Tony is in charge of a convenience store in Salt Lake City, where I attended a customer experience conference. I told him I wanted to buy a certain brand of beer. He said his shop didn’t have it. Instead of insisting that I buy another beer, he directed me to the liquor store nearby where I could find what I wanted.
So I asked him why he was pointing me to another store instead of trying to sell me a different kind of beer. He replied, “If you like me, you will buy other things from me during your stay here.” It was clear to me that he understands the importance of returning customers, and having them recommend you to others. He lives with the spirit of serving rather than selling. Did he lose a sale? Absolutely. But he built a relationship with a customer. Instead of buying things from the store near the hotel where I was staying, I bought them from Tony’s store — not because the other store offers poor service, but because Tony is an excellent salesperson.
When a customer walks into a store, the average salesperson focuses on making a sale, while an excellent one focuses on building a relationship with that customer. Not long ago, I told a similar story about a salesperson who introduced his customer to a rival’s store. Some people thought that doing such a thing would only lead to losing customers. One woman commented that “customers will forget you and don’t appreciate you like you think.” She did not know that I worked as a sales manager for over a decade. I used to meet dozens of customers every day. I know the ugly side of customers in the way she described it.
Another commenter said, “The person referring customers to another business could get fired by his boss. Will you be responsible when people who listen to you lose their jobs?”
These are the commenters’ beliefs. I’m not saying they are wrong. We just have different beliefs about how we should treat our customers. My belief is that customers are humans, not numbers. I was doing the same as Tony did without seeing anyone else doing it before. I was serving rather than selling.
If you also think the same as the two commenters, that’s okay. I’m not trying to convince you that you have to behave like Tony, because then you will be living according to the belief of another person. You may not believe that by serving the interests of the customer, they will be loyal to you. Instead, you may be convinced that a sale is more important than creating a relationship with the customer. Your business approach and daily dealings with customers are likely governed by that belief.
One of my clients, a young businessman, said to me, “Before I met you, my company applied many good practices, but we were not persistent.” I asked, “How so?” He replied, “It goes like this: I learn a best practice from Elon Musk, I apply it and then the next day, I learn how Jeff Bezos manages things. So I follow his lead. This happens again and again, but we somehow end up never continuing these practices.”
“Of course you can’t be persistent,” I said. “Because you are following the beliefs of others. You are just observing their external plans — you don’t know what’s really driving their internal beliefs. That makes you always give up.”
If you see someone doing something — other than a hobby — day in and day out, for months and years, I believe it is because of belief rather than persistence. In other words, I think persistence is just the outward manifestation of a strong inner belief.
One well-known online retailer has the following return policy: Customers can return products within 365 days and get a complete refund. If this company thought that most customers would cleverly take advantage of this policy, then it would likely be afraid of losing money. But instead, the company appears to believe that most customers are honest — that they return goods because they have to, not to intentionally take advantage.
Such return policies can actually increase sales — likely because they relieve the anxiety of customers who buy goods after looking at pictures online. When they are protected by the comfortable return and refund policy, they appear to order more products.
When it comes to becoming a customer-centric company, the most important factor is trusting your customer. To really put customers at the center of what you do, you need to learn to believe in them. Remember: Persistence is only the outward manifestation of a strong inner belief.
So how can you learn to believe in your customers?
Remind yourself that customers are humans.
If you have a problem with the fact that your customers are loyal only if you are good to them, then you may have a problem with what it means to be human. Customers are humans, just like you. By nature, people tend to be more loyal when they have good experiences; good experiences are a result of how you treat them.
Take a long-term view of your business.
Over the long-term, your loyal customers will continue to be valuable to your business. If you treat them well, they will likely continue to buy from you, support new products and recommend you to others. If you look at the relationship between a company and a customer purely as a transaction, then you cannot prioritize customers, because you will see the interests of the company and the customer as contradictory.
Ultimately, by trusting your customers, and believing that they are more than just a way to get a sale, you can help your business in the long-term. By viewing customers as humans, and treating them well, you can earn their loyalty and encourage them to return to your business again and again.