How to wow your customers

Back in the day, if you provided a decent service for a fair price, your business grew. Today, however, it's a whole new ball game - increased competition, advancements in technology and changing customer preferences mean that consumers simply demand more for their dollar.

To adapt to the changing consumer landscape, some businesses try to reduce their cost. They source cheaper materials, automate their assembly, outsource their operations and lay off their employees. It's a painful process that may not be worth all the effort.

Other businesses cut out what they call 'non-essentials', such as marketing and customer service, instead opting to shift them online. This can reduce operational costs significantly, but if not done well, brand awareness can wane and customers can complain at the lack of human contact.

And other businesses opt to charge a price that will get them to a level of profitability, but more often than not, high prices turn consumers away. Australian retailers, for example, fall under this category and the consequences of this can be seen in a shift to online shopping.

All three situations are not ideal, yet only a small number of businesses survive and even thrive under such conditions. How do they do it?

The answer is that they impress, or 'wow', their customers. And if you think that applies only to premium or luxury brands that require substantial finances to do so, think again. All businesses can 'wow' their customers by putting that extra effort into various parts of their business, whether it is the supply or customer side of things.

Step into your customer's shoes and think about what you'd expect out of the transaction. Then deliver something a little edgy and unexpected.

First, evaluate your three levels of product: core, actual and augmented. Let's take mobile phone vendor Nokia, as an example. Its core product is communication technologies, the actual product includes design and branding, while the augmented products are warranties, delivery, financing and so on. You should look for opportunities to wow your customers at a low cost in any of these areas.

In 1989, Nokia was one of the first developers of a technology named Global System for Mobile Communications or GSM, a type of mobile technology that carries data such as text messages, caller ID and call waiting in addition to voice calls. GSM later became the international standard for mobile telephony, and helped the company dominate the mobile phone industry, until recently. Nokia was also one of the first few companies in its industry to introduce colour to their products. Even though this was not its core product, it contributed to its worldwide success.

Now that we have covered core and actual product strategies, we can now discuss how your business can use an augmented strategy to boost customer satisfaction.

Zappos sells shoes online, and some might argue that it's difficult to wow customers given the lack of face to face interaction. However, Zappos focuses on delivering unexpectedly fantastic customer service, such as sending a birthday card to their customers or allowing their customers to return any shoes that don't fit back to them (and they'll handle the shipping fee).

Another example is Saddleback Leather, a retailer of leather bags. Essentially, the company is competing with high-end luxury brands, making it tough for the small business to wow customers. Yet they did it, by offering a 100-year guarantee on their workmanship.

Now, before I end, I would like to give you one last example that my mentor told me about. He was driving home from the country one night and decided to drop by this little motel. The motel was cheap and modest so he didn't expect much more other than a bed.

When he got into his room, he dropped a pen and the pen rolled under the bed. So he kneeled down to pick it up, and there he found a small card with a note that said, "In case you're wondering, yes, we clean here too. Signed, Motel Manager."

How much did that note cost? And would it wow you?

This article was written by Andrianes Pinantoan. He is a freelance writer who is part of the team behind Open Colleges.

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