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Companies today compete furiously for market share. We see brick-and-mortar retailers fighting for every sale and struggling to survive. The Street announced that “Ailing department store operator Sears Holdings Inc. will shut down 63 more Sears and Kmart stores, the latest step as it hobbles to a likely bankruptcy.” Restaurants are slogging it out with special offers, gimmicks and unique approaches that will attain and retain patrons. The New York Times recently reported that “There are now more than 620,000 eating and drinking places in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the number of restaurants is growing at about twice the rate of the population.” Competition is tough, and marketing research shows that businesses in most industries are spending increasingly larger budgets to reach potential customers and woo existing customers. Clutch, a Washington, D.C.-based ratings and review firm, conducted a 2017 Small Business Digital Marketing Survey of 350 small business owners and managers (500 employees or less) in which 49% of entrepreneurs said they plan to spend more on digital marketing to boost sales and brand recognition this year over last year and 36% said they aim to boost their marketing budget by 11% to 30%. They are doing it all. PPC campaigns. Social media ads. Retargeting efforts. Network commercials. Seminars. Webinars. Video infomercials. Presentations. Mobile automated notifications. Text ads. The efforts are increasingly sophisticated and expensive. You name it. Businesses are doing it. Creating it…. deploying it…. and measuring the effectiveness of it. That’s a lot of time and money spent to cut through the noise and grab the audience’s attention with the hopes of driving sales and increasing repeat business.
The need to reach ever-larger audiences and cut through the ever-growing din of marketing noise is prompting companies to further automate sales and marketing efforts. Personalized eblasts are sent in bulk. Robo text messages pop up when a customer is near a store or eatery. Retargeting ads appear on websites that are completely unrelated to the site visited. Mass promotions are designed to have a “just for you” look. Websites welcome visitors back by name. And yet, despite or perhaps because of all those faux-personal, automated actions, many companies are finding that it is actually the one-on-one efforts and little niceties that are having the biggest impact on capturing and keeping clients. Genuine, personal interaction and one-on-one service wows clients… and it doesn’t have to be costly or complicated. It’s often the modest gestures and pint-sized details that have the biggest impact.
Brick-and-Mortar Stores Need to Deliver on the Details
It could be argued that the industry that most needs to get personal and embrace gestures and details is the ailing retail sector. To counter the ease of shopping online, brick-and-mortar stores need to find small ways to make the client feel welcome and comfortable. They need to make it worthwhile for the customer to travel all the way to the store, contending with traffic and parking. With online sales increasingly stealing away sales from brick-and-mortar retailers, physical stores need to consider what they can offer that online stores simply cannot.
To cater to an instant gratification culture, brick-and-mortar stores should move toward making in-store shopping the most pleasant “experience” possible, not just a place to buy goods. Small gestures could include offering customers iced lemon water on hot days and providing a place to check coats and bags while customers shop. It could include clean and comfortable dressing rooms with good lighting and mirrors that don’t distort how things look. Boutique shops could add small lounge areas for tired customers to rest or where a family member could sit to wait while someone else shops. Stores can also spray pleasant scents to make the store aroma inviting.
Sales training is also invaluable to help deliver on the little things. Stores can train sales staff to be very knowledgeable about the company’s products. Having salespeople who are knowledgeable about the ingredients or materials used in products helps to both inform and connect with the customer. And a salesperson who takes the time to hand write notes to good customers – such as those who shop at the store often — are sure to discover that such a personal yet tiny gesture will be deeply appreciated and remembered. Jewelry stores and other retailers of high end goods would be smart to adopt such efforts. Even the small act of personally calling a client to invite him/her to attend a special store event or to share information about a special offer can really make a customer bond with a retail chain. These small details cost little but can make the shopping experience worth the drive. While high tech features can also enhance the shopping experience, such as Target’s new ability to order items online for a customer when the store is out of stock of a particular item, it may actually be the low-tech personal touches that make the difference between a customer shopping online or visiting a store.
Dining and Hospitality Industries Should Also Focus on the Little Things
The restaurant industry could also benefit from a focus on small gestures. With so many restaurants already in existence and the growth trajectory for this sector outstripping population growth, it is imperative for eateries to really pay attention to wooing the customer. Getting them to frequent a particular dining establishment over and over requires more than mass marketing and gimmicks. It requires the personal touches that build loyalty. Again, here is where the small gestures matter. Encouraging wait staff to remember regular customers’ names is something that may not seem significant but will make patrons feel special and connected to the place. Who doesn’t want to go to a place “where everybody knows your name”?
Michelle McGovern of CustomerExperienceInsight.com suggests using the customer’s name as soon as possible. Even for those customers that aren’t “regulars,” it is nice for the waiter or waitress to start using the person’s name as soon as they know it, even if it is at the end of the meal when the customer hands over the credit card.
Of course, the hospitality industry itself is highly competitive and struggles to capture and retain customers. While loyalty programs abound, it is not enough to actually guarantee customer loyalty. Small personal touches can help. Greeting a frequent business traveler by name at a hotel creates a “home-away-from-home” connection that is likely to generate brand loyalty to that chain. While online perks such as room pre-selection or the ability to make special requests such as for extra pillows is nice, it is even more valuable if the front desk clerk greets a frequent customer by name and knows their personal needs, such as extra pillows and a king-sized bed. Even eating establishments that cater to the hotel industry would benefit from paying attention to small gestures. Setting up and tearing down catering for events during breaks, instead of interrupting a presentation, is an attention to detail that is appreciated by meeting attendees.
Service Industries Should Embrace Small Gestures
For industries that are delivering a service, such as real estate sales, accounting, investments, insurance, banking, etc., personal gestures aren’t just a good idea. They really are the differentiating factor that can wow clients. All the marketing in the world cannot achieve what attention-to-detail can. How special would a client feel if he received a note of congratulations after his son’s high school graduation? After all, those are details that a financial advisor should know about a client. Sending the hand-written note and using the client’s son’s name will surely forge a deeper connection. A CPA might deliver a jar of chocolates or candy for a major client’s office to enjoy. It is a small gesture that puts a smile on every face in the company.
What gestures or details a company chooses to adopt will depend on the company, what makes sense for that business, and how the leadership feels about such efforts. One thing is certain. No matter how effectively a company does marketing, those efforts can only help get the word out, but it’s never going to retain clients, return clients or rouse clients. That happens when clients are touched and inspired in a personal way… and sometimes all it takes is a small gesture.
Quote of the Week
“Every so often take in the small gestures of generosity and kindness that pass between your fellow man. It is the most reaffirming.” Anonymous
 November 6, 2017, By Laura Berman, The Street, Online Headline: “Sears Closing 63 More Sears and Kmart Stores”
 October 31, 2017, By Rachel Abrams and Robert Gebeloff – Business Day – Print Headline: “Overstuffed on Restaurant Row”
 June 19, 2017, By Michelle McGovern, www.customerexperienceinsight.com, “7 small gestures that make big customer impressions.”
© 2017, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.