Most Small Businesses have a fairly established customer base. Sometimes, however, it is imperative that we break into a new market, perhaps because our current market shrinks or dries up, our product changes, or to expand our business. When attempting to enter a new market, you are trying to convince a group that has not used your product or service in the past that you are the best choice and a better value for the future.
Often Small Business owners do not have the luxury of huge advertising budgets. Since first impressions carry a lot of weight, one of the ways to break into a new market is by employing outstanding customer service. This winter I encountered a gentleman who was trying to do just that, and it really impressed me. I wanted to share it with you.
This past January my brothers Tom and Don invited my parents, my daughter, and I to piggyback onto one of their legendary family vacations: this one a ski trip to the French Alps. It had been a few years since I had taken a vacation (sound familiar?), and I was psyched! It was a dream trip for me – great skiing, awesome food, and unforgettable memories with my family.
Tom and Don planned the trip. They had rented an owner-managed chalet in a small village. The owner, Pascale, owns two chalets, and he supports himself by renting them to tourists such as ourselves. He is a very hands-on businessman and was excited to rent to us. You see, after several years of renting, we were his first American tenants. Not only that, but we represented four households from four different regions of the United States. We could give him exposure to a lot of previously untapped potential guests. He was eager to make a good impression and was willing to change his normal routine to do so. It worked.
This is how Pascale provided exceptional customer service to cater to our group:
He adjusted his product to account for cultural differences. Not to state the obvious, but to Americans, France is a foreign country. Some customs that may be commonplace to the French seem strange to us. I think this caught both my brothers and I and Pascale off guard. But, even though he may not have understood our reservations, Pascale was quick to adapt to our needs and comfort level. For example:
- Pascale adjusted the times meals were served. The chalet package included a chef who served us breakfast and dinner. Before we arrived Pascale informed us that dinner would be served nightly at 8pm. Tom has two preschool-aged daughters. Clearly, trying to keep his kids awake for a late dinner would cause a bit of stress for Tom and his wife. Also, our elderly father generally goes to bed early as well. Pascale quickly offered to serve the children at 6:30, with a 7:30 dinner for the adults.
- Pascale eliminated unfamiliar foods from the menu. I know that part of a trip abroad is to experience new cultures, but, really, with twelve people in your group, five of them kids, sometimes taking the path of least resistance is the best way to go. Pascale made equally delicious substitutions for items on the menu that made some of us squirm.
- Pascale adjusted our bill to account for our reduced alcohol intake. The initial charge for the chalet included one bottle of wine per adult per day. (Teenagers counted as adults.) Seriously?! There was no way we would come anywhere near that level of consumption, so at the end of the week he adjusted our bill for the unopened bottles, and also had on hand other beverage options, such as fruit juice and soft drinks, which were not usually made available.
- Pascale respected our cultural notions of privacy. About a week before we arrived, Pascale informed us that he and a friend would be sharing the chalet with us. Perhaps this is a cultural schism, but having two men we didn’t know share a house with our teenage girls was a deal breaker for Tom and Don. When they explained to Pascale that this seemed, well, a little weird to them, Pascale quickly made other lodging arrangements for himself and his friend.
Pascale went above and beyond what he normally does for guests by doing the following:
- He brought in logs and lit a fire every day before we returned from skiing.
- He adjusted the time of breakfast each day to our daily schedule.
- He hung out with us after dinner each evening, informing us of interesting things to do, great trails to try out, and generally attempting to make us feel like we had some cool local mojo.
- Without being asked, he went to the town tourist office and picked up some bumper stickers for me after I asked him where I might find some for souvenirs for friends.
- He researched the things we wanted to do and made arrangements and reservations before our arrival.
- He dropped us (and our equipment) off at the lifts each day and was waiting for us after the lifts closed.
I’m sure that Pascale went to a lot of extra work for us in an attempt to garner future referrals. He probably feels he lost money that week and worked harder than he usually does. However, he is a smart business man. His efforts to set a good impression worked. If I have any friends wanting to take a ski trip in Alps, I know right where to send them. Meanwhile, Tom and Don are planning their next trip – to Thailand.
In what ways have you tried to gain a foothold into a new market by providing outstanding customer service?