Surprise! You Can Win Customers For Life

Here's how to convert one-time buyers into repeat customers--and loyal advocates.

Thanks to the Internet, incentives to buy like sale prices, volume discounts, and free shipping have become almost a required part of the shopping process. But do these perks really work? I don't think so--not in the long-term. See Don't Discount: Here's Why.

So what can a company do to take a jaded, disengaged, and sometimes even disgruntled customer beyond the moment of the transaction and into an ongoing relationship? Surprise them. Here's how.

Beat your customers to the punch.

About 10 years ago, I flew JetBlue from California to New York. I liked the airline for its comfy seats, fair price, and convenient ticket-change policy. Even when the plane had to sit on the runway for four hours waiting for a repair, I still liked JetBlue, because the airline quickly informed passengers what was happening in a clear and detailed way, and then brought lunch on board. When I arrived back in New York, I was travel weary, but not at all upset about the delay.

But the next morning JetBlue really surprised me. The airline's customer service team sent me an email apologizing that my flight had been delayed, and offered me a $250 flight voucher. At this point, my like turned into love. Not only was JetBlue actually sorry about the delay, but it proactively showed that by compensating me.

Let's be clear; it was not the money that made an impression. It was the fact that I did not have to ask for it. JetBlue won my heart and my business by surprising me with the best customer service I had ever experienced. Since that day, I have flown with JetBlue whenever possible and told others to too.

Make shopping easy.

A few months ago, my husband ordered a cabinet from Restoration Hardware. He prepared for the worst when it came to delivery. You know what I mean: Try to have cable installed and your service date will be weeks away, and require a half-day service window rarely in sync with your availability. But when my husband called the delivery department, the scenario was nothing like what he had imagined.

A Restoration Hardware employee asked what day would be convenient for delivery, and when my husband requested a date only three days away, she agreed to it. She then asked what time he would be available and set a delivery window of less than two hours. Restoration Hardware had no "sorry, that day's not available," no annoying delivery window, no hassle at all. In fact, the surprise didn't end there. On the day of delivery, the cabinet arrived within 15 minutes of the scheduled appointment time.

My husband was so impressed he called me at work to tell me how smoothly the delivery had gone. By surprising him with a simple and easy delivery process, the company had not just made a sale, it made a long-term customer out of someone who hates to shop.

Resolve issues without a fight.

Big companies are not the only ones that can surprise customers. It works just as well for small businesses.

At my company, Metal Mafia, we surprise customers by the way we handle products that are damaged during shipping. When customers call to let us know a purchase arrived with a problem, you can hear in their voices that they think they are going to have to jump through hoops to get the issue resolved. Instead, we surprise them.

We tell them to throw away the defective item, rather than waste valuable time returning it to us. At first, they usually don't believe us. When we insist, and then ship out the replacement or credit their account with no strings attached, you can hear how happy they are--all because they did not have to fight for us to make something right. Our customers' happiness is important, but surprising them takes their satisfaction to a new level--one that makes them want to tell others about their experience shopping at Metal Mafia.

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