The Making of a Customer

By Peter Renton

When somebody enters your office, or calls your business for the first time, you are not trying to make a sale. You are trying to make a client. If you do that well, the sales will come later.

For example, there is a bike shop in Branford, Connecticut called Zanes Cycles. If you walk in to Zanes Cycles and you want to buy a small part for a bike, say a valve cap, which might cost you 50 cents, you walk out paying nothing. That’s right, its free.

About fifteen years ago, Chris Zane, the owner of Zanes Cycles, stopped charging customers for anything that costs less than $1. The annual cost for this extravagance, around $100. The effect on a potential customer is striking. As Chris Zane says, you should see the look on peoples faces when they find out it is free. For the tiny cost of 50 cents, Zanes Cycles can get a loyal customer for life.

Of course, a company like this that thinks long term, is also likely to have exceptional service. Zanes doesn’t disappoint. Their lifetime service guarantee is the foundation of their business. A customer came in one day with a six-year-old pump he had bought at the store that had simply worn out. Chris Zane just gave him another one. Why? Once again Zane is focused on the long-term lifetime value of each customer, and he is willing to invest $30 (the cost of the pump) in are peat customer, to ensure his or her continued patronage.

The result: “The guy has been in twice since then,” says Zane, “and has spent over $200 on accessories.” And when its time for a new bike, Zane expects to get first shot at the sale.

It is this sort of attitude that wins loyal long term repeat customers, which is one of the key reasons why Zanes Cycles has annual sales of $2.2 million, compared with an industry average of $420,000. All that from one store in Branford, Connecticut.

Its How You Treat People That Counts. Many years ago, when I was still living in Sydney, I went out for dinner at one of Sydney’s most expensive restaurants. Just out of college, I had started up a software company with a friend of mine and we went out to celebrate our first big sale after months of really hard work.

So here we were, myself and my partner, along with our girlfriends, everyone around 23 years of age, at the most exclusive restaurant in Sydney. I remember wondering, how would we be treated? We were meeting for cocktails on the 40th floor of one the hotels in downtown Sydney. We were having such a wonderful time, we lost track of the time, and we realized we were running late. I called the restaurant to let them know, and they said no problem, take as long as you like. So we did.

We finally arrived at the restaurant over an hour late for our booking. No problem, the hostess was in no hurry, and asked if we would like to have a drink at the bar before sitting down. We declined. We get to our table and there is a box of matches with my name monogrammed on the back.

They asked who would be paying for the meal, it was me, and I was given a menu with prices, no one else knew what the prices were. The service throughout the evening was superb and attentive without being overbearing. The food was absolutely fantastic, everything was perfect. We didn’t want to leave; so we didn’t. We stayed until we were the only table left in the restaurant.

No one hurried us along, their attitude really seemed to be, whatever you want is fine with us. I found out later that at this restaurant there is only one sitting per table for dinner, so guests can arrive and leave whenever they want.

Sure this was an expensive place, and some of the things they did could only be done in such an exclusive restaurant, but the thing that struck me, was the attitude of everyone. There was none of the snobbery or pompous attitude you might expect from a place like this. They were all focused on serving the customer, with providing the best possible dining experience. You got the feeling they treated us, a bunch of wide-eyed 23-year-olds, the same way they might treat a billionaire. And that is what made it one of my most memorable and enjoyable meals ever.

It is Not a Sale Until the Client is Happy. A couple of years ago, we had a first-time customer call up from the yellow pages and order some custom labels. They placed an order for just over $100 worth of labels. We printed them according to what they wanted, but when they received them they realized they had made a mistake. They called us back and apologized, and we said no problem, we will just redo them for you, at no charge.

They couldn’t believe it. They were a first time client, and I think it had a profound effect on them. Over the last two years they have ordered six more times worth around $600 in sales. Now, I’m not sure we would have received those sales had we not made such an impression by reprinting their first order free of charge. And I’m betting that there will be many more sales in the years to come.

In today’s competitive market place, if you want to build a base of loyal customers you need to do more than what is expected. It is all about doing the basics well, and then doing some little extra things for your customers. An iron-clad satisfaction guarantee is a must. All great companies not only have one, they stand by it all the time.

Then you can try some creative things that will really make the service performed by your company memorable. You have seen some examples in this article. Often it is the simple and inexpensive things that are most effective. Everything you do should revolve around complete satisfaction for your customers. If you do this correctly, the sales will come, and you will have a loyal customer base for a very long time.

Peter Renton is president of Renton’s International Stationery, Inc. Renton has a catalog of innovative products for collecting money and improving customer relationships. They can be reached at 800-365-6644 or email peter_renton@compuserve.com.

[From Connection Magazine – November 1998]

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