Getting and Keeping Customers: Learning a Lesson from Universities

Mixed Race College StudentA couple of years ago I was speaking at a conference for university facility managers and learned something new: most students make their decision to attend a school within the first hour of their visit to the campus.  I was interested in the topic both personally and professionally at the time, as both of my boys were deciding on colleges.

The first impression formed by a prospective student about a college is often visual—whether the buildings and grounds are clean and attractive and whether the students they meet appear happy and engaged. Combine this with the overall “vibe” of the campus, and it’s easy to see how a visitor might quickly form either a positive or negative opinion of a college. The prospective student isn’t even aware that they may be making a subconscious decision, then and there, about whether this school is a good fit.

Around the same time I spoke at that conference, I heard a statistic that 62 percent of college students will transfer schools during their college experience.  That seemed high to me and yet, the following year, I learned that many of my sons’ classmates were doing just that.

So how does a college attract—and retain—its students? The same way a business attracts and retains its customers: by continually showing them that they are valued and by making it everyone’s job to create positive, lasting impressions.

Here are five ideas for creating positive impressions for your customers:

  1. Take the time to really get to know your customers and their preferences from the very beginning.  For example, many hotels I stay in will email me ahead of time—asking me for my specific preferences, needs, or requests—to make my stay more enjoyable.
  1. Continue to deepen your level of understanding and knowledge of your customers. The other night while having dinner at a favorite neighborhood restaurant, one of the bartenders came to our table and said she was making a little book of the regulars so that she can remember everyone’s name. It was a little thing, but it showed us she cares enough to get to know her customers.
  1. Reach out to customers you haven’t seen or heard from in a while.  Send an email with information that might be of interest to them or that could help them in their business.  Research shows customers are more loyal to you when they feel as if they are learning something from you.
  1. Do what you say you are going to do.  Be consistent.  Follow through.
  1. Be sure the last impression you make on a customer is a positive memory for them.  The last thing you do or say can make or break the entire customer experience.  What can that look like?  A follow-up phone call to ask if there is anything else you can do for them—or even a smile and a sincere “thank you.”

If more colleges and businesses would follow these very simple but effective ways to let people know they care, perhaps their students and customers wouldn’t take their business and money somewhere else. What do you think?

About the author

Kathy CuffKathy Cuff is a customer service expert and coauthor, together with Ken Blanchard and Vicki Halsey of the book, Legendary Service: The Key is to Care.

2 thoughts on “Getting and Keeping Customers: Learning a Lesson from Universities

  1. Hi Kathy,

    Understanding your customers is a crucial process. I love that little book idea they made at the restaurant – if you’re a regular it doesn’t make sense to start over from scratch each time you visit. Understanding (and remembering) is key.

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