as an opportunity to coach and retrain the employee. Again, be specific when talking with your employees about your expectations.

11 Do more

You can succeed while building loyal customers and a profitable business. You have to earn the customer’s loyalty by consistently doing more than the customer expects.

Bill Atkins owns Red Bank Limo of Red Bank, N.J., and has won the 2010 Operator of the Year and numerous customer service and safety awards. He has consistently achieved 20% sales increases every year. Atkins also owns Red Bank Marketing, helping business owners to market themselves without discounting prices.

Related Topics: Bill Atkins, building your clientele, customer service

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