The Westin Portland was my favorite hotel.
It's slated to leave the Marriott (nee Starwood) family at the end of this month and I'm sad to see it go. I've stayed there many times and have always felt welcome. I even wrote about it in my blog and in my book, Service Failure, where I shared some of their secrets for outstanding service.
One thing The Westin Portland consistently did well was customer engagement.
I was surprised with a Westin Portland coffee mug and a handwritten note on my 10th stay at the hotel. I've stayed at several other hotels 10 or more times, but none of the others ever recognized me like that for my loyalty.
I still use that mug.
Ali, one of the valet parking attendants, always recognized me when I arrived. At first, he greeted me with "Welcome." Soon, he greeted me with, "Welcome back!"
During one three month stretch when I stayed there every week, Ali greeted me with, "Welcome home!"
Then, there was this incredible experience that proved small things really do matter.
What is Customer Engagement?
The typical definition of customer engagement is unsatisfying.
Most of the sources I looked at defined customer engagement as any interaction with a customer. My issue with that is not all interactions are particularly engaging:
- Transactional interactions are routine and unmemorable.
- Problem interactions are often frustrating.
- Marketing interactions often feel forced and too cheesy.
The one type of interaction that truly feels engaging is when customers are interacting with an employee or your brand in some way because they like you. These engagements cement a customer's loyalty and make that customer more eager to recommend your business to others.
Most of all, engagement doesn't feel forced or contrived. It's authentic.
Three Ideas You Can Use Right Now
Here are three ways you can engage your customers that cost little to no money and take just a small amount of effort.
Acknowledge the Social Love
This has got to be the easiest technique on the list.
All you have to do is acknowledge those moments when a customer professes their love for your brand or service on social media!
Here's a fun exchange I had with Tesco Mobile. (I'm not even a customer, but they're incredibly engaging on Twitter.)
Of course, it helps to have a presence on social media. Patrick Maguire recently posted this story on his blog where a restaurant missed out on some really nice positive exposure because it lacked a social media presence.
Keep an Interest List
It's time to put your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to good use! Keep a list of special requests, favorite products, and other things your customers are interested in.
A restaurant can seat repeat guests at a favorite table. A dry cleaner can know exactly how much starch a customer likes in his shirts. A plumber can remember the name of the family dog and bring a dog treat on a service call.
You can even use this technique to generate sales.
Years ago, I managed a contact center for a catalog company that sold products imported from countries that made up the former Soviet Union. Most of it was new, but we also had our fair share of antiques and collectibles.
We'd turn to our interest list whenever a new shipment came in and call customers who were interested in particular antiques. These were people who were looking for something specific and rare, so they were actually happy to get our call!
Notice that the secret to making an interest list work is you need to capture your customers' interests. You can use the Five Question Technique to make this happen.
We often have a chance to interact with customers in a way that stretches beyond a simple transaction.
For example, The Westin Portland hosted weekly happy hours in its lobby. A lot of hotels do this, but what really impressed me is that many members of the hotel's leadership team, including the General Manager, would show up and spend time mingling with guests.
It was a chance to get to know the people who worked there on a much more personal level. I've even stayed in touch with several associates from the hotel over the years.
One of those people was Jeff Igou, who now works at the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit. My wife and I visited Detroit on our recent baseball stadium tour and you'd better believe I stayed at Jeff's hotel!
Try to get to know repeat customers on a personal level. Make sure they know you, too. My research suggests that customers are 2-3 times more likely to give a business a top score on a customer satisfaction survey when they know an employee by name!
Engaging your customers can improve loyalty, referrals, and ultimately lead to more revenue.
The best part is it doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Just a little bit of effort and creativity can go a long way!