It was one-of-a-kind, at least in our little central Texas town. There was a playground for the kids. Fresh baked cookies inside. Two of those pump-it-yourself thermal canisters filled with flavored coffees and another with decaf, a flat screen TV hanging on the wall and for the workaholic who can’t stop long enough for an oil change, WiFi, still a big deal when this oil change station opened a year ago. The owners had managed to infuse charm into a business that's usually anything but charming.
I brought my car in a for an oil change just yesterday morning. What a difference a year makes. Absent were the coffee canisters (at 9:30 in the morning), a plate with yesterday’s broken cookie sat on a dirty counter top, the TV was silent and dark. I looked outside toward the playground. A sign hung from the chain link fence. "Closed for Repairs."
It’s a natural fact. Paint fades along with enthusiasm.
It starts slowly. One day you come in and there are a couple of customers waiting for you to open. No time to make the cookies now. The early birds are the first prophetic signs of a busy morning. The action doesn’t stop. You look up. It’s 10:30. Haven’t even made coffee. And you know this because a few customers grumbled about it on their way out – in a good-natured way, of course. The next morning, the phone is ringing when you walk in the door. One thing leads to another, but no thing leads to cookies and coffee. After a while, it becomes part of the routine – no coffee – no playground - no extras. Business is good. Why spend the money? No one seems to notice. I mean, none of our competitors do it.
And gradually, suddenly, it’s not a one-of-a-kind business any more. It’s just an ordinary, average lube station.
Or supply house. Or retailer. Or office. Or restaurant. Or hotel. Or "fill in the blank."
Most people understand the idea behind the Personal Experience Factor (PEF) – that customers will gauge their emotional connection to anyone with whom they do business and the deeper the emotional connection, the deeper the loyalty to the business. Business owners intuitively know this and they start out doing their best to surpass their customers’ expectations, to raise the needle on the PEF meter. But, over time, they get busy and forget. And before long, they begin to take their customers for granted.
Sure, you're busy now.
Remember when K-Mart was busy?
Do what you have to do to remember this: Work as hard to keep your customers as you did to acquire your customers and you will always have your customers.
Mark it on a calendar. Make it a seasonal maintenance item. Whatever it takes. To keep a high PEF score in the eyes of your customers, the experience has to stay polished and shiny. All the little extras you did in the beginning, you need to keep doing. Things have to be renewed, repainted, replaced.
Refresh the experience.