Hope Katz Gibbs

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The Importance of Being Earnest [Bell Atlantic UPDATE]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Verizon UPDATE
Cover story
Photo by Kay Chernush

Kip Jacobs is in the process of taking on different personalities. “Like, dude, I love this hair,” says the 24-year-old, swinging the gray ponytail protruding from the back of a green baseball cap.

Jacobs hasn’t gone loopy. He’s at Hats in the Belfry, the land of 10,000 lids. From big white floppy beach hats to Astroturf caps featuring giant plastic golf balls, they sell for $10 to $250.

“This place is great,” he says, choosing the Astroturf ensemble as a birthday gift for his dad.

That’s the kind of customer loyalty successful business leaders long to cultivate, for research indicates that it can cost a business up to five times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one.

BACK TO BASICS

Rule 01: Customer Service is the Top Priority

Hats may be fun, but they are also practical, says customer Faye Sas of Mt. Vernon, VA. She buys about three or four hats each year —always from Hats in the Belfry.

“Their customer ser-vice is the best,” says Sas. “They never try to sell me the most expensive hat in the store. I’ve looked at the selection elsewhere, but I always buy here. As far as I’m concerned, there is no other place to buy a hat.”

In business since 1978, Hats in the Belfry’s chief buyer Cindy Wells attributes the company’s success and staying power to giving customers the value and service they are looking for. “We give all of our customers personal attention,” Wells says. “Although we don’t make much money on an individual sale, just taking the time to make each customer happy keeps them coming back year after year.”

Case in point: Wells recently got a call from a man named Paul Hudson, a 70-something hat aficionado who moved to Boise, ID, and who knew to call Hats in the Belfry when he couldn’t find his favorite cap.

When Hats in the Belfry received Hudson’s call, buyer Wells made a few calls and found the hat was no longer being made. So Wells tried harder. She called the manufacturer in New York, who called the designer in London to try to get the hat.

Rule 02: Keep a Good Attitude

That type of top-notch service is just what Leann Anderson recommends that all businesses provide to keep their customers loyal.

“Taking responsibility for your company and your customers is the way you’ll increase customer loyalty,” says Anderson, owner of Anderson Business Resources, a customer service, marketing, and business etiquette company. She says that too often businesses respond to their customers with indifference and a lackadaisical attitude, and that this is the most common reason customers stray.

Rule 03: Apologies Accepted

If the goal is to satisfy customers so they will sing your praises to family and friends, use good common sense when it comes to customer relations.

“Something as simple as calling back a customer to apologize for a mistake could be enough to get that person to give your business a second chance,” says Anderson. “An apology says to people that you are taking responsibility and that they are important to YOU.”

Making customers feel they are important is the key to building customer loyalty. After all, business relationships are no different than personal relationships – both need to be tended to with fairness, kindness, and a little tender loving care. By following these basic rules your business will be rewarded with life-long, satisfied customers.

ON BEING EARNEST

Anderson offers a few ideas on how you can keep your customers loyal:

• Get to know your customers. Patrons like it when you know who they are. Don’t rely just on your good memory; develop a good database.

• Listen and hear what customers are saying. Not only is it polite, it is smart business. If you own a dry-cleaning business, for instance, and a customer tells you that you keep squashing the shoulder pads on her good blazers, put a note in her file that reminds your staff to press the jacket carefully.

• Be easy to do business with. Don’t let customers walk all over you, but don’t be the enemy, either. If someone needs to return or exchange an item, be understanding and accommodating. Write down your customer service policy and share it. This is important because writing down a specific policy will help you sort out your thoughts and make them concrete.

• Do what you say you’ll do. Reliability and accountability help customers know they can count on you. This is essential in fostering and maintaining customer loyalty.

• Conduct routine smile maintenance. That is, whenever you are dealing with customers, maintain a pleasant expression, smile sincerely, say “thank you,” and be friendly.

• Value your employees. They are your ambassadors. As such, they need to be trained, rewarded, and informed. Most importantly, give them permission to make things better for your customers – whether it is free delivery or a special order. Employees need to know that you’ll back them up and that their attempts at good customer relations won’t get them fired.

*****
Hope Katz Gibbs is a freelance writer in Alexandria, VA, who specializes in writing business articles for corporations, newspapers (The Washington Post and USA Today), and a variety of business magazines. She can be reached at hope@hopegibbs.com.

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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.

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