the ceo magazine, customer service,
Donna Cutting, Author, 501 Ways to Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your Customers

Smart small business owners know that when you roll out the red carpet for your customers it means repeat business, and referrals. However, how can you give champagne-style service when you’ve got a beer budget.

Delivering red carpet customer service does not have to break the bank.

Here are seven ways small businesses are giving their customers the kind of consistently excellent experience that creates raving fans.

Have Them At Hello: Never underestimate the power of first impressions. Train your team in basic hospitality skills such as providing smiles, making eye contact, and learning and using customers’ names. Remember, each team member your guest encounters contributes to the opinion he or she has of your business. You must give them the skills they need to make a stellar first impression. For example, the team at Spa Theology, in Asheville, NC is trained to give double handshakes, refer to clients as guests, and focus their energy on making the guest feel relaxed and unrushed. Receptionists even stand on tiptoes while talking on the phone because it gives their voice an upbeat quality.

Personalize the Experience: The more specific the service, the more terrific the service. One of simplest ways to WOW your customers is to add a little personalization to the mix. For instance, financial planner Rick Salmeron sends an email to clients prior to their visit asking for their favorite non-alcoholic drink. When customers arrive, they are greeted with a welcome sign bearing their name, and a beverage, personalized to the client’s taste. Rick and his team have served beet, celery and apple smoothies, soy non-fat lattes, and everything in between.

It doesn’t take a lot to create a WOW experience. Personalization is the key.

Have Fun: People like doing business with people who like doing business. Have a little fun with your customers. The Village Coffee House in Boulder, Colorado has found a way to combine a warm welcome with a sense of humor. Visit the coffee shop for the first time and you’ll be deemed a village virgin. If you’re found out, an announcement is made and everyone in the restaurant, from staff to guests, claps and cheers. Says owner Shanna Henkel, “it’s the way we welcome people to the family.”

Host Annual Events: Show your most loyal customers your appreciation by inviting them to a special event. Make it something they’ll look forward to year after year. People and dogs alike enjoy the annual pool party Diane Anderson throws for her customers and best referrers. Realtor Alex Bracke hosts family movie night once a year. Guests literally walk down a red carpet , are served popcorn, and treated to a family-friendly film. Says Alex, “It’s my most anticipated event of the year.” These kinds of events keep your frequent customers returning and referring others.

Remember Your Staff: How do you get hourly employees who may never have received a red carpet customer experience to provide one for your clients? You must model it for them. Be sure to say thank you often, and give your team a little star treatment everyone once in a while. Again, a show of appreciation doesn’t have to drain your bank account. When April DeLanpcy, president of Social Age Media was just starting out, she cashed in her American Express points to buy Zappos gift cards. Then she treated each of her team members to a new pair of sneakers. The owners of Talent Plus, a consulting firm based in Lincoln, Nebraska, know that food can be a team builder. Their three-story building has only one coffee pot, so co-workers who work on different floors will have a chance to connect. On Wednesdays, they have waffles!

Give Back: Get involved in your community, and show your customers you have a social conscience. Companies like Hard Exercise Works, for instance, donate money to a different charity each month based on how many Facebook check-ins they receive. When podiatrist Dr. Daniel Margolin, owner of New Jersey Foot and Ankle Center realized many of his patients with foot problems were throwing their new shoes away, he created his “Shoes for the Needy” campaign. It started as a small internal project, but within two years they had donated 15,000 shoes to local charities.

Ensure your business is an integral part of the community by finding similar ways to give back. Your customers will want to do business with you, as they will indirectly be giving back as well.

Keep Them at Goodbye: While first impressions are important, the last impression is a lasting one. Make sure you and your team members pay attention to what you do at the end of a customer interaction. Send them home with a smile and invite them back.  Ask, “While I have you on the phone, is there anything else I can do for you?” Check in on your client beyond the sale just to say hello. Or do something fun like Mark Savoree, owner of Savoree Properties. When a new tenant moves into one of his apartment, he’ll snap a photo of them in their new home. The photo is framed and presented as a gift at the end of the transaction.

In today’s economy, customers have louder voices and more choices than ever before. Delivering a world-class experience isn’t just nice – it’s crucial for survival.   As these small business professionals have shown, tiny acts on a shoestring budget can make a huge impact.

About the Author

Donna Cutting is the author of 501 Ways to Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your Customers: Easy-to-Implement Ideas to Inspire Loyalty, Get New Customers, and Leave a Lasting Impression. Contact her via


Shelby Given's picture
I really enjoyed the last section on "Keep Them at Goodbye". Most companies put so much emphasis on first impression (which is important) but not as much emphasis is placed on last impressions and follow-up. Great article!
Madison Wait's picture
This is so insightful! All of the tips suggested above are incredibly valuable, especially the "Have Fun," section. I think people often get so caught up in planning out every little detail of their customer service, that they forget to have fun! If you're excited about celebrating your customers, your customers will be excited about celebrating your business. Enthusiasm is contagious! Having fun with your "WOW" moments is a huge part of making hose moments so memorable and enjoyable. Wonderful article!
Joan Linda Claire Hammond's picture
"Get involved in your community, and show your customers you have a social conscience". It is so important especially for small businesses to give back to their community and get involved. It is very important for the customers to feel appreciate and for them to realize that the businesses are not out there only for their money but also for the prosperity of the town, city. At the end of the day, the value of an enterprise will be measured by how much people can rely and be a witness of their servicce.

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