08/02/2012 05:05 EDT | Updated 10/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Eleven Tips for Wooing Customers

The customer experience becomes more important now than ever in a down economy. Especially when shoppers are now open to the idea of visiting your competition, unless you provided them with a shopping experience previously, that they don't want to trade. The more loyal your customers are, the better positioned you are to survive a downturn.

There is no question that the economic downturn adversely affected the profitability of many businesses over the past few years.

We all read and hear about the bombardment of unlimited negative messages about the potential spillage from our southern neighbours, that will no doubt continue to equate to consumers' continued attitude of, "I am going to wait a bit longer and see what happens," before they open up their wallets any wider.

The customer experience becomes more important now than ever in a down economy. Especially when shoppers are now open to the idea of visiting your competition, unless you provided them with a shopping experience previously, that they don't want to trade. The more loyal your customers are, the better positioned you are to survive a downturn.

Little has changed on the part of business owners and customer service. There is overwhelming research telling us for years, that in order to improve our bottom line, we must focus on the customer and service. Consumers keep saying that customer service keeps falling, working towards eroding their trust with businesses, as they continue to get less of what they want. Most companies still have enormous room for improvement.

Customers are not only stressed out in their own lives, but they are also frustrated with many of their past negative service interactions. This only adds to their distrust, which could further affect the downturn, in that a return to profitability could be further delayed.

Maybe this is why consumers have that win-lose buyer-seller relationship embedded in their minds. Customers appear angrier and more difficult than ever.

Employees are also experiencing what customers are in a downward economy. They are worried about losing their jobs as their boss looks for ways to cut costs. If they are not properly trained, a businesses' bottom line might be affected here too.

Employees should be custodians of a business and they need even more reassurance and recognition than ever. This is no time to cut back on employee incentives and rewards. It's also not the time to keep those employees on board that clearly could care less about customers and really don't want to be part of the team.

However, I place 80 per cent of crappy customer service customer interactions on the boss, not the employee. For example, if you consider that some employers spend more money on light bulbs a year instead of on employee training programs and incentives, what type of motivation is there to do a good job or even know how to do a good job?

If you did happen to spend your time and dollars chasing economic growth in the past, now is the time to concentrate on your customers. I believe that if service demands are not met, these businesses will be forced to compete on price and convenience alone.

For the time being, customers' wallets may be closed more than open, so the best way to keep and grow that wallet share is with positive customer service experiences every time. People are still going to buy, so ensure that they buy from you and not your competition.

1) Questions are the Answers to Sales

Most salespeople are strongly tempted to begin pitching products too early. I liken this to going to the doctor with a broken arm and the Doctor pitching heart surgery instead! It's just as ludicrous for a salesperson to 'diagnose' a customer, without asking the right questions first. To fight the temptation of pitching too early, here is a rule of thumb about asking questions. Think of it as the Rule of Three: Keep asking questions until you have provided solutions to THREE of your customers' needs or objections.

2) Emotional Based Buying Trend

Customers' purse strings are attached to their hearts. Rational selling is out. Emotional selling is in and statistics prove it. Customers today make more unplanned, unexpected purchases than ever before IF they are made to feel 'special' 'needed' 'important'. Without a lot of time to develop a new solid friendship with every customer, it's important to use your time wisely and give every customer the same consideration.

3) Attitude

If your staff can't get excited about what they are selling, how do you expect your customer to be? Smiles are universal and they don't cost anything, yet they are a dwindling commodity. Business is never personal yet somehow sales staff seem to be affected by the attitude of the customer, instead of directing how the encounter should unfold.

4) Empower Staff

Business owners should be looking for every opportunity to empower their staff to be proactive in any situation that involves the customer in order to make things easier. Nothing is more frustrating than asking an employee for something and they reply 'you have to speak to my boss and she isn't in today.' If your staff isn't allowed to make decisions with respect to your customers, then why did you hire them? Get your staff together and address difficult selling situations that they have had with customers and look for ways to overcome them next time.

5) Relationship Selling Skills

Business is about relationship development. When a customer walks into your store, calls you on the phone or signs up for your web service, they are forming ideas about who you are and how you work. It's more important that the customer leaves with a good impression of you and your business than it is that they buy from you. If you build trust and confidence in your customers the money will come and sustain your business for the long term.

6) Be A Hero To Your Customer

Don't nickel and dime them. Is there anything that you can save the day for them with - give it away? For free? I read where a bike shop fixed broken chains on the spot free! When they implemented this program, their bike sale increases went through the roof.

7) Reach out to Past Customers

Go into your database, if you have one, and call them up. Tell them about your new financing arrangements, or free warranties or whatever you are offering to get them back.

8) Close The Sale/Upsell

Up to 85% of front line service employees never ask for the sale or upsell. When you survey customers and ask them why they didn't buy something, the most common reply is, "because the salesperson didn't ask me to." We're in business to sell and If we can't ask for the sale, we're going to sell less. Staff hate asking for the sale and the customer is scared about making a bad buying decision. At the time of purchasing, a customers' pulse rate increases. Let customers know that they are making a good decision or make alternative suggestions. Present complimentary items or services.

9) Phone Service

Treat your phone-in customers as seriously as your in-person ones. Customers do a lot of calling around to businesses before they make a decision of where to visit. Thank them for calling and invite them in.

10) End Dumb Customer Interactions

Stop sending customers negative messages or acting like you don't care. Why ask customers 'Can I help you?' when it is most often replied with, 'no!' and the service interaction ends before it has a chance to begin. Ask open ended questions. Check your signs too. Most signs are just plain dumb and are mostly being read by your honest, good paying customers, not criminals.

11) Tell Customers What You Can Do

Put a positive spin on everything. Customers don't want to hear about your deadlines or lame excuses. They only want to know what you can do. Business is often a negotiating process so look for ways to make very encounter work or offer positive alternatives.