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The Missing Manual: The Proper Care and Feeding of Your Customers

Wouldn’t it be nice if your customers came with a manual?

Whenever you buy something new, it often comes with a manual. Something that let’s the owner know how to care for it for best results.

Your milk has a label that tells you to keep it refrigerated. Your shirt has a tag that tells you how to keep it looking so fresh and so clean. And your phone comes with an entire pamphlet with instructions on how to operate it.

Strange as it is, the things that are most important, like your customers, don’t come with any manual at all.

That’s a bummer. Especially since it’s resulted in too many failed businesses. In fact, if you think back to your childhood, you’ll realize that your childhood pets often came with some sort of “Proper Care and Feeding” manual.

The good news? There’s lot’s of fantastic examples out there of businesses who’ve figured out how to properly care for and feed their customers. And as a result, their customers have rewarded them with their attention. Their loyalty. Their love.

As an audience builder, you’re hungry for lessons on how to properly care for and feed your customers. Here are some pearls of wisdom you can use as your customer care manual, extracted from businesses who are doing it right.

Step#1: Activate Your Superpowers

Do you know how much power you have? You’ve got tons of the power you need to get your customers to love you. In fact, you already have everything you need to grow your audience into massive raving fans.

All you have to do is activate your superpowers to get the results you seek.

Zappos baked activating it’s superpowers into it’s mission:

“Our philosophy at Zappos is to WOW with service and experience, not with anything that relates directly to monetary compensation.”

And they go to great lengths to ensure everyone on their team uses their superpowers for good in every interaction with customers.

WOW is such a short, simple word, but it really encompasses a lot of things. To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means doing something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that’s above and beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver. We are not an average company, our service is not average, and we don’t want our people to be average. We expect every employee to deliver WOW.

And their customers respond with rave reviews and stories of how Zappos delighted them. Here are ten Zappos customer success stories to inspire you to throw on your superhero tights.

You control which customers you have in your business, the experience they have with you, and the relationship they have with you over time.

You control all that.

And by using your superpowers to act based upon a deep understanding of your customers, and their needs, you can improve their lives for the better. You can delight them, rather than disappoint them.

Delighted customers are loyal. They buy more. They tell others about how wonderful you are. And they’re easier to keep happy over time. All characteristics you want, and can have in your customers.

But first you have to decide to make it your mission to do everything you can to practice the proper care and feeding of your customers.

Mindset shift: You have the power to influence the way your customers relate to you. The more you focus on what they need from you, the better your relationship with them will be.

Application challenge: Write down the kind of relationship you want to have with your customers. Include the level of engagement you have with them, and they with you, and how you want them to feel after interacting with your business. Then brainstorm one thing you can start doing today to move your relationship closer to your vision.

Step #2: Ask Not What Your Customer Can Do For You…

In JFK’s inauguration address in 1961, he encouraged Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

The same sentiment applies to your customers.

Too many business owners look at their customers as a paycheck, rather than people whose problems they can help solve.

No bueno.

Focusing all your energy on how much you can sell to your customers won’t get them to love you. Giving to them will enable you to win their hearts over the long-haul.

Give them lots of good stuff over time. That could include value-added information, solutions to solve their problem, and even good feelings. All are necessary to make life better for them.

American Express knew that a big problem for many of the small business owners they worked with was getting more customers. So instead of trying to sell them more stuff as a solution to that problem, they came up with a better idea for how to help them.

Enter Small Business Saturday. It’s a shopping day two days after Thanksgiving in the U.S. On Small Business Saturday, eager shoppers are encouraged to go out and support their local small businesses. Since being launched in 2010, the movement has steadily grown larger. In 2013, more than $5.7 billion was spent in small independent businesses on that day.

Mindset shift: Your business exists for your customers. You are there to serve them, rather than their being there to buy from you.

Application challenge: Write down one act of service you can start doing for your customers on a regular basis to make their lives better.

Step #3. Prioritize Your Customers

As a business owner, your plate is no doubt overflowing with things to do. And with so many things on one plate, it gets easy to lose sight of the most important thing on it: tending to your customers.

Firepole Marketing does a fabulous job of putting readers at the front of their business, and keeping them there. Sending out a daily email that answers a question from the audience has to take tons of time. But Sid does it day in, and day out with super helpful responses. He does it with the daily emails, as well as with the one on one back and forth that goes on behind the scenes. You can feel the love and care he takes with each one.

Sometimes I wonder how he gets anything done besides answering emails all day! But because the Firepole team has prioritized helping their audience, the time it takes is time well spent.

As Sid puts it:

Answering each email is important because each person is important. I truly believe that each person is a gift, and helping that person bring themselves and their unique gifts to the world is the healing of all the world’s problems. So I want to do what I can to help each of you succeed and share.”

Running a business is hard. And there are a whole bunch of things you need to do to make it all work, and work well. Things such as working on your craft, marketing, and accounting.

All these activities are important. But they are meaningless if they come at the expense of taking care of your customer.

If you let other activities shift your focus away from building a relationship with and serving your customers, your relationship with them will suffer – even if your intentions are good.

Mindset shift: The things that are a priority to you are the things that get your time, energy, and attention. [tweet_dis]To demonstrate that your customers are your priority, you’ve got to give them much of your time, energy, and attention.[/tweet_dis]

Application challenge: Write down what your highest priority is in tending to your customers. Brainstorm a few things you can do to ensure the time to work on that priority doesn’t get put on the back burner or deprioritized to work on other “important” things.

Step #4. Prove Your Love

Once you start using your superpowers for good, looking for ways to give to your customers, and giving them highest priority in your business, you’ll be in pretty good shape.

But there’s one more thing you’ll need to do to make their hearts overflow with love for you.

You’ve got to nurture your relationship with your customers if you want it to grow to a deeper level. The way you do that is by demonstrating the relationship is important to you.

One way to do that is to express your appreciation.

TD Bank did it in a big way when they turned their ATMs into “Automatic Thanking Machines.” They gave lots of their customers warm fuzzies with thoughtful gestures that showed how much they cared.

Jimyz Automotive did it in on a smaller scale, but their simple thank you cards still made a big impact.

What do your actions communicate to your customers about how you feel about them? Do they show you care? Do they back up your words? Or do they tell a different story?

You can’t just talk about how much you value and appreciate your customers. You have to show them in a way that’s meaningful to them, over and over again.

Bottom line: your customers need to feel that you care. They need to feel it in their hearts. That feeling will be manifested by the things you do: the big things, the little things, and everything in between.

Mindset shift: You have to continually show your customers you care. Words aren’t enough.

Application challenge: Write down three things you can consistently do to show your customers how you feel about them. Then brainstorm three ideas for how to prove your love in a big way.

It’s Time to Follow the Manual

When you started your business, no one handed you a manual for how to grow and nurture your audience. But there’s no reason to keep building your business without a little help from the experts!

As you can see, many companies large and small have been successful because they took care of their customers.

Following in their footsteps is easy: all you have to do is properly care for and feed your customers.

Follow the manual: the more care and feeding you give to them, the more lovin’ they’ll send back to you.

Which of the steps above do you need most assistance with in your business? Think about it, and let’s chat in the comments about how to get you moving forward with it.

About Sonia Thompson

Sonia Thompson is the founder of TRY Business where she's on a mission to help entrepreneurs like you build your dream business that keeps your customers coming back for more. Jump on her free 7-part "Get Your Customers to Love You eCourse. Then follow her on Twitter (@TRYBusiness) or Google+.

8 thoughts on “The Missing Manual: The Proper Care and Feeding of Your Customers

  1. Sonia,

    This was a timely post for me.

    I just began doing an “act of service for my customers on a regular basis to make their lives better.”

    I don’t know how it will work out but I think it will help me stand out from others who offer similar services. I also think it will add value to my clients lives.

    The only thing we’ll have to agree to disagree on is the TD Bank reference.

    My all-time-favorite bank was Commerce Bank and when TD acquired them they ruined the reputation Commerce built for extraordinary customer service. Of course, I switched banks so if they’re doing great things now I’m probably out of the loop. 😉

    Nice to see you back on Firepole….

  2. Hey Anthony – great to see you here!

    I have no doubt regular “acts of service” will be appreciated by your clients. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough businesses out there who take the “customer first” approach. So by you actively looking for ways to make your customers’ lives better, they’ll be delighted for sure! And adding that kind of value will make you indispensable .

    And I too joined Commerce Bank first – and was unsure about the whole TD Bank takeover. But, years later, I’m still with them, and I can confirm that they’ve “proved their love” to me in ways that have made me squeal with glee 🙂

    Thanks again for stopping by. 🙂

  3. Great post, Sonia! Answering emails has been key to my success. In fact, the answers have become the basis for entire books because every problem is an opportunity to expand solution that you’re already offering.

    • Hey Anthony – answering emails is definitely time consuming, but you’re right, it makes such a big difference. Customers feel like you “see them” when you take the time to engage with them and answer their questions.

      And it’s a double win when you’re able to turn what you’ve learned from those exchanges into products to help even more people on a broader scale.

      So congrats to you for making it work for you in multiple ways!

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  4. Hello Sonia,

    Just a quick thank you for your excellent advice. This reminds me of creative writing advice when experts say you must ‘show not tell’ – (the exact opposite of rip off merchants and so many politicians who are all talk and no effective action).
    It’s also highly seasonal to encourage us to think of putting the concerns of others before our own – good business, good karma and good for you.
    Thanks again – please accept my warm regards.

    • Hey there Zarayna – great to see you here!

      Putting our customers first is always a good strategy. And in keeping with the holiday spirit “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”

      You’re right – when we put others first, it is definitely good karma and good for business!

      Glad you enjoyed!

  5. This is a great article, thank you! I have always felt that time spent on building a relationship is time wisely invested. Unfortunately, in my experience there are always people who will take advantage: I spend time giving advice via email to many prospects and clients, but eventually there will come that one person who constantly reaches out for advice yet never hires us or(as far as we can tell) refers us. I like to be generous, but not taken advantage of, and a person who takes and never gives is also taking time that I could use to help my actual clients and nurture more mutually beneficial relationships. Any advice on how to avoid things getting to that point, or language to politely cut (or trim, in any case) ties?

    • Hey Ally – I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

      Yes, time invested in building relationships with clients is time well spent for sure. But like you say, every now and then you may come across that client that seems to cross the line in terms of what they try to extract from you for free.

      A cool way to politely handle situations like that, is to direct that person to your “work with me” page. You could say something like:

      “As you know, I’m happy to answer questions from people in my community. It looks like the question you have requires more in depth discussion. Here’s a link to my “work with me” page. There you’ll find ways that we can work together where I can spend more focused time helping you accomplish your objectives.”

      And if you have a course or a product that answers their questions, you can substitute the links for those for the “work with me” page, if that makes more sense.

      That’s a polite way of putting it – that serves to maintain the relationship, and your willingness to help, while at the same time drawing a line for the client letting them know that they can’t get everything for free. 🙂

      Hope that helps! And thanks for stopping by!

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