This is a guest post from Jeanne Bliss — customer experience expert and author of “I Love You More Than My Dog.” See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on her blog.

If you are in the business of serving customers, NOW is the time to create opportunities when people and businesses are ready to spend again. Here are five actions that will bring you dividends in rising above the fray and soothing nerves during this time of erratic spending woe.

1. Become wizards at alternative solutions

Creative solutions that help your customers cope and manage with the current financial pinch will be long remembered. Coach your frontline how to hold a diagnostic conversation to understand the financial implications of the current market with customers.

Reach out to customers proactively, especially if service contracts or annual commitments are due. In this economy, customers are more likely to opt out and disappear. If you show up proactively with a helping hand, empathetic approach, and creative options prior to their decision, you can save business and build allies.

2. Listen and then repeat

Eight out of ten service calls (or retail interactions) begin with prescribing a solution to a customer before the customer need is heard, understood, and validated.

This is a time when customers want to vent. Let them. Then repeat back to the customer what they said. Because not only do we need to vent right now, we need validation. Repeating the reason a customer walked into the store or called you will take you to a level that is not being received today. Internalize the customer need and use that knowledge to drive an outcome that is right for the customer.

3. Deliver small heroic acts of kindness

Small kindnesses will go a long way right now.

We are all so fatigued from walking away empty-walleted, that small gestures really stand out. Zane’s Cycles, a bicycle shop in Connecticut sells $15 million a year in a single store. They give away any item under a dollar that a customer is in a panic about finding (read: link that will fix a broken chain). These small heroics send customers away shaking their head in amazement. What can you do?

4. Find your best customers and hold them close

Find your best customers, whether they’re “promoters” based on how customers rank you or “highest value” customers based on how you rank them. Your best customers are hanging in there with you and they deserve all the love you can give. Most important, let them know that you’re glad they’re sticking around.

Are you developing new products or services? Bring a group of your best customers in for an evening of food and feedback. Find ways to acknowledge that you value the relationship with them and perhaps offer an extra service they need.

5. Play defensive-end for the front line

The front line is likely feeling two things right now:

  1. The personal pain in their wallets
  2. The pain of the customer

Now is the time to come up with uncommon acts of kindness for the front line. Create a monthly casual conversation with your front line so they can tell you what they are hearing and the pain they are feeling from beleagured customers. Rotate in 10-20 people per month so everybody has a time to vent and receives a bit of cheerleading. Host something fun once a month, such as bringing in lunch or scheduling a karaoke night.

Most importantly LISTEN to what the front line has to say. Make a list of the biggest issues customers are having and work to systematically cross items off the list.

5 actions

Customers’ nerves are raw. Nearly every interaction tests them now. Become the company that steps up with kindness, action, and empathy. Just like a good friend who’s there when times are tough — choose to be that kind of company. Customers WILL remember. Your kindness and actions will pay dividends in business, goodwill, and word of mouth.

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About Jeanne Bliss

As “Chief Customer Officer” for Lands’ End, Mazda, Coldwell Banker, Allstate, and Microsoft, Jeanne got “customer” on the strategic agenda, earned 98% loyalty rates, and changed experiences across 50,000-person operations. Jeanne now runs CustomerBliss to create an actionable path for profitability and business growth -- through earning customer and employee raves. Her best-selling books are Chief Customer Officer and I Love You More than My Dog: Five Decisions that Drive

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