Jim Harrer


A great customer experience begins with a smile

The Power of a Smile

It was a cold, dark January morning. The clock on my truck read 5:32am as I pulled out of my garage for a business meeting over to Portland. Two tons of steel was protecting me from the outside elements, yet I shivered as the ice mist hit my windshield.

My brain needed a jolt, so I headed over to Dutch Brothers Coffee, pulled up to the window, and was greeted with a big smile - “Good morning, what can I make for you this beautiful morning?” I’m charmed by her positive, friendly outlook. The combination of the friendly service and fresh roasted coffee resulted in a great way to start my day.

Dutch Bros. CoffeeCan a smile change where you do business? As I drove to Portland I reflected on my own experiences and thought about where I spent my money.

Magazines like Entrepreneur, Fast Company and Small Business have been writing articles covering great customer service for years. I love the legendary story of the Nordstrom clerk who accepted a return of automobile tires from a customer, even though Nordstrom doesn’t sell tires. However, most businesses simply can’t relate to that tale, and never focus on what they can do to improve repeat business. Can it be as simple as a smile?

I used to be a fanatic Starbucks fan. There was a time it was the only coffee cup I would hold in my hand, even if the line was out the door. Then one day I was in a hurry and decided to try Dutch Bros. Coffee. When I drove up to the window I was greeted by a cheerful employee, glowing with a smile - “Good morning, how are you today?” She loved her job and it showed through her bright white smile and bubbly approach. We had a nice chat while she fixed my coffee. In short, we connected.

A simple smile can be a powerful ingredient to creating your customer loyalty program. I tested all five Dutch Bros. Coffee locations near my home and each visit started and ended with a smile. Each was engaging, as if it was an old friend making my coffee. While making your drink they make an effort to connect with you on a personal level by asking how your day is going or to comment on the weather. It’s an enjoyable experience that leads to you looking forward to your next visit.

A smile is just good business. Businessweek’s Carmine Gallo writes about Del Taco, “Walk into almost any Del Taco restaurant and you'll find a counter card promoting the chain's new menu items. On the back of the card, visible to employees, is a reminder to smile and make eye contact with customers.”

Del Taco studied their customers and figured out they do respond differently based on how they’re greeted. Taking the time to make eye contact, greet them and thank them for their business builds customer loyalty. Customers will travel out of their way to do business with people they connection with.

clip image004 2Seventh grade student Mackenzie Westphal from a little town in Missouri tagged along on her mom’s weekly trips to Wal-Mart. On each visit she was greeted to the store by seventy-seven year old Clyde Smith, who prefers to be called “Grandpa” or “Smitty” by the kids and teenagers as they walk into the store. Smitty always took the time to ask Mackenzie how school was going and listened as she caught him up on everything going on in her life. Smitty and Mackenzie connected and as a result Mackenzie never missed the opportunity to go to Wal-Mart, just to see Smitty. One day, Mackenzie decided to build a Facebook Fan page for Smitty so she could meet other people who also adored Smitty. The fan page quickly took off as word spread through the area. 500, 1,000, 2,500 people signed up and shared stories on how Smitty brightened their day with his contagious smile. So many people told Smitty about his Facebook fan page he had to go out and purchase a personal computer so he could read the messages and see the photos they posted.  Smitty’s Facebook Fan page reached 18,000 subscribers before he retired this past January.

Successful customer loyalty programs are often built on a solid foundation of good citizenship. Smitty is a great example of this. He took the time to make his community a better place. He took the time to connect with customers and treated other people, including teenagers, with respect and dignity.

The smile and greeting also has another purpose. It makes you feel welcome to be in their store.

I like to shop at Home Depot and always take my dog, Morgan, with me.

clip image006 2As my dusty truck approaches Home Depot, Morgan starts barking in excitement and can’t wait to get in the store.

As we walk into the store we’re greeted with a smile and “Can I help you find anything today?”, followed by a “Can I give your dog a biscuit?” Almost every Home Depot employee has dog biscuits in their orange aprons. I know this because Morgan seeks out each employee as we walk around the store. It’s amazing to watch her and to see her expression change when she sees an orange apron. Do not ignore the power of positive reinforcement!

Consumers want to connect with business owners and staff. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, just look at the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook. Marketing staff need to pay attention to this social trend and give their staff the tools and training to create a more “human” business environment.

Dutch Brothers Coffee and their drive through coffee stations took a business challenge of only being able to serve one customer at a time, and turned it into a very positive customer experience, by engaging the customer while the coffee is being made.  Best Buy on the other hand just announced they're closing 50 stores because they can't compete against Amazon and other online retailers.  It begs the question, "What can Best Buy do to connect with local shoppers and earn their loyalty?" I'd love to read your comments on this.

For your business, ask yourself these questions:

  • How are your customers greeted? (Smile, eye contact & verbal greeting) 
  • Does your staff connect with them on a personal level? 
  • Do your customers get excited by the prospect of visiting your business?

Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Start with a smile and go from there. It worked for Smitty, Home Depot and Dutch Bros. Coffee. Remember, customer loyalty begins with a smile.


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