Not long ago, I was fortunate enough to travel to Italy and spent my last few days at a spectacular villa in Sienna called Frances Lodge. It’s run by two of the most gracious people I have ever met, and I had the privilege of observing, first-hand, how they run their business and make their customers feel cared-for and special. Franco and Franca set a standard that guarantees customers will return, and there is a lot that all sales leaders and reps can learn from them about how to keep a customer by delivering great customer service and earning loyalty.
Why is this relevant? Research shows that it costs five times as much to gain a new customer as it does to retain a current one. Here are some of my observations of why Franco and Franca’s business is such a success and what we can learn from them. None of it is rocket science. All of it works.
1. Treat guests (aka clients, staff, and colleagues) graciously
When my cousins and I arrived at Frances Lodge, Franco was waiting for us at the top of the driveway, waving and happy to see us. He and his wife anticipated our needs and quickly supplied help with our luggage, an Internet hookup for a quick email home, maps, and a tour of the villa. We felt that we were in good hands. I bristle when I have an appointment with customers or colleagues and am left waiting, as if I’m an interruption in their busy day. People also mess with their smartphones while others are speaking. Phones go off during meetings. What is that about? Greet your customers, staff, distributors, and colleagues on time, give them your full attention and make them feel you are happy to be in their presence. This kind of graciousness is in short supply and displaying it will set you apart from your competition.
2. Always help with the luggage
Franco delighted us with stories of his travels, stressing how the level of customer service added to or detracted from his enjoyment. Number One on his list of no-no’s is checking into a place and receiving a key with no further help to find your room or carry your luggage. This did not sound strange to me, since that is standard practice in North America (although a tip will get you that service). However, it disgusted Franco since his credo is to make people feel special. Helping with luggage in your business means offering small acts of kindness consistently and deliberately: giving a referral, being a referral, helping out on someone else’s proposal, acting as a sounding board, writing a thank-you note. These caring gestures can go a long way toward building customer loyalty.
3. Be in the same business for a lo-o-ong time
In addition to being a gorgeous place for visitors to lay their weary heads, Frances Lodge sits on eight acres of well-established vineyards, olive and lemon groves, fruit gardens, and horse stables. The villa has been in Franco’s family for three centuries and in one way or another these grounds have contributed to the owner’s income. Franco and Franca know what they are doing. They have an established reputation, solid business connections and a way of doing business that keeps people coming back for more. Isn’t that what we all want for ourselves? Statistics show that in business, you hopefully break even in your first year, make some money in your second year, and take off in your third year. Thereafter, if you’re any good, your business will grow through referrals and your income will steadily increase. Like many salespeople, I am restless for what I can only call “something else.” For me, “something else” shows up as pining for bigger opportunities, more of a challenge, or fewer headaches. In the past, this restlessness led me to switch companies prematurely, not allowing myself sufficient time to build long-term relationships. Happy customers couldn’t find me to give me their business or referrals. Now I am experiencing the rewards of staying in one place: deeply serving my customers, developing a niche that allows me to add value in a meaningful way, establishing a reputation and making it easy for people to locate me.
4. Tell your history with pride
I loved hearing about the history of Sienna, of traditions that have lived for 600 years, including an annual horse race in the town square, how it took 200 years to build the church, and that Franco’s family once raised and used carrier pigeons to send messages. He also has more recent stories about villa renovations, bartering with neighbours and plans for the business. His deep pride made me feel privileged to be his customer.
Often, when I hear other people talk about their company’s history, the narrative feels canned and detached. Reps have a great opportunity to create a visceral experience for customers when they tell stories about their company. Find someone in your organization whose enthusiasm is palpable. Interview them, emulate them, find and tell stories that make you proud, and practice your delivery. Passion sells!
5. Share your abundance
Franco and Franca embody the attitude of abundance. They are willing and thrilled to share. At no extra charge, they loaned us their cell phone when we ventured into the countryside, gave us extra food at breakfast, called long distance to make dinner reservations for us, and drove our luggage and us to the bus stop (a 45-minute round trip).
In business, we often protect our ideas and insights, fearing that we will lose them if we spread them to other people. Those who are willing to share their sales strategies, proposal templates or scripts and speeches set themselves apart as valuable and caring businesspeople. In my long career, I have learned to appreciate that abundance begets abundance, attracts clients and increases customer loyalty. One of my key goals is to become even more focused on customer care so that I, like my Italian hosts, can earn an A+ on my client’s report card.