In a recent visit to my dentist’s office, I overheard a conversation between the receptionist and a patient on the telephone. It seemed the patient on the phone was upset by the fact that the automated reminder system was mispronouncing his last name. I listened as the receptionist tried to explain that it was an ‘offsite’ automated system that she had no control over. The conversation went back and forth until the receptionist turned to another person in the office and said “he hung up on me… said he wasn’t going to come back here until we pronounced his name properly.” Some may think the ‘patient’ was being overly touchy about an automated machine mispronouncing his name but this was obviously enough of an issue to the patient that he would threaten changing a health provider over it. As I sat there waiting, I wondered how hard it would have been for the receptionist to sense the importance to the patient and simply make a note in his records that he should not receive an automated reminder call. Maybe a personal call. Or a postcard or an email?
I recently shared a story of my shopping efforts with an automobile dealership, where I attempted to get information on an advertised CPO vehicle. The website phone number directed me to an offsite CSM, who, while very pleasant, could not provide the information I needed. So I located the local number of the dealership and eventually got the info I needed from a salesperson. In the meantime, I was bombarded with phone calls and emails completely irrelevant to the information I had originally requested. Sale offers, finance promos, testimonials, etc. In another similar situation, just hours after I took delivery of a leased vehicle at another dealership, I received a series of emails from a CSM service asking if the dealership had provided answers to my questions, and was there any way they might earn my business. What a total impersonal disconnect!
Obviously CSM management systems have a valid role in control and process discipline for most dealerships, but the moment these systems disable the ‘personal touch’ some customers expect, they can also damage the personal loyalty connection. Recently, when I negotiated for a leased vehicle, I asked my salesperson if he would mind giving me both his personal email and cell phone. If, and when, I had a problem, I wanted a warm, breathing human being who would know my name and history so I didn’t have to waste valuable time. I also told the salesperson that it would encourage me to make referrals of friends, which I actually have done.
In all probability, your best and most consistent salesperson is the person who has mastered the art of the personal touch.
Most people I know like a ‘personal connection’ with businesses and services they use. It saves time and cuts through the clutter. I have the cell phone numbers of my electrician, plumber, HVAC person, propane salesperson, lawn maintenance and even my doctor in my cell phone. For over 30 years my clients in the advertising business have had my cell phone and personal email as well. None of them have ever abused that information, but more than once has it helped solve problems quickly and even exchange ideas in an informal and personal manner, to the extent I’ve always felt my clients were also my friends.
Yesterday I had an enjoyable phone conversation with a dealer I’ve known for over 20 years. This man is a third generation owner who has done his family proud by maintaining an enviable personal touch with customers, even though the dealer has grown to five locations and over 1500 vehicles a month. To this very day this CEO makes random calls to customers and insists that his general managers, some who are equity partners, do the same. He believes this process has helped root out any problems with sales and service quickly, and has helped to keep everyone on their ‘toes’. If a customer calls this dealer, they will get a return call, usually within 24 hours. He told me of a situation where a long time loyal customer was unhappy about a service experience. The customer called while the dealer was on vacation, and to his amazement, the customer received a call the following morning from the dealer at his vacation retreat. My dealer friend told him that he felt it must be important because the customer rarely calls. They had a pleasant chat, solved the problem at hand and spent several minutes discussing golf. The following week, when the dealer was back at his store, the customer showed up with his son. “It’s his birthday and I’m buying him a car…but I wanted him to meet you personally so he would know who to call when he had a problem.”
One of the most impressive personal touches I ever experienced in my very frequent hotel stays while on business was at a Marriott in Pittsburgh. When checking in a received a note, personally signed by the manager, inviting me to a VIP breakfast the next morning as his guest. During that breakfast, attended by about 10 guests, the manager said he just wanted to thank us for our loyalty to Marriott and pick our brains on how he could make things better. Wow! Not only a token of appreciation, a chance to do valuable research and further strengthen the bonds of loyalty which blowing a little smoke with the VIP business. Shortly after that I suggested to a group of dealers that they consider having a breakfast buffet once a month in the dealership showroom for VIP service customers. And during that breakfast, take the time to ask questions on the sales and service experiences. One of those dealers not only took me up on the idea, his general managers have been doing this for the past 10 years with exceptional results, attributing quite a few sales to the events as well as gaining valuable insight on marketing research.
Research shows us that the younger our customers are, the more they are influenced by word of mouth recommendations, personal ratings and referrals. Trust in advertising claims has declined over the past 30 years. Yet, when customers of any age have their expectations exceeded in the area of ‘a personal touch’, they respond with loyalty.
The personal touch can actually become your marketing edge if you and your team embrace that power of the concept. Talk about it at your team meetings. What little things can you do to make each and every customer feel that they are important to you as an individual. In all probability, your best and most consistent salesperson is the person who has mastered the art of the personal touch. This is the person who gives out his/her cell phone, makes personal appeals on social media websites, reaches out to family and friends. You can have an advertising campaign that talks about ‘the personal touch’, with phrases like “It’s all about you”, and “….great attention to your personal needs…” but if your process is cold and automated, the personal touch will fall flat.
If you’ve discovered some ‘personal touch’ ideas that have worked well for you, email me. I’d love to share them in a future article.