Small Business Branding – 5 Lessons On How Customer Service Communicates Beyond the Brand

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Small business branding is simple when you remember one thing: it’s all about the customer’s experience. Here’s a true story from one of my professional speaking travel logs:

It all started at the airport.

The free shuttle van to the hotel arrived and a pleasant man with white hair and a huge smile stepped out and did something no shuttle driver has ever done.

He shook my hand and introduced himself as Robert.

In that moment I knew this ride was going to be different.

Instead of selecting a seat in the back, as the only rider in the van I decided to ride “shotgun” – in the front seat next to Robert. For the next few minutes Robert kindly shared with me the recent history of the area, talked about his family and little grandchildren, and chatted with me about the weather. When I asked him to re-route to take me to a drug store to pick up an item I promised a friend, he didn’t hesitate. Then he quickly took me to my destination and carried my bag all the way into the lobby where he introduced me to the front desk staff by name.

By now I was in a bit of shock and must confess I don’t recall the woman’s name who could not check me in – I had arrived at 10:45 AM hours before check in time. But she was kind enough to take my name and my bag and told me she’d do everything she could to expedite my room and check in.

Less than 30 minutes later, a colleague and I were having lunch in the hotel lobby’s restaurant when the hotel manager, Dean Kirk passed by. He looked right at me and said, “Hello, Ms. Slattery. Can I get you anything or help with in any way today?”

Whoa. Back up the train. Of course my kids think I’m a big deal because I got free tickets to see a movie premier based on my Twitter stats, but in real life? Hardly. The only places I get “recognized” are at events where my face was plastered all over the sales page… never by random people out in the world. And while I was at this hotel to speak at an event being hosted there, I was pretty sure this hotel manager calling me by name and asking to help had no idea I was associated with that group. I still don’t know how he knew my name.

I told him my room wasn’t ready yet and he said he’d be right back. In a few short minutes he returned and said my room was now waiting for me and he’d personally help me check in when I was through with my lunch.

Natasha, the lovely young lady at the restaurant went out of her way to create a special platter of snacks and goodies for a special client intensive training I was conducting along with my colleague. Natasha filled the fridge with cold drinks instead of leaving them out on a table to get warm and sneaked in a few extra brownies and bottles of water just for us – at no charge and said if we needed anything to call her and she’d be right up.

A little while later, in our VIP suite, the front desk called and told us we had a delivery, but they knew we were in a meeting and would bring it up right away. That’s when I saw the hotel manager Dean Kirk, again as he delivered the package himself.

Fast forward a couple days when my colleague and I wanted to take our VIPs and customers to lunch, James, another shuttle driver bent the rules for us. I explained to him we were in a hurry between sessions at the event and I HAD to get back in time because I was scheduled to speak immediately after lunch. James came back to pick us up right on time – without us having to call first, breaking the hotel’s regular rules.

THIS was no ordinary Embassy Suites.

When you think of superior first class service, what hotel brands come to mind? The Ritz Carlton. The W. The Four Seasons. But the Embassy Suites? Not usually. After this trip I realized, the level of customer service of any organization can transcend the brand when the people involved are committed to providing the best experience possible to their clients, customers, or as in this case, guests.

As a small or solo business owner, you may not have any employees, but you likely have folks who represent you in some way – possibly a virtual assistant or a help desk person, and you use other products that represent you to your customers. The key is to find people and services who are as committed as you are to providing a first class experience. Here are a few lessons from my stay at the Embassy Suites at Brier Creek, Raleigh, North Carolina:

  1. Call Your Clients By Name: The most pleasing sound to any human being is the sound of his or her own name. When you use it, people feel special. In your auto-responder messages start with the person’s first name. When you answer questions on teleseminars or from stage, get the person’s name and use it as you reply.
  2. Go Above and Beyond: When your customers or clients need your help, surprise them by being available. Share with them links or advice or stay on the phone just a little bit longer – remember these are people who have paid you money. Treat them like it!
  3. Throw in a Little Extra on the House: What bonuses or cool gifts could you provide to your clients and customers? People loved being pleasantly surprised by little extras.
  4. Break the Rules for Them: Think of some of the rules you have in place like your work hours or various policies in working with clients. Then think of your best customers. If one of your best customers asked you for a favor that went against one of your policies – or didn’t ask, but you knew breaking your rule would help them… would you? You might if you were committed to excellent customer service.
  5. Be Thoughtful: People love to know you’ve been thinking about them. Maybe you don’t have to decide if you will leave a cold drink on the table or put it in the fridge, but what might be a nice thought to offer your clients? Perhaps you simply leave a birthday greeting that goes beyond two words on their Facebook page or send a link to a free teleseminar you thought would be helpful for them, or introduce them to a potential client or useful vendor.

When you provide amazing customer service, the brand does not matter one bit. It’s the experience you give your customers that will make them remember your and your brand, fall in love with your brand, and stay loyal to your brand.

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