So, after a less-than-spectacular 2009, we’ve arrived in a new year. And it’s cold. Really cold.
Maybe it’s not that bad where you are, but in New York we have it frigid and windy. I happen to love cold weather, and even I find this to be a bit much. The window I’m sitting next to as I write this is not the best insulated, so a draft is pouring off of it onto my left arm. (I prefer to think of pouring drafts in a more delicious liquid format, but I’m not here to talk about my weakness for fine adult beverages.)
I can hear you wondering what, if anything, this has to do with the business of getting and keeping customers. I’m getting to that. It’s just taking me a while because my brain is impaired by the cold; my fingers aren’t doing much better. It’s cold enough that, were I outside, I’d be looking for a shop to go into just to warm up. As it is, I’m considering leaving my drafty apartment for just such an adventure. And there’s the tie-in.
Walk-in customers and their online equivalent represent a great opportunity to earn new business, but only if the customer experience you provide is up to the challenge. Anybody can turn up the heat, but turning casual browsers into new customers requires warmth. Making people feel welcome goes a long way toward getting them to see what you have to offer, and this applies whether you serve consumers or businesses, in a shop or on a Web site.
Most businesses aim to showoff value first, with announcements about the latest sales and best brands right in customers’ faces when they walk in the door. This can backfire, because it’s very off-putting. Shoppers who know what they’ve come for aren’t interested, and casual foot traffic gets the sense that they are prey for a sales pitch. “How can I help you” is much more welcoming than “what are you looking for,” wouldn’t you agree?
For brick and mortar shops, simple touches like having hot tea or coffee available in the winter—preferably free—and cold drinks in the summer can earn a favorable impression and a closer look. Williams-Sonoma often has free mulled cider in the winter, and remembering that is nearly enough to get me to go there now. Always allow (read: encourage) staff to engage walk-ins in non-sales related conversation as long as it isn’t taking away from something they need to be doing. Things like that go a long way.
Getting beyond specifics like hot drinks and warm conversation in retail stores, the general principle of welcoming applies to any business. If you can make your customers think kindly of you, they will always have you in mind. They will think of you as more than just a supplier of products—and they will spread the word about how pleasant it is to do business with you, even when they’re not actively buying.