At Your Service: Jan. 6, 2010

The holiday gift giving is behind us; but for businesses, the gift receiving goes on. Despite the fact that we have to work for it, every customer sale is a gift to us. There is tremendous value in taking this point of view toward our customers.
We work hard to develop our product line, whether it is filled with goods or services. Ordering just the right inventory takes careful thought, time and of course the money to pay for it. We studied our craft in order to deliver quality services in a professional manner and the learning is on-going. Those with store fronts must maintain the facility and various displays to present our wares. When we are not at work, we are thinking about what we need to do to keep the business going.
With all this work, it is easy to lose sight of a business’ raison d’etre. While it must make money in order to continue, it will not do that if it is focused on anything other than the needs of customers. From that perspective, every sale is an indication that we have heard our customer’s call. It is best that we never take that for granted.
It is easy, especially in a small community, to forget how many other options our customers have. Even those with a regulated monopoly, like the utility companies, have competition for a portion of their services. The rest of us have direct competition for everything we offer. Within the community there are always a few others whose offerings parallel something we do. An hour’s drive away, a drive almost everyone makes for the things that are not available locally, are additional restaurants, grocers, health care providers, and retail outlets of every form.
It is smart to operate our business with our competition in mind. The most effective way to compete is to keep our focus on the customer. How would things be different if we really considered every sale a gift?
It is fairly common that when someone gives us a gift, we return the favor. Yes, customers get whatever it is they are paying for from us; the gift is the profit we make through the transaction. There is no reason to give customers a gift every time they use our services or come into the store, but it can be very meaningful to strategically give something back.
The first thing most of us do when we receive a gift is to say “Thank you.” There are ways beyond words to say a special thanks to those who come back again and again. Special discounts and private sales tell a customer that we appreciate their patronage.
For instance: a couple comes to our restaurant every Sunday for dinner. We might give them a free drink or cup of coffee on a quarterly basis. Often, restaurateurs give the refill for free; however, fewer and fewer people are taking seconds on alcohol or caffeine. The margin on these items is high enough for the gift to be very low cost to us; while reminding the customer that they are valued.
It can be tougher for service providers to give customers something meaningful. The easiest gifts are monogrammed pens, pads or other useful items (these can also be tucked into a shopping bag at a store). A little creativity reveals ways to personalize the gift: when a customer routinely purchases a small item, we might simply give it to them in the middle of June – for no good reason. Appreciation can also be expressed by remembering customer birthdays with a card mailed to their home.
When we consider every sale a gift, we are reminded that gifts are usually exchanged by people who care about one another. Finding little ways to give back to our customers is another way of saying that you care about them.