Forget customer loyalty, writes consultant Richard R. Shapiro in a new book The Endangered Customer: 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business, we’re in the middle of a “Switching Economy” where customers have so many choices, so easy to find online, that your competitors can poach them at any time with a better deal or especially with better service.

You have a fighting chance, though. “Goods and services are not really what every customer wants,” Shapiro writes. “Customers want a human connection.” He ID’s 8 points in the customer relationship journey, where you have a shot at building that connection and locking in the relationship.

1. Make Me Feel Welcome

Welcome customers to your business as if they were new neighbors you had invited to a block party; greet them with a smile and show interest in who they are. Start the relationship with hope, as in “I can help you with that.” That goes for digital communication, too: One of Shapiro’s peeves is the automatic email response that says “DO NOT REPLY”. “That’s no way to begin a relationship,” he writes.

2. Give Me Your Full Attention

“Listen carefully and respond to [the customer’s] emotion before addressing the actual reason the customer has come to you.” Shapiro gives the example of a test of email customer service at several companies—the test message began “I just had a baby” and went on to describe a problem with a product. Only one company began its response with “Congratulations on your new arrival!”; the others just stuck to business and missed the chance to make a human connection.

3.  Answer More Than My Question

Get beyond “yes” and “no” answers and you not only show that you’re listening carefully but increase the chance to make a sale by learning what will solve the customer’s problem. Share knowledge within your organization so front-line staff can anticipate questions, too. Shapiro tells the story of the time his flight was delayed and an airline employee made the announcement by telling some jokes, giving a detailed explanation of the weather and condition of the plane, mentioned other airlines’ schedules, and concluded with a fun quiz. The employee had covered all possible questions, and left the passengers in a good mood, at least temporarily.

4. Know Your Stuff

Customers today likely have researched online and answered about 80% of their own questions on your product or service, leaving just the hardest 20% of questions left to ask your staff. That puts a premium on training and retaining good customer service and sales folks. “When customers get their complex questions answered or problems resolved, they remember,” Shapiro writes, and they’re actually more likely to remember the person, not the store or the brand.

5.  Don’t Tell Me No

“Always tell customers what you can do, not what you can’t do” and if the rules get in the way of problem solving, then the rules are too rigid. Shapiro gives the example of his favorite construction contractor, who, when he hits a roadblock, always presents two solutions for the customer to choose, one option usually costing more time, the other more money. He offers “that sense of control that all customers value.”

6.  Invite Me to Return

Shapiro is a big believer in the “leave behind”, the gesture, no matter how small that invites another transaction. “In any enterprise, knowing that someone wants to see you again makes a person feel good.” He gives the example of a waiter who followed him out of the restaurant, gave him a personal card with his name and work schedule, and asked that he make a reservation specifically with that waiter next time.

7.  Show Me I Matter

“Why do so many companies fail to make their customers feel important and special?” Shapiro wonders. Too much attention to treating the customer like a prospect for the next sale, for one thing; think about the typical email communication to customers, all about new specials and deals, not satisfaction with the last purchase…and customer service departments that focus on responding to problems, not proactively checking in with customers.

8.  Surprise Me in Good Ways

“Customer satisfaction is a minimal standard; loyal customer relationships are built around surprise and delight.” Shapiro gives the example of a couple who were regulars at a restaurant, and raved to friends about the short ribs served there. One night, they took the friends to the restaurant for ribs – but the ribs weren’t on the menu that night. The next night, the restaurant delivered a full dinner of ribs to the customers’ home. Surprises don’t have to be that elaborate, Shapiro writes; they could be just an unexpected thank you note or small gift.

Related: Customer Journey Mapping for Small Business

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