Hospitality – a universal ingredient for business success

Guest post from Cindy Bates, Vice President of Microsoft’s US SMB Organisation.

Read more from Cindy on her blog here. I thought this tied in nicely with Maria’s recent post on killing customer loyalty.

I absolutely love the work I do at Microsoft. Sometimes though I think that in another life (or maybe down the road in this one) I’d enjoy running a world-class destination bed-and-breakfast. The idea of creating a space for others to relax in, take in beautiful surroundings, savor well-prepared, local food, and enjoy one another’s company appeals to me. I get a lot of pleasure out of showing hospitality, and it seems to me that the bed-and-breakfast environment would let me tap into that passion, not to mention getting the chance to somewhat feel like I’m living a permanent vacation.

Well, you might not run an inn, but if you’re running an SMB, providing hospitality is still a must. Everyone wants to feel welcome and cared for, whether they’re sitting down to a five-course meal or buying a pack of nails at the hardware store. Here are three ways you can up your business’s hospitality quotient:

Consider your first impression: Whether customers visit your physical location, website or both, in every instance, the environment you create matters. Decide on the message you want to send to customers when they walk in your door, then ask yourself if your current environment delivers that message. Do some sleuthing – browse websites that appeal to you and ask yourself why and if the same factors would appeal to your customer base. If you need help getting a website up and running, Office 365 provides user-friendly tools, to help create simple and professional public-facing websites.

Serve up support: Just as you wouldn’t shortchange your bed-and-breakfast guests on coffee and pastries in the morning, don’t hold back on support services for customers. Make them readily apparent and available. That might mean placing contact numbers and channels of support in prominent places on your website, expanding the ways you provide support to customers to include the digital realm, and training employees to proactively ask customers about their needs, questions and concerns.

Remember the small things: Sometimes a restaurant experience will stand out positively in your memory simply because the waiter brought you a sample of a dish you had expressed interest in but had not ordered. This gesture didn’t require very much of the waiter or chef, but it certainly made you feel cared for and valued. In the same vein, get creative about how you can surprise your customers in small but significant ways, keeping in mind that bigger isn’t always better and thoughtfulness sometimes just requires slowing down a little and putting yourself in your customers’ shoes.

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