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I recently saw two incidents where a restaurant and a coffee shop lost potential customers.  More importantly they missed a chance to make a customer happy which could have resulted in gaining a loyal customer and word of mouth referrals.  In both cases the customer requests were not anything unreasonable and could have been a really great opportunity for those businesses to make a great impression on a customer.  Instead the customers left disappointed, went somewhere else and potentially said, “I am never going back to that business.”

Here are the stories of these two incidents:

I was at a coffee shop, when somebody out for a run came in and asked the staff if they took Apple pay or Venmo or any sort of payments that they could do from their phone. The staff thought about if for a second and said no we don’t do any of those and then the person that had looked optimistic and hopeful that maybe they would get a coffee now looked disappointed and left out the coffee shop. I was sitting there thinking about it and there’s no reason why that person should not have been able to pay the staff through Venmo or whatever the staff preferred and then the staff buy them a coffee. If they had found a way to get coffee then that person would have loved it and felt very awesome about the experience. They might have even felt so cool getting a coffee when they didn’t have their wallet that they might have told some of their friends about this really cool coffee shop where the employees are super nice and then their friends might have tried out that coffee shop. At a minimum they would have great memories of that shop and might keep coming back when they do have their wallet.

Another example is I was up in Boulder and my meetings ran long and I didn’t finish until after 2pm. I asked my friend if there was a good restaurant nearby and they suggested an Indian place. 

By the time I got there it was 2:30 or 3 and when I walked in all of the staff was sitting down at a table taking a break. Immediately one of them said that they were closed until dinner at 4:30.   Of course they had food and could have made me something but they chose not to make an exception and serve me.  They could have even said we are closed right now but if you can be patient here are the things we can make you pretty quick.  That simple gesture would have completely made my day. Instead, I was disappointed, more than a little shocked and had to find a different place to eat.  

So here are my 3 key takeaways to help make customers happy – When they are not your typical customer:

Make sure your employees have the power to make exceptions or do something that isn’t the normal course of business but will make a customer happy.  The coffee shop and Indian restaurant are great examples of this. I understand the desire to have scale-able policies that help protect the business but for most businesses, employees need to do what they can to make customers happy.  If I am ever dealing with customer service and their answer is “well that’s our policy and there is nothing we can do about it,” it makes me never want to do business with them again.    

2. Listen to what your customers need and see how you can help them. A lot of businesses fall short with the services they offer and who they offer them to.  It is great to have a target customer and most profitable product but it is super important to understand what else your customer may need.  Maybe you can refer them to someone else or find a way to help them yourself and start a new service – which is how Finance Pals starting doing tax and bookkeeping work.  We started as a fractional CFO firm mainly doing Financial Planning & Analysis. Over time our clients kept asking if we could clean up their books or if we knew anyone that could do taxes.   We started helping a few people on the side and eventually decided to build up our tax and bookkeeping practice.  

3. Be flexible and helpful!  I receive calls all the time asking if we work with small clients or if we work with a certain software like Quickbooks or Xero.  When I say yes, the clients are instantly relieved and tell me stories of how the last 3 people they called would not help them. I can understand that some bookkeeping firms only work with one type of software because that is all they know and have built programs with those software companies but more importantly I understand that our customers have different reasons for choosing whatever software that they want and I think it’s a mistake to tell them that they need to use a specific software or there is a minimum spend to work with us.  We don’t target smaller customers but I think that if you help those customers in any way you can then maybe they’d grow into a bigger customer using you or they might be impressed and refer you to someone that is a more profitable size. Either way I believe in being as helpful as I can and that usually good things come from helping others.  

Final Thoughts

As business owners it is hard to get new customers and I believe that word of mouth referrals are one of the most amazing ways to get new customers.  People love getting suggestions from trusted advisors or friends and I think one of the best ways to do this is to really leave a good impression on customers or potential customers.  Every interaction with a potential customer is an opportunity to make them happy and I think a lot of companies mess this up due to rigid policies or by not trying to be as helpful as they can possibly be.

If you need help or have questions, Finance Pals would love to give you some free tips and advice over a 30 minute phone call.  We love all things Finance, whether it’s bookkeeping, accounting, FP&A, fractional CFO responsibilities or taxes and want to share our knowledge with you!