General human behavior tells us that interests and priorities lie in two major areas: Entertainment & Value. And that deepening relationships is fostered by common goals and shared experiences. This is true for professional relationships as well.
Providing first value and then entertainment to a current or potential client is the best way to form a lasting relationships. Thoughtful preparation and communication is alone enough to accomplish this almost every time. Here are 3 idea-generating event ideas:
1. Get to really know your client’s interests and personality.
It sounds obvious, but knowing what motivates your customer on a personal level will make communication on a business level second nature. As an avid (possibly short of unhealthy) dog-owner, if I received a box of treats or a new toy to lessen Winston’s separation anxiety (or mine) while on the upcoming trip, I’d be a life-long customer. That would tell me they sincerely listen and can thoughtfully articulate ways to positively effect my experience. Simple? Silly? Sure. Impactful? Absolutely.
Look for opportunities to show it.
So, your customer is coming to your custom event? You’ll be at the same event as your customer? Great. Now, don’t assume the magic connection will happen within that structure. If you have an agenda inside of the event’s agenda, you’re bound to be disappointed because first, you will very rarely get the necessary time and attention to spend that kind of uninterrupted time with a client — far too many other people and other activities already. And secondly, if you spend your time stalking, you’ve not only wasted a potentially valuable opportunity for you, but also possibly turned that person off to doing business with you. Just consider any time you get within the actual event a bonus.
Without interfering with planned functions, identify an entertainment opportunity (well ahead of time), ensuring that their schedule will be clear just for you (this is also where you can really take advantage of ideas for #1). There are charity runs, baseball games, and community events in every potential event location.
Research and think out-of and off-of the box… The tee box that is. If I was invited to a customer event and expected to play golf, I’d be in trouble. And as a female, I’d be slightly offended if they assumed I wanted to spend my day inside a spa.
So, shake it up. Be memorable. Do you have customers that are avid fishermen? Charter a boat and have casual round table discussions over lunch or a sunset cruise. Wine connoisseurs? What a majestic opportunity to learn about the art of winemaking and the platform to have a workshop! Comic Fanatic? Comic-Con has a conventions all over the country throughout the year. Yep… Things just got weird. But, if you dress up as Batman & Robin, you’re almost guaranteed this customer won’t have a similar shared experience with anyone else!
2. Show thoughtful anticipation.
Before the event, send them a handwritten note reminding them of your plans and that you’re simply looking forward to it.
Whaaat? Believe it or not, this has proven to make an impact with customers as well as employees. Once you assess that it is in fact, not a bill, who doesn’t get excited to see their name on the forgotten art of “snail mail?”
It could be the act of actually holding it in your hand, the pretty stationary, thoughtful message, or just knowing the effort a person went to… Whatever the appeal is, it’ll make a bigger impression than yet, another email.
Surprise with a fun or useful gift.
Send a wine tasting journal ahead of time (with that handwritten note!) for that wine tour. Get your customer some team gear for the game you’re going to see, or pay for bridge tolls like Zappos did on the busiest shopping weekend of the year. Being cleverly thoughtful in removing obstacles leads to their ability to spend money with you.
Don’t overlook social media.
This is one of the easiest (and no-cost) methods to build up a good time with a customer! Give them a shout out on Twitter, including a link to a related article, video, or image. Consistent (and not always salesy) communication with a customer will build rapport and keep you top of mind.
3. When you think you’ve done enough, do more.
If you’re in any customer service-oriented position (Sales? Marketing? Depend on customers? Anybody? Beuller?), simply fulfilling an obligation may close the deal this time but won’t generate a lot of return business. Companies that have a “checklist mantra,” might need to do a CLV assessment and reevaluate their approach in this social-media-customer-service-review world. Keeping loyal customers is much easier and more profitable than constantly generating new business to replace the non-returning ones.
If you realize mid-situation that you can’t accomplish the task at hand solo, pull in resources around you. Whether you broke down in route to the event, got rain at an outdoor luncheon, or the booth signage was a no-show, keep it light and lean on your team. Seeing your co-workers willingness to step in will create fun “disaster turned awesome” moments and skyrocket the perception of your entire company. It boils down to how you handle pressure. A Seattle-based Nordstrom worker learned customer service gets messy but it pays off big time. When he couldn’t find a customer’s missing diamond from her wedding ring, he got others to comb through trash cans and vacuum bags! I think it’s safe to say they can expect to see her spend quite a bit of money with them in the future.
The Leave Behind Benefits.
Your first piece of business with a new customer may not be extremely profitable but their experience is worth a lot more. After a long day of traveling, a businessman was boarding a flight from Tampa to Newark and jokingly tweeted, asking if Morton’s could meet him “at newark airport with a porterhouse” when he landed in 2 hours. Well, they obliged. A Morton’s employee had not only seen the tweet, but taken the initiative to get a manager approval, identified what flight he was on, cooked the food, and drove the 23.5 miles to meet Peter Shankman as he landed. Who knows how much Morton’s can attribute to their bottom line from this employee’s action? — Definitely this individual’s repeat business, plus friends, family, and anyone else who hears the story through word of mouth or social media.
What if upon return from an event, you knew your customer’s team was facing a pending deadline and arranged for a local coffee delivery to their office with a note thanking them for their time away from the office and wishing them luck on that project?
Invite Them Into Your World. Don’t Fear Being Perfect.
Repeat business comes from not only positive and trusted experiences, but also letting them know and trust you, personally and openly. MarketingProfs explains the “clear correlation exists between the quality and length of customer relationships” by explaining the difference between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.
The first is focused around the result or feeling of a simple transaction. The loyalty part develops with an open dialog partnership. MarketingProfs cites that “50% of customers who report strong, “Trusted Adviser” relationships are retained for at least six years.”
Trusted does not = always right. Take the opportunity to acknowledge missed steps and opportunities for refinement. Nordstrom, the previously mentioned customer service poster-child, makes transparency and ethics their guiding light. “We also realize that we’re not perfect. Through reporting what we’ve learned over the years, we will hold ourselves accountable for our actions and determine ways to make improvements into the future.”
FYI: In 2012, the retail company ranked #2 (behind Target) as the most admired general merchandiser and recorded 13% annual growth for the second year in a row, $10.5 billion in 2011 fiscal year. We can all take a cue from their methods…
Once your customers gain knowledge of you, your company, experience what you can personally do to make their job more enjoyable, as well as professionally contribute to their goals, that CLV calculation will work itself out.
Be thoughtfully authentic. Anticipate needs. Go beyond.