SEMA News—July 2021


The Customer Journey: From Digital Onlooker to Repeat Buyer

Four Tips for Creating a Five-Star Retail Experience

By Chad Simon

People crave human interaction—especially now because of
COVID-19. With businesses in various stages of reopening, interacting
with clients is especially important. Photo courtesy: Shutterstock

The need to adapt in order to survive in the COVID-19 era became a common theme during SEMA360 last November, when we heard from several industry experts who offered their advice on how to take businesses virtual and still deliver the ultimate customer experience. One such session was “The Customer Journey: From Digital Onlooker to Repeat Buyer,” featuring Corey Perlman, owner of Impact Social Inc., and Katie Mares, a brand-experience expert.

Business as usual is slowly coming back, but the fact that most in-person events were canceled last year and many people are still working remotely can present a challenge to marketers. To coax a potential customer down off the fence and into your camp, it’s crucial for you, as a business owner, to foster a companywide culture that is focused on delivering a five-star experience from top to bottom. You’re not the only one carrying out a promise or an expectation; your team has to be in line with your vision.

“It’s important that the promise you make to clients is lived out when they walk through the door,” Mares said. “If you don’t have the right people or brand standards that your employees live by, there’s going to be a disconnect, and the customers are going to be disappointed. If you create expectations online and then they go into your store and they experience something completely different, that promise is broken. You’re not just hitting them by phone or door-to-door anymore. You’re creating a brand that the whole world can see.”

Delivering a five-star experience doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend lavishly on fancy dinners or swanky hotels. Just be real. Care about the humans and not just the end goal of getting their business.

“Flip the sales mentality right-side up,” Mares said. “People crave human interaction—especially now because of COVID-19. With businesses starting to open again, human interaction is so important. Figure out how your leads want to be communicated to and personalize it.”

Four tips for creating a lasting connection with your customers include:

Collecting Golden Nuggets: Customers will tell you everything you need to know about them if you are willing to listen and collect the golden nuggets of information. Use them when you are keeping in touch. For instance, if someone reveals to you that he recently had an anniversary or his family is going on a vacation, utilize that information to tailor the experience. People don’t want to feel like numbers; they want to feel important.

“You can pull a lot from social media about your customers’ hobbies, birthdays, anniversaries, kids, etc., to build a connection,” Perlman said. “When you’re creating that experience with customers, make sure you connect with them on social media so that when they tell their stories they can link them back to you.”

To build a relationship with your customers, you must genuinely care about them.

“Your customers are the ones who keep the lights on in the shop and in your home, keep food on the table and your children clothed,” Mares said. “Your ability to do anything in life is because of them. If you can’t see that and can’t genuinely care about the people who keep you afloat, you are in the wrong business. We all serve humans.”

Anticipating Their Needs: Mares recalled a time when she flew to Singapore while working for Celebrity Cruises. Upon arrival and jetlagged, she had been awake for 29 hours. After she’d boarded the ship, gone to her room, closed the curtains and crawled into bed, the phone rang. It was the documentation office asking for her passport.

Mares was tired and had a headache, so she asked if it could wait until morning, but she was informed that the ship couldn’t leave the port until everyone’s passport had been collected. The woman on the other end could hear the frustration in Mares’ voice, so she offered to come to her room and pick it up. Five minutes later, Mares handed over her passport and was given an aspirin and a bottle of water in return. The woman had anticipated Mares’ needs when all she had said was, “I’m tired, I have a headache. Can we do this tomorrow?”

“She took those pieces of information, followed through, came to me, and for $3, she created an experience for me that I’ve retold all over the world,” Mares said. “That type of service is what makes people want to refer you and keep coming back to you.”

Delivering a Plus-One: The windows in a retail shop are known as “silent sellers,” according to Mares. They keep selling for you when the mall closes and before it reopens. They are your referral source when you can’t connect with a customer.

“A lot of what everyone does today is silent selling using email campaigns and online ads,” Mares said. “They stay at the top of your customers’ minds. If you want to keep the true referral, you need to hit them emotionally. They can always go online and Google tire prices or oil change prices and a million results pop up, so you’re no different from anybody else. The thing that makes you different is the relationships your people create. Anticipate customers’ needs and deliver a plus-one to knock their socks off.”

Using Names: Using names matters, according to Mares. “That name is given to them at birth,” she said. “You’re making connections the moment you say your clients’ names, because you’re treating them like humans and not numbers. Always greet each one by name and use it going forward in every conversation you have. Once they’ve bonded with you, they won’t do business anywhere else.”

Corey Perlman
Corey Perlman, owner of Impact Social Inc., stressed that having a
social-media presence is a complement to in-person interaction, not
a replacement.

Virtual Insanity

Digital has overtaken the in-person experience, especially since the pandemic. Throughout the entire journey of establishing a customer for life, the one place where people tend to drop the ball most is between visit interactions and keeping the relationship alive, according to Mares. If you don’t continue to be top of mind and build a relationship using something they need that’s personalized and tailored, then they’re going to go somewhere else.

“The customer needs to know you not only as a human, but also digitally,” Mares said. “Don’t become complacent from a human perspective, because a lot of people still crave that. You’ve got to bring them in with the product and follow them around online, but once they come into your store, you’ve got to be able to create those relationships.”

People always want to know if social media replaces in-person interaction.
Perlman explained that social is an “and,” not an “or.” It’s a complement to meeting face to face.

Another best practice that Perlman cites is to use a “lookalike audience.” Facebook will see who’s visiting your website and generate a list of people with similar demographics to whom you can market.

When people like you enough to come into your store, it’s important to get them on your digital and social platforms, otherwise you won’t have the opportunity to establish a relevant lookalike audience. Develop those relationships when they are there with you to ensure that they follow you on every social channel, and build a database by collecting contact information from everyone who walks into your store.

In order to gain new business, you must generate leads. Create an ad budget and focus on social advertising to get your story out there. Building an audience is the only way to be successful with your ads, because your credibility is diminished when someone checks out your Facebook page and you have only 200 fans.

“You’ve got to spend money to increase leads, and the best way to spend is through remarketing,” Perlman said. “If someone goes to your site and looks at a product or a service but doesn’t buy, you can drop a Facebook pixel on their website, and when they’re navigating social media, you can follow them around and stay in touch with them.”

Katie Mares
According to Katie Mares, a brand experience expert, delivering a
five-star customer experience is about caring for the human and not
just the result of getting his or her business.

Show, Don’t Tell

People want to hear real stories, so it’s a good idea to shoot a video or get a customer testimonial.

“Be transparent,” Mares said. “Those are the things people pay attention to. If you have someone on camera who’s showing people what you’re doing, more people are going to believe in you. Your clients will make decisions based on what hits them emotionally, so be a real person online.”

It’s also common for potential clients to decide to do business with you several months after making initial contact. How do you stay on their radar during that time without frustrating or annoying them? Perlman suggested producing a weekly or monthly show at the shop or the track and have each episode focus on a different topic. Using video interviews is a great way to build an audience, because it’s engaging content that tells a story about one of your customers succeeding due to your parts or services.

“Although people go online to read reviews, humans still trust humans more than a Google review, because a lot of the reviews can be fakes,” Mares said. “If you can actually get a customer on video singing your praises, there’s no better form of marketing. Not only do you have a client who’s already loyal but one who will also refer you to family and friends.”

Never let a verbal testimonial go unpublished, Perlman agreed.

“The best way to thank someone for a five-star experience is to post about it online,” he said. “The ability to get customers to become your sales force is key.”

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