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Are You Ready for Your New Customers?

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When you don't know what to buy or need a last-minute present, a gift card can be a safe bet. According to the National Retail Federation's surveys, gift cards (again) are the most requested holiday gift. And 57% of us have gift cards on our lists.

In 2009, consumers spent $23.6 billion on gift cards during the holidays, with an average spend of $40 per card. That's 590 million gift cards. 590 million customers. That's a lot of people. Beginning December 26, many of these card-wielding people, will be your first-time customers, new to your business.

Are you ready?

What are you doing to ensure you make a remarkable first impression on their first visit to your store or website?

We have the chance to roll out the red carpet for these new customers, to make the first time at our business as welcome and as easy as possible. But this can be a challenge because we forget. We and our employees spend so many hours in the business, we forget what it was like to be new and not understand the process. We suffer from the curse of knowledge.

Here are ways customers may feel lost or intimidated:

  • Technical Knowledge
    Is the technology of your product confusing? I'm not sure which TV features I need. What is the difference between the Wii, XBox, and PlayStation game systems? What tools do you provide your staff or directly for the customer to clear confusion?

  • Jargon
    Do your products call for jargon to understand and order? How about a Starbucks double-tall, extra-foamy, non-fat caramel macchiato anyone? At Waffle House restaurants, you can order your potatoes: scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, diced, peppered, capped, topped or "all the way."

  • Barriers to Ordering
    Do you make customers create a full account on your site before you let them place an order? Is it necessary? Isn't an email and order number enough for the customer? Are your days and hours of operation such that it makes it a challenge for those with full-time jobs to access your business?

  • Demonstration Is Required
    Some products need a demonstration or trial before they really get what you're about. Some products need to be tried before buyed. (Yes, it's terrible grammar, but it's also an important rule.) An example would be perfume. You smell a few brands before you buy. Often, someone came in planning to spend a minimum amount, but after trying and understanding your wonderful products, departs spending more than either you or the customer expected.

  • Demonstration Is Required
    Some products call for an in-store demo before the customer takes it home to try. Espresso machines are a good example. As great as directions may be, it always helps to see it done and try it yourself when there is someone there who can help with questions.

  • Batteries Not Included
    It is incredibly disappointing when you rush home with your new gift to find out you don't have all the pieces to make it work. Batteries are a great example. You need to alert customers when they'll need something else to make your product work.Did you know an espresso machine (and sometimes a coffee maker) need to be primed before using them? Yep, you're supposed to run white vinegar through it to get out any factory residue and pre-clean it. If you don't, it will make your drink taste like oil or metal. Despite knowing this, I never understood why Starbucks (back when they used to sell espresso machines) didn't put a small bottle of white vinegar in with the machines at the factory. How disappointing the next morning when excited for your home-crafted Starbucks latte to find out you can't make it. Even worse, to ignore the instruction and start the day drinking a nasty tasting latte?!

And, I'm sure there are many many more examples ...

It is important to note, make sure, when warming up to your new customers, you don't leave your current, loyal customers out in the cold. Royal treatment should be given to every customer.

Long story short

Make sure your employees are ready. Make sure they understand it may take these "newbie" customers a little longer to understand. Give your employees the tools to make it easy to share and teach the customer. Let the use of a gift card be the start of a conversation between your employees and the customer.

Treat them poorly, and spending that gift certificate is the last you'll ever see that customer. Treat these people properly, right from the start, and you can have a customer for life.

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Hi there!

I'm Paul Williams... guest writer on Daily Fix and founder of Idea Sandbox.

I'm a professional problem solver. Through brainstorm facilitation I help people create remarkable ideas to grow their business. As one client put it, “Idea Sandbox turns brains into idea machines.”

Prior to launching Idea Sandbox in 2005, I spent 15 years building marketing, branding, and customer-experience strategy for The Disney Company, the Aramark Corporation, and Starbucks Coffee Company.

I founded Idea Sandbox driven by my passion to help others create remarkable ideas. I blend the skills and lessons I have learned to build a sandbox---an idea sandbox.

You can reach me on Twitter via @IdeaSandbox.

Through Idea Sandbox, I have helped solve challenges, grow brands, think-up remarkable ideas, and create innovation for companies including: Starbucks Coffee Company, Starbucks Coffee International, Panera Bread Company, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Woodhouse Day Spas, The Microsoft Corporation, and Wells Fargo Mortgage.

I am a writer, speaker, columnist, and brainstormer living just outside Washington DC, in Alexandria, Virginia.

If you like what you've read here, you can find more of my thoughts at my Idea Sandbox blog.

I always welcome comments and reactions to what I've written. I'm on Twitter: @IdeaSandbox

Nice to meet you,


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  • by LingZ Mon Dec 6, 2010 via blog

    Great post. Thanks for sharing. I agree with you about "Royal treatment should be given to every customer". thanks for this words. This should be added as one of the marketing tips by the companies... to know there target audience and treat there customers well. I also want to share about update all social networks is very helpful. It is truly a time saver. It is the easiest way to communicate to your customers. You can update update all your profiles at once with "name". Means to say, you can catch up to your customers easily I.e post to your Facebook Profile, tweet to your Twitter account and update your LinkedIn profile. Plus you will be able to send a text message from your computer to your customers cell phones.
    Keep going and thanks for sharing.

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