6 Low-Budget, High-Return Customer Experience Tips Learned at the Dairy Queen


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It was 25 years ago, a time before “customer experience” was a discipline, but this Dairy Queen franchise owner instinctively knew how to create great experiences, build loyal customers, and grow her businesses for lasting success.

During down business cycles budgets are often reduced, if not cut out altogether. You’re asked to do more, with less money. It’s difficult to put in place an effective customer experience program with a small budget. At times like these, I always go back to the basics, to the core fundamentals I learned about the customer experience in a very unlikely place — a Dairy Queen franchise in rural Centerville, Pennsylvania.

#1 Thank Your Customers
A genuine smile and a heartfelt thank you brought people back time and time again. In business, we often forget the importance of the simple Thank You. When your employees talk to your customers on the phone, do they thank them for their business? Do your sales people send out handwritten Thank You cards? Do your senior executives take the time to place an impromptu thank you call? Imagine how the news would spread across social networks if your CEO telephoned and thanked one customer each day. We often get caught up in elaborate programs and forget about the power of a simple Thank You.

#2 Make the Customer Feel Special
I’m sure you have a favorite restaurant, a place where they greet you by name. The owner of that Dairy Queen franchise not only knew everyone in Centerville by name, she often had “goodies” for certain customers behind the counter. She’d cut out a newspaper article about someone’s child, so that they had an extra copy. Or, she’d pick up a book on a customer’s favorite hobby. One of the best ways to let a customer know they are valued is to send them something specific to their interests and goals. Encourage not only your sales staff to do this, but all of your front line employees. If each customer-facing employee can create great one-to-one relationships with at least 3 to 5 folks on the customer side, think of the exponential potential of increased loyalty and referrals. This is even more true in the age of social media, where research has shown that social influence is often passed along three degrees of connections (http://www.connectedthebook.com/).

#3: Put Your Mark on It
This Dairy Queen franchise was out in the middle of nowhere, yet it had direct competition, another Dairy Queen franchise less than 10 minutes away. While Dairy Queen is a great brand name and provided excellent products, the owner couldn’t rely on that brand alone. She had to distinguish her franchise from the other franchise. She put her team’s skills to use: one woman was an artist and quickly our Dairy Queen became well known for the beautiful cakes. Because products or services are often commodities (insurance is insurance, tax prep is tax prep, tires are tires), you need to put your special mark on it to stand out from the competition. Talk to your employees, what can you add to the product or service delivery to make your mark? Leverage that which is unique to your company – your employees. Engage your employees to make your product and service unique.

#4: Build Your Referral Network
I cursed those nights when the little league teams were lined up out both doors, long lines of screaming kids waiting for their cone; but those nights were excellent for business. The owner gave all little league coaches discounts on team cones. Sure, the cones didn’t make much money, but the parents and siblings of those little league players often ordered items that did. And the general goodwill this effort built in the community went a long way towards gaining more customers. Now is the time to build a solid network of referral partners and develop incentives that encourage the referral. Those incentives do not necessarily need to be financial—share information, pass along a referral to them, give them some market insight—and they will then likely do the same for you. Referral partners are not only effective at the C-level, but throughout the organization – yes, even your security staff could have a great referral connection. Encourage all your employees to use LinkedIn, connect with the corporate profile, and share via their status updates valuable industry information or your company successes and post your needs such as new hires or materials.

#5: Small Daily Efforts are More Productive than Big Ones
Many of my co-workers called the owner a slave-driver. If we had even one second of downtime, we were expected to clean—something, anything. And by the end of the evening, when the doors closed at 9:30, the entire place was spotless and we could go home. Those nights when the little leaguers where lined out the door? We’d be there until 10:30 at night cleaning up and it would cost the owner more to pay us. The same concept applies to your customer experience outreach—consistent, low budget touchpoints once a month is less expensive and more effective than one big campaign. Spend your money on postcards, letter campaigns, sending small gifts, email newsletters, thank you calls, and other items—rather than blowing the entire budget on one big event.

#6 Have a Big Sign
The Centerville Dairy Queen was on a long straight stretch of road, with a sign so large you could see it a mile up the road. This gave passersby a chance to react and decide to stop in for an ice cream. A smaller sign and these drivers might have just passed on by. The same applies to any company. Be visible. Get your name out there. This doesn’t mean a full page ad in a magazine. (Although this would not hurt, I’m sure you have better ways to spend your money.) There are very cost-effective ways to “have a big sign.” Start with a strong, content-rich website, register in all the free or low-cost web directories you can find, join industry forums and blogs, and get out there on the core social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Research shows that a company’s websites influence 97% of clients’ purchasing decisions (http://bit.ly/b0CcP9). People want to work with people that others know and respect. It brings a sense of credibility and make them feel more comfortable that “picking you” was the right decision for their business.

I’m sure your thinking – did this really work for that Dairy Queen? Yes! It’s been 25 years since I worked there and the place is still open and busy every time I pass by. And the competitive franchise? It’s been closed for years.

Raelin Musuraca
Customer Experience Strategist, Musuraca LLC
Raelin Musuraca is versatile and energetic customer experience strategist with twenty years practicing marketing, digital strategy, and user experience. She has led multidisciplinary teams in the development of award-winning marketing and customer engagement programs.


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