How Your Business Can Be Better Than Everyone Else’s This Holiday Season

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Having spent the past 18 months researching, editing, and writing the upcoming Customer Service Book “Zombie Loyalists,” I’ve learned a few things about how businesses do business, treat customers, and encourage (or discourage) return visits and purchasers.

Since we’re heading into the holiday shopping season, I thought it might be a good idea to summarize a few of those here, on the hope that the businesses who read them will implement these ideas, and find that not only do their holiday revenues increase, but their brands improve, and their holiday customers become year-round customers who go out of their way to bring in new customers each time they shop.

So businesses: Here’s how to create Zombie Loyalists this holiday season:

Recognize that every person who walks into your store, goes to your website, or calls your sales line, has a problem. That problem could be very simple: They need to purchase an item. Or, it could be more complex: They need a gift for someone, and they don’t know what it is. Your number one job at this moment is empathy. Your customers will buy from you over and over and over if they believe that you understand them, that you treat them as individuals, and not as simply a sale.

Trust in your employees to make their own decisions. Empower them. Some of the biggest problems for your business, the ones that get tweeted and retweeted, and can bring your company to its knees, start very small, and usually starts because a customer or potential customer needs something, and your employee isn’t empowered to provide it. Give your employees the power to make the right decisions, and 99.9% of the time, not only will they make the right decision, but they’ll also thrill your customers, and they’ll feel great about themselves. It’s a positive repetitive cycle that generates its own energy. Use it.

Hire for the people, not for their skills. You can train employees to do anything. Ritz Carlton hires people who love working with people. They call them “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” You should do the same. You can train your employees and teach them how to sell your products. Your business will thrive if you hire for people first, skills second.

Once you hire for the people, make sure to train them in the skills. When someone comes into your store, they have questions. Your job is to make sure your employees have answers, and as importantly, they know how to get them if they don’t. Nothing sends a customer away, never to return again, than asking a question and not getting an answer that helps them.

Know your customers. If you’re doing daily “Twitter sales” and your customers are on Facebook, you’re an idiot, and your company will lose. The simple act of asking your customers how they like to get their information does two things: It allows you to properly target your audience, and more importantly, it lets your audience know that you’re listening, and that you care.

Do the follow-up! Take a few minutes and let your customers know, after the sale, that you’re there for them. Whatever they need, they first must know that they can ask, and they’ll get the help they want.

Stop trying to “better deal” your customers. You have existing customers, and should be thankful for them, each and every day. Having an customers, an audience, hell, a freaking cat who will listen to you isn’t a right. We’re not granted the right to any of those things at birth. Rather, we’re granted the right to do good things that drive our customers to love us. It’s as I always say: Having an audience is a privilege, not a right, just like wearing spandex. (Tweet this!) Want to keep your customers, and have them coming back to you? Stop ignoring current customers in favor of new ones. Be amazing to the customers you have, to get the customers you want. In other words, stop those stupid contests you keep holding. You know, the ones that say “We’re at 9,900 Twitter Followers, our 10,000th follower will get a huge prize! Will it be you?”  Just freaking stop. You know what those contests really say? They say “Hey, screw you, 9,990 customers who wanted to love us – We don’t care about you, we’re only looking towards the next one!” That’s a horrible way to be. Can you imagine asking someone out, then “better-dealing” her when you got to the dance? Ew. Stop it. Just stop it.

In the end, remember that 99% of all customers expect to be treated like complete and utter crap. Be 1% better than that. Yes, I’m serious. I’m sitting here not asking you to be amazing, not even asking you to be good. I’m simply asking you to be one level above what we, as consumers, have come to expect. If you do that, you’ll win almost every single time. We expect the flight to be late. We expect the Diet Coke to be a regular Coke. We expect the TSA to give us an anal probe. It’s just what we expect. We expect crap. As consumers, we expect the worst in any given transaction.

Imagine if you didn’t give them the worst. Think about it this way – A flight takes off on time and lands on time. You’re on it, and the seat you chose was the seat you got. You didn’t get bumped, you didn’t have to switch 12A for 34D, you didn’t get triple-inspected by the TSA, and the pretzels were actually edible. You’d be over the moon with excitement! Now stop and think about that – You’d be over the moon with excitement because you got the exact product you paid for. Nothing more, nothing less – The same thing. Our expectations as consumers have sunk so low that when a company does what they say they’ll do and nothing more, we’re thrilled beyond belief! Imagine if that company did just 1% more. Just 1%. One free drink. One smile. One blanket. Just 1% more. I’m asking you to be 1% above crap, 1% above what we expect. That’s all.

Think about the classic joke of the two hikers in the woods who encounter a black bear. As they watch in fear, the bear rises on her hind two legs, obviously about to strike at the hikers. One hiker bends down and tightens up the laces on his hiking boots. The other hiker, noticing this, says, “Dude, don’t be stupid – You can’t outrun a bear!” To which the first hiker takes off in a sprint, saying “I don’t need to outrun the bear. I only need to outrun you.”

Want your customers to come back after the holidays, and bring thousands upon thousands of new customers with them? You don’t need to deliver them a steak at the airport. You just need to be 1% above your competition. Fortunately for you, that’s never been easier to do.

Learn more about AMAZING customer service! Zombie Loyalists comes out on January 27th. You can pre-order it here, and it comes with some pretty sweet gifts for doing so.

In fact, the launch party in NYC is being sponsored by Gogo Inflight Internet. Leave your best customer service tip or experience in the comments below, and we’ll pick one commenter at random to join us for the launch party!

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