Customer Experience News & Trends

How a 3-Martini lunch will improve the customer experience

We’re so focused on making things faster, cheaper and easier for customers, we might have thrown away some old-school practices that would make business better today. In honor of the season premier of Mad Men, let’s talk about the place old-fashioned practices — like martini lunches and handshake deals — still have in business.

Before 24-hour self-service, women answered phones and salesmen went door-to-door — and customers were happy.

Before text, email and even fax machines, deals were made with real ink signatures or sealed with firm handshakes — and customers loved it.

Before social media and Super Bowl exposure, marketing was just called advertising, and it wasn’t at every corner we turned — and customers were happy.

Before a bad customer experience went viral on the Internet, just the ladies who lunched together and the men who gathered for poker night gossiped about bad service — and customers got briefly upset and then were happy again.

That mid-century approach to business helped build the giant corporations of today. And it might not be a bad idea to bring back — or practice a little more.

Old-school practices in today’s business world

We’re not suggesting customer experience professionals — from front-line sales and service professionals to chief experience officers — leave behind the pursuit of faster, better, safer and unique experiences for their customers. But it’s an ideal time to couple those pursuits with some old-school practices.

Here are six practices that deserve some time and attention nowadays to improve the customer experience.

1. Eat, drink and be merry

OK, let’s be clear. We aren’t suggesting you throw back three martinis at lunch, turn the client into an agreeable drunk who signs on the dotted line and then sleep off the gin and vermouth through the late afternoon. Leave that to the characters on Mad Men.

But we are suggesting you spend more time with clients breaking bread — the cocktails are optional.

Business is most often done at two extremes these days.

  • It’s either highly informal: No human contact is made from the online order to the drop-by delivery. Account numbers, not names, are used to track information. The relationship is built on speed and ease.
  • Or it’s highly formal: Attorneys create lock-tight contracts. Personal visits are scheduled in impersonal, neutral-site meeting rooms. The relationship is built on the hope that nothing goes wrong.

Busy schedules seldom allow service and sales pros to linger at lunch with customers to talk about life and business. They rarely even lunch with co-workers, which once provided valuable collaboration and team-building time.

Every day doesn’t have to include a long, relationship-building meal. But spending more time breaking bread will have positive effects on customer relationships — creating strong bonds and new avenues for revenue.

Try this: Plan at least one lunch meeting a week with a customer, during which you’ll talk some business and some personal life. Also, schedule a cup-of-coffee meeting to do the same.

2. Write notes

It’s old-school to handwrite notes, but it’s still one of the most valuable business practices. Customers will remember — probably even hang up or tuck away in special places — handwritten messages. A follow-up note will make even the smallest experience — say a quick chat over the phone — so much more memorable.

Businessmen in the 1950’s sat at their desks regularly and wrote notes to clients, friends and even enemies. That’s why elegant pen sets are a classic college graduation gift — albeit, probably under-used these days.

The best advice we can give here: Schedule time each week to write five notes to current, new or long-time customers. Thank them for being easy to deal with, explain how you resolved an internal issue based on their feedback, remind a long-time customer that you’re still ready to help or tell a new customer how much you appreciate the chance to provide her with a service.

It’ll take about 15 minutes and will likely revive or cement relationships.

3. Dress well

The pendulum has swung over the years when it comes to workplace dress code. Through most of the 20th century, men wore three-piece suits, ties and shiny shoes. Women didn’t leave the house without stockings (or pantyhose, depending on the decade we’re discussing) and an appropriate-length dress or skirt. Then the late 1990s arrived and a phenomenon was born: Casual Friday. Somehow that spawned the week-long casual dress workplace full of khakis and golf shirts.

Recent studies show that employees who are well-dress and groomed are taken more seriously. Customers see them as more credible when they dole out advice. Appropriately dressed salespeople are more likely to win sales and build relationships because customers will want to interact with them in the future. It may sound shallow, but it’s research-backed truth.

Of course, no one’s suggesting that all companies require their customer-facing employees get a top-of-the-line designer closet. But you might want to create a dress code that encourages employees to look more like Don Draper than Dwight Schrute.

One company did this: After creating a dress code policy and manual, the HR director held a “fashion show.” Employees modeled clothes that were appropriate for the workplace. It included reminders that the most important part of appropriate dress is wearing clean, tidy and pressed clothes.

4. Cut the distractions from meetings

Most meeting rooms of the mid-century didn’t even have telephones in them. The only outside distraction from time with customers was the secretary offering coffee and cigarettes.

Now, text messages, ringing phones and email alerts interfere with real face-to-face time with customers. Even customers bury their heads in iPads and smartphones. In fact, half of the workers in one recent study admitted that they check their phones during meetings. About 20% of those people also fessed up that they’ve answered their phones during meetings. And 10% even said they’ve checked social networks while they were supposed to be talking (or at least listening).

There’s really only one modern-day solution to this issue. Take a stroll back in time to before the advent of personal-sized technology and ban it from meetings. It’ll help everyone in the meeting focus in on customer needs and what must be done to fulfill and surpass them. If you’re actually meeting with customers (and no, you can’t ban them from having distraction-inducing devices), you’ll be able to give them 100% of your attention and understand what they’re saying and how they feel. After all, reacting to emotions — not just the facts — creates a memorable experience.

Bonus: If people aren’t distracted in meetings, time spent meeting willl be shorter. No repeating what’s been said or reviewing what needs to be done for the people who were busy playing Words With Friends.

5. Be on time

While we’re talking about technology and how it’s affected the business world, let’s add this one. Cellular phones have allowed people to become lazy with manners. In many business situations, professionals use their cell phones to notify customers and colleagues that they’ll be late. And because they made the call, they think their tardiness is OK or accepted.

It’s not.

There were limited opportunities to reschedule at the last moment when our parents and grandparents roamed the business world. People were on time because there was no other way of getting in touch or rescheduling. Not to mention, being late was — and still is — rude. It suggests you don’t have respect for customers’ or colleagues’ time — and that your time or other obligations are more important.

Punctuality pays off today. To customers, it sends the message that you’re reliable and considerate. That wins their business and loyalty. To our businesses, it cuts down on the growing costs of wasted time and productivity.

There are a few cures for punctuality issues: Leave five minutes before you think you need to in order to arrive at an appointment on time. Stop calling, texting or emailing to say you’ll be late. Don’t overextend yourself. Schedule spillover time between calls, visits and meetings so there’s enough time to make it to the next event on time.

6. Leave customers alone

Today, we often feel that the more we put ourselves in front of customers, the more they’ll buy and stay loyal to us. So we send email, call just to “check in,” mail promotional information, advertise everywhere they are and create more opportunities to see them face-to-face.

In the mid-20th century, you could barely buy a loaf of bread on Sunday. Business owners closed shop on weekends. No phone messages, and certainly no emails, were waiting when people went back to work on Monday morning. They did business during business hours — and it was enough.

So it’s OK to back off from time to time and give customers a vacation from you. If you provide great experiences when they want to interact and buy from you, they won’t forget you. They don’t need you to inundate their inboxes, mailboxes and voice mail boxes.

If they seem to have taken a vacation from you, reach out after some time. Let them experience another provider, and then remind them of what you have to offer and how you’ve met their needs in the past.

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