Recently, an old associate was networking with me and was fascinated that I remembered her family and her hobby from 10 years ago. It got me thinking about the importance of being personal — how it can help your business when it’s just you — all the way up to when it employs hundreds or even thousands of people.
Just think about your favorite restaurant. Do they recognize you when you’re there? Do they ask you if you’ll have “the usual?” Do they know your name? Simple things like that make you feel special and valued.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being anonymous, and that is what is expected. Going the extra mile, however, exceeds expectations. It makes you feel valued. It’s the difference between your favorite restaurant — which you recommend to all your friends and family — and just another food spot.
So, however you can, take time to make your small business as personal as you can. Perhaps it’s just an extra check-in phone call with clients. Perhaps it’s asking the names of your regular customers. The more you can make someone feel valued and like an individual, the more they are going to prefer you over the place next door. You can also learn to relate to common interests like sports teams, but be careful to be politically correct. Also remember political correctness is defined by the listener and can vary considerably.
Being Personal As You Grow
While it’s pretty straightforward and achievable to have a personal touch as a small business, it becomes a whole different ballgame at scale. You can’t keep track of all your customers and remember all of their names. There are simply too many.
It sounds like a good problem to have, but often times a business’ failure to adjust as it grows is doomed to alienate the people who buys its products and services. Impersonal e-mails get deleted. Employees reciting memorized scripts come off as fake. If you’re not careful, you can go from being a business that gained customers for being personal to one that loses customers for being impersonal.
There are a few ways to avoid it:
1 Be personal from top to bottom:
Maybe you were leading the “being personal” charge, and as you had to relinquish more and more day-to-day control of your business to other people, that personal touch got lost in the mix. Well, if it was important to your success, then make sure it becomes part of the training of your people. Create a rule that servers must ask the name of a customer that has been in the restaurant two weeks in a row, for example. Make sure that if you value something, it becomes part of the DNA of your business, not just something that you do and hope that everyone will do, too.
2. Make being personal a system:
Ever notice how Amazon and Netflix do their best to remember your habits or interests and try to recommend things you like? It’s not the perfect solution and can never replace a human, but using technology to personalize helps you hang onto a little bit of that personal touch.
3. Always consider the needs of your customers, clients, partners, employees, suppliers, etc.
Make negotiations win-win. What does the customer really want and when? Remember the same person frequently shops at Neiman Marcus and Costco. I have a relative in a nursing home who was distressed at losing physical therapy from the insurance company because he met the goals. When talking to him, we realized the companionship was more important than the exercise. Thus, he was pleased when we found a social worker to just talk to him on a regular basis.
At the end of the day, dealing with people on a personal level is key to creating relationships and building loyalty that can last decades. Many business fail to start off this way, and many more fail to stay this way once they get big. If you can get a handle on this principle now, you can be that much farther ahead of the curve down the road.
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