Any interaction with a customer or potential customer is an opportunity. Customer service–and the associated positive reviews of your company–works hand-in-hand with local search marketing and your other marketing efforts. Here’s a personal example of how a potentially negative experience turned us into life-long customers of a local restaurant.
Our family recently moved from one home to another, just far enough away from our old home that delivery from our favorite go-to spots is no longer an option.
However, we’re now living right in the middle of a haven for unique Mom-and-Pop type restaurants and artsy Millennial-driven small businesses — so, after a long day of repainting our new home’s interior something other than “relocation beige” and “goes-with-everything gray,” we decided to call on a fun-looking little place that had left its flyer on our door.
They are officially listed as a pizza restaurant. Unofficially, they carry what our family calls “Americana” — they sell just about every hot, melted, or fried type of delicious goodness that your taste buds can imagine.
Except for the night we called them.
A Terrible Customer Experience Turned Into a Great One
A nice young woman cheerfully answered the phone, introduced herself as Rebekah, got our delivery address, and optimistically waited to take our order. I ordered two large fries with bacon and cheddar, ranch dressing on the side, four cole slaws, two shrimp dinners, and a large bacon and spinach pizza.
There was a moment of awkward silence. It lasted long enough I thought maybe I’d accidentally disconnected myself. “Are you still there?” I asked.
Rebekah coughed nervously and said, “Yes, Ma’am, I am. But I have a problem. We got hit with a lot more orders than we usually do on a Tuesday night and ran out of a few things until our truck gets here tomorrow. So, I can’t exactly complete your order. If you’d like to take it elsewhere, I completely understand.”
They’d run out of french fries until their delivery truck got there in the morning. They’d also run out of bacon, ranch dressing, cole slaw, and shrimp. She sounded frustrated and disheartened as she explained. Feeling too awkward to not order at that point, I asked if they could manage a couple pepperoni pizzas. They could.
In fact, they sent two for the price of one — plus our bag was filled with an array of goodies that they did still have available, including fried dill pickles, fried zucchini sticks, fried mushrooms, an order of their chipotle wings, and a 2-liter of Coke.
The SMB Lost Money but Gained a Long-Term Family of Customers
Now, based on the prices on the menu, the restaurant lost money on us that night, even though we ate well. Our single large pepperoni cost $9.99 and a $2 delivery fee. The four appetizers, the Coke, and the other pizza were comped for about $34.50.
In return, however, we’ve told the story to friends and neighbors several times and I posted on my Facebook page about it. That’s some significant free advertising among locals who might buy from them. Plus, I gave them a solid 5-star review on both Google and Yelp. Rebekah was the shift supervisor and it was her attitude and candor that made me willing to give the place a try even after finding out they didn’t have what we wanted.
To top it off, we probably order once a month from them. I can guarantee that our order exceeds $40 every time. Just using that figure as a base, the initial loss the restaurant took of $34.50 netted them $445.50 over the course of a year in our business alone.
Plus — they did something very hard to do. The converted me from a mere prospect into a buyer. There’s only a 5%-20% chance of that happening in the first place. Since the restaurant had very little of what I actually wanted, I’d put their odds on the very low end of that bar.
Now that I’m already a customer, every month when I get their flyer I remember the zucchini sticks and they sell to me again. That’s about on par with most people’s experiences. If they like a place, they’ll tend to buy again 60%-70% of the time.
SBOs Need to Weigh Short-Term Losses Against Long-Term Gains With Every Customer
This is the sort of thing that SBOs need to think about whenever they have a complaint or realize that a customer experience is going awry. Whether it’s happening online, over the phone, or inside their brick-and-mortar, there are really only two likely outcomes of a negative customer experience: 25 out of 26 of those customers are just going to walk away, never to return. Only 1 person will bother to express his or her dissatisfaction and ask for something else.
You don’t want to wait for the customer to propose a solution. Ideally, you don’t want to wait until the customer complains — remember, a lack of negative feedback doesn’t necessarily mean everything’s all right. It just means you haven’t found that 1 customer out of 26 who is willing to tell you that there’s a problem.
Instead, you have to be sensitive to your customers’ expectations and feelings of loss when they aren’t getting what they want. Watch for facial cues, changes in demeanor, an odd tone of voice and all the other subtle signs that someone is unhappy with the service or product they’re getting.
If you suspect that’s happening, address it. If you don’t know what you can do to make it right, take a chance — you may need to take a big discount, offer to break a store policy due to special circumstances, or just give something away — but you can change the negative experience into a positive for most people.
Yes, your business will take a small initial hit, financially — but that’s why we called this an untapped gold mine. Every gold mine starts with a small hole.
Once You Have a Satisfied Customer, Ask for That Review
Don’t be afraid of asking for a review either, once you know you have a happy customer on your hands — 70% of your consumers will leave a review for your business if asked and those positive reviews eventually turn into more prospective customers.
In specific, they may win over the crowd that’s concerned about how problems might be handled should they arise. That’s an exceptionally difficult group to convert because they’re focused on problems they haven’t even experienced yet. If you can ease their fears, you may be able to ease them through your doors as well.
There are some customers who are going to be determined to have a bad experience — it’s just in their nature. You really can’t please everybody all of the time.
However, most people just want a good experience for their money and time. Think about what would make you happy in the same situation and then do it for your customer — when that one-time customer becomes “a loyal-for-lifer” and brings along his or her friends, you’ll forget all about that initial loss you took.