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by Dave Balch, "The Stay-at-Home CEO"ô

(c) 2002, A Few Good People, Inc.

Have you ever walked into a business and, just looking around, didnít have very high hopes for the experience that was about to come? It could be for a variety of reasons: the physical appearance of the premises or fixtures, the lighting, the body language of the employees, the smell in the air, etc. Like it or not, we form these impressions on superficial things and those impressions, in turn, mould our expectations. The sad part is that things tend to happen the way we expect them to happen (but thatís another column!).

I confess. That happened to me just a few minutes ago when I walked into this pizza place for lunch. I am killing some time between appointments and I came to this mall figuring I could have lunch and write an article on my notebook computer, which I just happened to have with me. The mall is, uh, old, small, and almost vacant, with only a couple of recognizable brand-name stores. The pizza place is one of them, however, and thatís why Iím here (not to mention that it is the only eatery with a place to work).

The restaurant is clean, although a little run-down. The lighting isnít very good, giving a somewhat dingy appearance, and some of the customers look like vagabonds. Shame on me, but I was prepared for a less than wonderful experience.

I ordered some pizza slices and went to the drink-dispensing counter. The man there looked up at me with a genuine, cheery smile. I asked him for iced tea and he said, "Sure! You get free refills and, before you leave, Iíll fill it up again and put it in a to-go container."

His enthusiasm caught me by surprise and his offer left me feeling like I was well taken-care-of, even though I never really needed anything from anyone for the rest of my meal. I didnít need a refill, and I didnít take him up on his to-go offer, but that small gesture made a huge difference in my overall experience.

Think about it: if you can give your customers the feeling that they are well taken care of they will be happy even if something happens and they arenít!

They didnít offer me anything special, they simply made me aware of the service they normally provide so I could take advantage of it if I needed or wanted to. Let me repeat that: "They simply made me aware of the service they normally provide so I could take advantage of it if I needed or wanted to".

It all boils down to communication. What is the point of providing exceptional customer service if the customer only sees it if they need it? Tell them up front and they will feel good about you whether they end up taking advantage of the service or not.

Iím not talking about selling points, such as an electronics store that offers to replace any unit that has to be repaired more than once. Iím talking about mentioning the free gift-wrap, free delivery, or "free refill in a to-go container" in the normal process of providing your product or service.

How can you apply this concept? How can you better communicate with your customers so that theyíll feel good about doing business with you?

Feel free to re-read this article as often as you like, with my complimentsÖ


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