Editor’s note: Geoff Ables is Principal Consultant for Customer Connect, which provides CRM planning services and implementation of customer management campaigns, technologies, and analysis.
_______________________________________________________________________________________”WOW! That’s a pleasant surprise! I wouldn’t have expected that from this company!”

What small business owner wouldn’t love to overhear these words coming out of a customer’s mouth? Of course everyone would. So why don’t we hear that “WOW!” every time? Why don’t we have more customer loyalty? Perhaps those one-time customers haven’t been given anything to say WOW about.

The key to garnering loyalty from first-time or even regular customers is to give them WOW moments. Here’s a great example: One of our largest clients was very late in paying us for a project. As a result, we had an extreme cash flow shortfall for a short period of time. We evaluated options for using our business line of credit to pay some bills, but we had also paid many of the costs for this particular project using a credit card. We called our credit card company and asked them if we could be late in paying our bill due to the problem with getting payment on a large invoice. Within 10 seconds the service rep told us that it would be no problem at all if we could just send a very small proportion of the balance as a good faith payment towards the total. While our card company has always provided consistent service to us, until this moment that service was pretty unremarkable. Then came the WOW moment. Now they have solidified our relationship for life.

There are many ways to create a WOW moment, and the first and most important one actually involves not doing something. Never guarantee your customer a WOW moment. Doing so negates the purpose; if the customer is expecting that excellent service, there’s nothing to say WOW about. Customer service that exceeds expectations is part of a good stealth loyalty program; that is, the customers are not anticipating stellar customer service, and when they are caught pleasantly off-guard by a WOW moment they become customers for life.

WOW moments often are developed around service recovery – when a company goes out of their way to make up for a lapse in their service to a customer. Ironic as it may seem, sometimes the way in which you recover from a mistake leaves a far better impression than delivering consistent service month after month. This recovery and extra effort tells the customer, “We care about your needs and about your experience with our company.”

One major problem with most businesses is that they do not have a process for listening to their customers and customizing how they communicate with them. Instead, they communicate with customers in a “one size fits all” approach. Did you know that 95 percent of all marketing materials in fact train your customers to ignore you?

When a company spends a tremendous amount of its marketing and sales budget talking to customers about things that are not important to the customer, the customer simply tunes them out – in much the same way they would use their Tivo to skip a commercial. But the companies that have convinced their customers that they will be sensitive to their time and talk to them only about what is important to them are the companies that win an attentive audience with their prospects and clients. “WOW!” thinks the customer, “this company really does care about what I think and what I want!” That’s a customer whose loyalty you’ve won.

WOW moments can be as simple as sending a thank you card to valued customers and as sophisticated as moving your most valued customers into higher priorities in the hold queue for customer service. But no matter what size or shape their WOW moment takes, your customers will be grateful — and that translates into loyalty to your business.

Geoff Ables is Principal Consultant for Customer Connect, which provides CRM planning services and implementation of customer management campaigns, technologies, and analysis. He can be reached at geoff.ables@customer-connect.com or 704-895-2500.