By Ben Henry

I think you will agree with me that behaviour influences behaviour. Customers will exchange their hard-earned money for two things - good feelings and solutions to problems. One person's behaviour (what he does, says, etc.) influences how each person behaves and the behaviour of that person now, in turn, influences the behaviour of the original person. For example, a complaining, irate customer can negatively influence a service provider and almost force him to respond sharply or discourteously. The service provider's behaviour merely reinforces the customer's behaviour and the situation becomes impossible. It is like a circle and when people are influenced negatively, the situation can only get worse unless someone realizes what is going on and is able to break the circle. The only tool available is our own behaviour. Only through our own behaviour can we bring the best behaviour out of the customer rather than allowing his behaviour to bring out the worst in us.

It follows, therefore, that if you can behave in a way that makes someone happy, you will be happy too. Feelings are contagious, therefore be a carrier ... not a catcher. People love to do business where they feel good.

Act the way you want to feel and soon you will feel the way you act. Action follows emotion. We feel a certain way and that feeling governs our behaviour. Each customer expects something slightly different. Some customers want you to make a fuss over them; others want to be left alone.

Customers bring expectations with them to every service transaction. For instance, when a customer comes to a hotel front desk, she expects friendly, courteous and efficient service. Based on their past experience with you and with other service providers, customers make assumptions about what you will or won't do for them. Failing to meet a customer's expectations, whether you helped to shape it or not, has the same impact as breaking a promise. Keeping promises you make and only making promises you can keep is what reliability is all about.

Remember, the majority of customer service promises come from you. These are the promises you make when you tell a customer "I will get back to you with that information" or "I will have your order to you by 4:00 p.m. tomorrow". These are called personal promises.

Organizational promises are those made by your company, both directly and indirectly. Direct promises can be contained in advertising and marketing materials, made in company correspondence and contracts, or published in service guarantees and policies for everyone to see.

Indirect promises often are just taken for granted. For example, a hotel does not advertise that the pina colada will taste the same every day. But if the bartenders keep arbitrarily changing the recipe, the service promise indirectly made by the hotel would clearly be broken, no matter how good any individual recipe might turn out to be. A company does not advertise that its offices will be cleaned every day. But if the offices are dirty on occasion, the service promise indirectly made by the company would clearly be broken.

The best way to satisfy your customers is to exceed their expectations for service. The following are nine ideas for creating great memories for your customer:

  • Recognize your customers by greeting them by name once you know their name.

  • Make a positive impression. The first experience your customers have with you will be indelibly fixed in their minds. Knutson calls this process "imprinting". This imprinting may or may not be instantaneous, but it usually occurs quickly. Is your carpet worn? Is there peeling paint on the walls? Are the employees' uniforms worn?

  • Fulfill your customer's expectations. Customers expect an environment that does not cause them trouble. Customers do not read your operating manuals. They do not understand your company's policies and procedures. All they want is to have their needs met without aggravation.

  • Reduce the effort required of the customer. Customers want to exert as little effort as possible in purchasing your services. The effort must come from your side, and you have to make it easy for the customer to order, to buy an auto part, and to settle a bill.
    Facilitate customer decision making. Customers do not like to make decisions. Your job is to assist them in decision making. You do this by suggestive selling. By hanging promotional posters in your store, for instance, showing various products makes it easier for the customer to determine what to buy.

  • Focus on the customer's perception. The customer's perception is the only one that counts. The customer is the Final Arbiter.

  • Avoid violating the customer's unspoken time limits. Time spent waiting always seems four times longer than it really is. Research has determined that to a waiting customer, 30 seconds is the equivalent of two seconds. A service provider must be aware of the customer's concept of time and endeavour to deliver prompt service as often as possible.

  • Create memories customers want to recapture. People are motivated to recreate the good times they remember. This is the basis of customer loyalty. People like to feel smart, and they will feel smart if they believe they made the right decision by shopping at your place. If your customers feel good about their experience with you, you can bet they will be back. And if they feel really good, they will tell others about it too. This word-of-mouth advertising is the best money can't buy.

  • Put the customer in your debt. After the sale is made, your customers must feel that they owe you for a fine experience and not that you owe them for the money they paid you. After your marketing campaign has made the promise and your operation has kept the promise, your goal is to have your customers walk out of your business place feeling that the price-value relationship is weighted in their direction. You want them to feel as if they have received so much value for their experience (in terms of their time and effort, as well as money) that they owe you another visit.

Providing personally pleasing memorable interactions (PPMIs) for your customers every time will guarantee their return.