Monday, 14 December 2009

"The True Spirit of Christmas"

With Christmas just around the corner, and all my children away from home, my thoughts this week went back to the Nativity plays that we used to go to when they were at primary school.

I remember in particular one year when my youngest son played one of the Three Wise Men. He was only 6 and was supposed to hand over his gift of frankincense, a beautiful box made from a cereal packet that my wife had spent all night decorating.

He loved that box so much that when his turn came to hand it over to the baby Jesus, he wouldn't part with it. We, along with the whole audience, held our breath as he stood there unmoved. One of the teachers went up to him, spoke quietly in his ear, but he just shook his head defiantly. The teacher spoke to him again and this time he looked up to her as if to say, "Will that be alright then?", and then reached into his pocket and gave baby Jesus a bag of marbles.

I often remember his little gift when I watch the frenzy of gift-buying at Christmas. Every year, I wonder how much more meaningful it would be if, instead of giving shop-bought and Internet-bought gifts running into hundreds of pounds, we simply gave our friends and loved ones something uniquely of ourselves.

Paulo Coelho re-tells an Austrian legend about the Buckhard family, a man, woman, and boy, who used to amuse people at Christmas by reciting poetry, singing troubadour ballads, and juggling.

When the boy grew up, he told his parents that he wanted to take his first step to do what he had always dreamed of and become a priest.

Although they were poor, and hated to see him go, the family respected his wish and allowed him to enter the monastery at Melk.

That Christmas, a special miracle happened at Melk when Our Lady and the baby Jesus descended to earth to visit the monastery.

All the priests lined up to pay homage to the Madonna and her son. One priest brought a beautiful painting, another presented a hand-written Bible, and another recited the names of all the saints.

At the end of the line, young Buckhard waited his turn, with no gift to bring.

Finally, when his turn came, the young man stood before the Virgin and child. Feeling ashamed before the reproachful looks of the other priests, he reached into his pocket, took out some oranges and began to toss them into the air and catch them with his hands, just as he and his family used to do when they travelled to all the fairs in the region.

At that instant, the baby Jesus, lying in his mother's lap, clapped his hands with joy. And it was to young Buckhard that the Virgin held out her arms to let him hold the smiling child for a few moments.

This Christmas, whether you are struggling in the recession with no job and no money, or sipping champagne as you count your end-of-year bonus, I hope the most appreciated gift you give to others is the gift of yourself.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

"Turn Your Customers into Loyal Fans"

The other day I had a really nice email from a customer who wanted to thank me for the products they had bought.

As I started reading the email, I thought, "hey, that's kind of nice" but then, when they ended their email with the words, "I just love your stuff!", I thought, "Wow, that's amazing!"

That was when I knew that this person was a bit more than a customer and even a bit more than a regular. They were a Fan!

On our Customer Care courses at ManageTrainLearn, we train people to distinguish between 4 levels of customer service.

At the lowest level, there is customer satisfaction, which means making sure that the product or service you deliver to the customer does everything it's supposed to. This level is not much above the legal requirement of normal day-to-day trade and requires little extra effort on your part.

At the next level up, there is customer care, which suggests doing something a bit extra for your customer, such as making sure they get what they want, can get the best out of it, and hopefully will come back to you again in the future. You can do this by paying attention to good customer care policies and procedures such as guarantees, returns, and complaint resolutions.

At the third level up, there is customer delight. This is where we enter new territory. For delight means a mixture of joy and surprise. This happens when the experience that your customer has simply overwhelms them. It's not likely they will react this way to your policies. It is more likely they will react this way to the way they are treated by you and your team.

At the top level of our customer pyramid comes customer loyalty, the domain of the Fan. When customers love what you do so much that it goes beyond caring, policies, and one-off experiences, you know you've got a friend for life.

So, how do you turn your customers into fans? By doing the following 3 things:

1. Love What You Do. When you love what you do, your customers don't just get a great product or service, they pick up on a powerful energy as well. They see the "you" behind the product and service and that's what they buy into.

2. Put Your Heart and Soul Into It. What your fans want from you is the real authentic you. Even when a new product or change in service doesn't come up to scratch, and maybe even disappoints, your customer fans won't leave you. They'll stick around knowing that the next time, things will be back on track.

3. Give Them Value. A customer doesn't become a fan of yours if you simply see them as a source of revenue and profit. When what you deliver exceeds what they pay at the till, and even goes way beyond, then you'll have a paid-up member of your fan club.

What's great about having fans rather than customers is that you don't need to sell or market to them. They're even likely to be ahead of you eagerly awaiting your next product or service before you've even created it. And for one simple reason.

Because they "just love what you do".