Whenever people try anything new, they want assurances that they made the correct decision. They also want to be assured after the fact that they made the best choice. This is known as cognitive dissonance — one of my favorite terms from marketing class.
Think of what happened when you bought your last car. Before you bought it, you looked for good things to base your decision on: Is it the right size, color, horsepower and price? Only after you bought it did it seem you started to hear about lemons and recalls.
The same is true of your customer. They want not only to feel good about trying you out, but (perhaps more importantly) about having done business with you after they pick up their clothes. They need that reassurance. At this point, you can again use your customer database to build your business.
It’s easy to identify new customers. Almost any computer system will print out a list of customers who are new to your database. Most cleaners I know only use the report to make sure they are getting new customers: How many new customers did we get this week? Do we have more new customers this week than last week? What is our total customer count?
But to use the new-customer report for this alone is to underuse the information. If you take complete customer information when they drop their garments off the first time, you get a golden opportunity to reassure your customer that they made the right decision. From the beginning, you can set the value your customers can expect from you and define what you can deliver consistently.
I’m reminded of a time when I worked as a manager for a large department store. Every year, they had a sale on men’s basics — socks, underwear, T-shirts and such. It was planned months in advance. My job was to make sure there would be plenty of space to lay out the goods. I also had to make sure that there was plenty of inventory in all sizes and styles, so that we could beat last year’s sales.
Everything was ready the day before the sale started; the staff was increased for the next three days. In hindsight, it was a beautiful thing — the ultimate merger of logistics and planning. But on the day of the sale, no one showed up. The company had assumed that since this had been a popular event for years, customers would just know we were having a sale.
It was a failure due to lack of customer awareness and the company’s belief that people would somehow know the sale was on. Unless the product or service features their direct participation, you must assume that customers do not know what you do.
Customers only know part of what you do. If they need clean shirts, they know you launder them. If they need a dress ready for a dinner, they assume you can clean it. Watch your counter — how many times a day does somebody walk in and ask if you can do comforters, sheets and tablecloths, or sew new buttons on a blouse?
These questions usually aren’t from people off the street, but from longtime customers. If they are longtime customers, why don’t they know what you do? Too often, it’s assumed that because the owner knows that a task can be done, all customers know it, too.
What better time to promote all of your services and abilities than when customers first give your business a try? Education and awareness is an ongoing procedure. People need to be made aware of who you are and what you do constantly.
Start your customer education from the first visit. Put together a letter outlining all of your products and services. Send it, without fail, within a week of a customer’s first pick-up. This is not to say that once you send the letter, customers will know what you do; it’s simply their first exposure.
Think of Coca-Cola. It has been the same drink (with one major exception) for more than a century. Everyone has heard about it, if not tasted it. It is the same today as it was yesterday, and as it was last year. Yet, it is advertised constantly. It is promoted for its sparkling taste, convenient bottles, refreshment, being on sale, being young" and so on.
Coca-Cola doesn’t run one ad Monday morning and assume that you’ll remember it for the rest of the week. Coca-Cola advertises 24 hours a day in all media. Why? Because the company never knows when you’ll get thirsty.
The same is true with cleaning. Just because you ran a sweater promotion three months ago doesn’t mean your customers know you do sweaters. They didn’t need to clean a sweater during your last promotion and “tuned out.” Now they do need a sweater cleaned, and don’t know where to go.
If you want to provide a service, people need to know on an ongoing basis that you provide that service. A welcome letter can go a long way in educating new customers about all of your products and services, not just the one or two that first brought them through your doors.
It is also a great opportunity to express what many consumers never experience — a thank-you for their business. A simple thank-you helps reassure a customer that their business is appreciated and that they are important to you. Growing up, I was told to always use “please” and “thank you.” Now that I’ve matured, it’s amazing how such a simple lesson is forgotten.
Use your computer’s new-customer list to do more than just reassure yourself, use it to reassure your customers to keep on doing business with you. It is an opportunity to set yourself apart from the competition, describe your services, offer a reason to return and express your thanks.