Attracting new customers takes time and money. And possibly blood, sweat and tears, too. Why else would the marketing automation business have grown to over $3 billion dollars last year?

Many, however, work tirelessly to get those customers, yet forget about keeping them delighted after the deal is done, purchase is made or stay is complete. A first date may not lead to a second or third without a sprinkle of stardust on our heads.

So why not sprinkle a handful?

For many years, businesses and brands have used customer satisfaction as the sole barometer to measure brand happiness. But I’d argue that it’s only the first phase in your dating relationship.

If you really want to have and hold that customer, from this day forward, you’ve got to get on your knees, buy a nice ring and propose. Yep, that’s right. It’s time to engage.

Here are some ideas on how to take that plunge.

I just got back from vacationing in California, driving down the coast from San Francisco to LA. Using the trip as backdrop, I share tips 1 through 3.

(More are to come, so stay tuned.)

Step 1: Know Yourself (So You Don’t Court the Wrong Person)

As business leaders and brand advocates, you may feel like you need to be better than the rest, show your innovation to the core, reinvent the wheel or reach some other behemoth goal that is quite possibly impossible to obtain. There are only a few Elon Musks, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburgs in the world and that’s ok.

Similarly, not every hotel needs to be the Ritz Carlton. That’s why I had such a wonderful experience at the Sea View Inn in Manhattan Beach. We chose to stay at this no-frills hotel by recommendation of my neighbor.

The Inn sells you on Manhattan Beach and living like the locals, and they deliver. Our room had been recently upgraded, but was not fancy or huge (no fireplace, soaking tub or plush comforter to say the least). However, we had a partial view of the ocean, a short 3-block walk to the beach, free parking and a pool (which makes most any child on the planet happy).

More importantly, the hotel offered beach bikes, boogie boards, towels and beach chairs to all its guests at no cost with a simple sign-out. We took full advantage of this hassle-free offer and even rode bikes for hours after we checked out.

We were able to walk to quaint neighborhood restaurants for dinner without having to navigate the horrid highways of LA. And the office staff seemed like old friends by the we left (one went to UCLA, one used to work at Morrison Knutsen in Boise. I’m really not kidding; I felt like I really knew them after two nights of stay).

This hotel truly engaged me from friendly greetings to exercise and beach equipment. They didn’t promise to be a 4-start hotel in Santa Monica and stayed true to their brand through to the core. I can’t wait to enjoy the experience again.

Step 2: Don’t Try to Be Somebody You’re Not

I recently led a workshop for a government group who admitted they’d lost their identity. I loved it! Times had changed and they wanted to figure out how to be relevant in a new business climate.

Some new businesses may experience the same identify crisis for different reasons. They want to be relevant and don’t know how. They overpromise and can’t deliver. They try to be all things to all people and fail miserably. It’s hard to create an identity from scratch!

Our boutique hotel in Cambria was a perfect example. New to the area, the hotel

promotes itself as a wellness retreat on the California coast. We got a decent rate for a somewhat luxurious room with fireplace (that we didn’t need) and A/C (that we did need but it didn’t work). The hotel was conveniently located, equidistant to the beach and town square.

They provided a nice breakfast for $18 per person + taxes, fees and tips and evening wine tasting at a 50% discount off the published prices. There were great beach bikes partitioned out front, but you had to pay $15/hour to ride one.

To be fair, the hotel was nice, the service was good and I might stay there again if I’m back in Cambria. To move the needle from satisfied to engaged and thrilled, however, all they had to was give me one free glass of wine and a 1-hour complimentary bike ride (two basic human needs).

By thinking through the how to’s on delivering a wellness promise, they’d realize a few extra dollars might shape an entire experience and make it magical. I hope they get there!

Step 3: Create vows with real meaning

Many businesses, large and small, create a mission statement because everyone else does, too. Few, however, create meaningful vows that get customer to say, “I do,” time and time again.

We flew Southwest Airlines to California because their no-frills experience includes waived baggage fees and free changes to reservations. This industry giant wrote the book on mission statements and engaging customers, but so does a quaint restaurant in Morro Bay.

During our one-night stay in this seaside village, we ate dinner at highly rated restaurant along the embarcadero called the House of JuJu. A self-professed foodie, I wasn’t thrilled by the menu I perused online (mainly burgers and pizza, plentiful menu items in Boise).

Tired and hungry, we found a spot at the bar next to a nice lady and her daughter. Quickly recognizing my son’s low blood sugar meltdown, she offered her roasted potatoes and chipotle sauce for us to indulge while waiting for our meal (they were mind-blowingly good, by the way).

We continued to chat with these locals while we ate, sharing our affection for their hometown and its charm. When they got up to leave, my son turned to me and said, “If you and that lady lived in the same town, you would definitely be friends.” Later, when we asked for our check, our waiter told us the lovely woman had paid $40 of our meal, a gesture we both found extremely kind.

When I re-created the restaurant’s “Burger in a Bowl” at home, I happen to notice their mission:

Our sincere desire is to serve our community with not only a great dining experience that leaves you wanting to return over and over again, but to make a real connection with our guests.

Our goal is for each guest who enters our doors to feel as though they are family and whether it’s from the dining experience or simply our friendship, we sincerely hope when you leave House of JuJu, you feel better than when you arrived.

I’m not sure if it was coincidence or a little karmic juju, but my guess is that gestures like this are commonplace. The owners inspired me to come back for more, rave about the food and experience – and pass it on – by offering a kind gesture to someone else.

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About the author

Melinda is a marketer, researcher and writer. She also has a passion for healthy living, every day.