The Connection Workshop
Baby, it’s crunch time. Holiday 2011 is here, and word on the street is, you’re going to be considerably busier than last year.
Now’s the time to approach the fourth quarter as a fresh start, a clean slate—with a whole new focus on building and retaining customer loyalty.
It may be too late to make hefty changes in your approach: Your merchandise is stocked, events scheduled. But you still have time to shift the one thing that will bring you maximum results this season. That singular thing? Authentic connection.
These days, it’s way too easy for customers to shop Amazon and have merchandise delivered directly to their door. To keep your customer shopping with you, not a hub site, you must create a different experience entirely.
That said, there are Four Immutable Laws of Customer Care you’ll want to follow. Namely:
- Your customer is not a demographic. He or she is a living, breathing, amazingly beautiful soul. Just like you.
- Social networking is only part of the marketing process.
- Authentic customer connection will do more for your store than any RSS feed ever could. Really.
- Energy follows the Law of Levity, not gravity. In other words, high vibration shifts everything.
I know—it all sounds so woo-woo. Until you put it in practice and notice how quickly things start to move.
Take the customer care quiz
Before you start to deliver on the promise of creating amazing customer connections, you need to know how you’re doing now. Take a moment now and answer the following:
"My customers support my store …"
1. … because I have great products.
a. Yes, I pride myself on my fantastic product selection.
b. My projects and events both attract customers.
c. My customers know that I select merchandise with them in mind.
2. … because I offer great services and events.
a. We have great practitioners who truly help people.
b. Our events pull authors and experts from all over.
c. People count on us to keep them informed.
3. … because my staff is knowledgeable and helpful.
a. I hire experts in different fields.
b. They’re not all knowledgeable, but they love to help.
c. They’re unique individuals with their own skills and talents.
4. … because they feel inexplicably drawn here by cosmic forces.
a. Yes, they frequently remark on the synchronicities that brought them here.
b. Yes, they always say they find serendipitous books and products here.
c. Yes, they feel this place is a destination, sanctuary, or haven.
5. … because they feel the love.
b. What’s love got to do with it?
c. Yes, absolutely.
If you haven’t guessed already, this is a trick quiz. Out of all the answers, there’s only one box you needed to check: 5c. Yes, absolutely.
The practical nuts-and-bolts stuff of running a store is essential, but it isn’t enough by itself. When you get down to the nitty gritty of why customers shop with you, authentic human connection at the highest vibration—not products or marketing or anything else—is what actually sustains. Nothing else works so well.
A great example? At The Crystal Garden in Boynton Beach, Fla., owner Margaret Ann Lembo says, “All staff, including me as the owner, spend one-on-one time with customers to help them with their purchases, as well as their life challenges.” It’s exactly that kind of attention that personalizes the connection—so you’re not just helping a demographic, you’re helping an actual person.
Authentic connection is all about heart opening and true connection with others. It’s about recognizing people as unique souls, and meeting them where they are. In today’s world, more than anything, this is what folks are really looking for.
The myth of friends, fans, and followers
Why does authentic connection matter? Namely, because so much connection these days is inauthentic. Sure, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and e-newsletters are great ways to reach folks. In truth, they offer extraordinary targeted marketing, allowing you to create a “personal connection” with customers who fit your demographic. If you’re active on Facebook or Twitter, you can even win “likes” or “tweets,” which are, quite literally, virtual endorsements.
When you think about it this way, social networking is tops at creating the kind of online buzz that harkens back to high school: If you’re popular, everyone wants to be your friend.
However, the real test happens when your customer actually shows up in your store or on your website. After all that virtual brand building, expectations are sky-high. And often, your customers will walk in expecting to have an experience as cozy as Facebook itself—where everyone is a “friend” and everyone “likes.”
With these expectations, even one encounter with a grumpy employee, bad reader, or glitchy online shopping basket can taint your good brand. It’s up to you to deliver on the promise with great service for every person who comes in.
“I believe that front-line people interacting with customers have to be ‘on’ all the time,” says Jean Haller, owner of Journeys of Life in Pittsburgh, Pa. “Customers know if a store really doesn’t care if they are there or not. The number-one reason customers stop shopping at a store is perceived indifference.”
She adds, “Customers have lots of choices both for stores and especially online. It is imperative that my staff and I make sure every customer, even the difficult ones, are made to feel welcome and special.”
Real contact makes life-long customers
This weekend I shopped at World Market, a national chain known for imported décor, plus discounts on wine and food. (We shop there mostly to stock up on the sea-salted chocolate, but that’s another story.)
I entered through automatic glass doors, and before I could even grab a cart, a cheerful staffer wearing a red apron greeted me with a friendly “thanks for coming in.” Two minutes later, after my cart was loaded with the aforementioned chocolate, a second staffer (also clad in a red apron) asked if she could help.
Next I headed for the wine section, hoping to find some good buys. This time, a salesperson appeared as if from nowhere, like some genie from a lantern. He not only advised me on the particular wine I was looking at, but directed me to a different wine with similar characteristics, marked down by $10 that day! He finished by saying, “And if you have any questions, just ask any of us—we’re all wearing red aprons, so we’re easy to find.”
Fifteen minutes of shopping. Three pleasant, helpful contacts with actual human beings who met me as a unique person, not a demographic. Now, that’s a store I’m going back to.
Compare that to my experience moments later, when I walked into a similar store one door down—we won’t say who. The merchandise looked great; the prices were good. But as I wandered the aisles, no one greeted me or offered to help. I walked out 10 minutes later feeling flat and cranky with no interest in returning. That store failed to make an authentic connection with me—and lost a customer for good.
“No one ever leaves my store without a ‘thank you,’ because without them, I wouldn’t be here,” points out Sandi Liss of SoulJourney in Butler, N.J. “I want my customers to know I appreciate their spending their hard-earned money in my store, as well as their precious time.”
Authentic human connection is what makes the difference. A willingness to help, assist, and serve in the deepest sense is what wins customers over. Real connection between you and your customer is what changes his or her experience from lonely, isolated, and flat to authentic, interesting, and involved.
Why the law of levity matters
The interesting thing about energy is that it rises to the top. Unlike gravity, which is ruled by the laws of earth and matter, energy is ruled by another force: levity.
Levity, as in lightness of being, a sense of being uplifted, a raising of vibration, a heart opening, a feeling of expansion that is often characterized by happiness, relaxation, smiling, and laughter.
Whenever one energy universe (you) meets another energy universe (another person), the Law of Levity always wins. This is why you feel so amazing when you’re around a spiritual master—your vibration rises to match this person’s energy. And it’s why you feel so uplifted when you’re with a fun group of people, enjoying yourself. Your vibration rises to match the highest person in the group or the group itself.
“If I’m having a bad day, the energy in the store is just totally different than it is when I’m having a great day,” says Liss. “Sometimes it’s a struggle to remain positive and upbeat, especially in this economy, but the more I can manage that, the better things are.”
“We set our intention every morning as part of the opening preparation ritual for the store,” notes Lembo. “We clear out negative energy [emanating from] our own consciousness as well as that of customers who are releasing emotional debris in our safe and loving space.”
As a store owner, manager, or staffer, you can create and hold high vibration in your store simply by forming habits that produce this energetic level. Take a minute and rate yourself on how the Law of Levity is working in your store:
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how much fun do staffers have at work?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how much fun do you have at work?
- How often do you catch yourself smiling or feeling good?
- Find a central place in the store and close your eyes. How many times can you count people laughing in one minute? In five?
Hint: After you’ve created a lively, busy, and successful store, you’ll hear an active stream of laughter and talk and connection throughout the day as people relate at the highest vibration. This is where true customer satisfaction lives. And, this is why your customers will come to you and return again and again—to bask in this lovely energetic lift.
Seven ways to create connection
Take a moment to assess your store’s ability to hold the highest vibration. Answer these questions in your journal, or take them to the next staff meeting and have the group respond in writing, brainstorm, or discussion.
- How do you or your staff connect with customers? Write down a staffer who does a great job with this. Now, a staffer who’s not as good. What’s the difference?
- Are customers helped, advised, talked to, or otherwise made to feel especially appreciated? How? When? Give an example of the last time this happened.
- How many times do you think your customers are met or interacted with by you or staff members on an average store visit? Over the next few days, track this for yourself. How can you increase this number?
- Is the vibe high and positive in your store? If not, why not? What needs to change to lift the energy into levity?
- Are there certain days or times of day when the energy lags? Staffing combinations that bring the energy up or down?
- Does music help your store raise vibration? What kinds? Store pets or mascots? Other factors?
- Finally, what do you need to do in your own life to be able to hold higher vibration and practice the Law of Levity this holiday season? What support do you need? What do you need to release?
The new word of mouth
Once you’ve begun to lift your vibration and create authentic customer connections, word’s going to get out.
Your customers will give you immediate positive feedback, such as “it feels so good in here,” or “I love coming here.” Then, they’ll tell their friends—and the world. Some may even go global on their blog, or tweet or post about their experience, often while texting from inside your store!
That extra-nice thing you did for your customer today? It could go viral on YouTube by tomorrow. This kind of stuff happens every day. So go ahead—figure out who your customers are as real people, then connect with them.
“We support charities that we know our customers support through donations, cause marketing, and events,” says Haller. “I had a woman stop me in the grocery store to thank me for our store’s support of The Animal Rescue League. She said, ‘Not very many stores care about the community like you do.’ What better publicity is there?”
Events are also a wonderful way to build connection for customers—not just with you, but also with each other. For example, Lembo says, “We’ve always offered a Community Gathering on Sundays on a love offering basis. Participants aren’t required to pay to attend. The Gathering has changed over the years, starting as a Sunday service, then morphing into a time for meditation and support, then into a healing circle with apprentices of a Peruvian medicine man, and now it’s a Reiki Circle.” Talk about customer connection over time!
Use social networking for what it does best: building buzz. And once customers come in? Deliver on the promise with authentic human connection. They’ll spread the word—and build your business—from there.
First published in Vol. 25 No. 6 of Retailing Insight. © 2011 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.