Creating moments that matter

“I think getting a four star review would be like getting a one,” laughs co-owner of Hunter Valley Cadillacs, Debbie Maiden. The company has a perfect five star rating on TripAdvisor and believes it's their customer-first focus that's seen them succeed. “We are a really, really small business in that it is just Dave [my husband] and I,” explains Debbie. And because of that, she adds, “Our tours are the most personal.”

Customers tell the couple that they love the unique touch. Both Debbie and her husband take bookings (including weddings and wine tours), maintain the cars, do the actual driving and follow up on feedback. “Whoever drives on the day is the one who responds to any review that we get,” explains Debbie, ensuring that the customer has a continued service flow. “We try to reply to every piece of feedback we get – they take the time to leave the review so we want to return that effort.”

Customers regularly point out that the pair are happy to go ‘off script’ – whether it's kangaroo spotting or just leaving them to linger a little longer at a favourite spot. It's what the couple are willing to do differently that gets them noticed.

take the time to find and embrace moments that add a special touch

Tapping into what matters

Personalisation is a global trend on the rise in Australia. Customers want to feel special and appreciated. The ability to be flexible in addressing that need is an opportunity small businesses can and should embrace.

Personalisation can vary, depending on your business. For example, a café in Sydney writes the names and orders of all its regulars on the wall next to the register. Or, when Chocolate Box gym set up their new training space, they hired an artist to paint the names of all their founding members on the wall next to their boxing ring. This was a nod to those who had helped them along the way. With technological solutions also on your side, customising an experience has never been so accessible.

A lot of the time, it’s as simple as listening to what your customers want and considering their needs. “I’ve had fantastic personalised service from Jag, the owner of The Local Drop [a subscription wine service],” says happy customer Sasha Cunningham. “You score your wines, which helps him adjust your next delivery. He writes notes in my boxes and has followed up with personal emails and SMS messages,” she explains. “He has even gone out of his way to deliver early – or late at my request – and moved boxes out of the rain.”

Anita Clapham, owner of NB Fresh Fresh Fruit and Veg Co-Op, a fruit and vegetable delivery service, says making the customer feel comfortable to ask for what they want is also important. “We know everyone has different needs,” she explains, adding that everyone in the team – from the delivery driver to the person taking the order – regularly reaches out to the customers personally. This makes sure that customers are happy and that orders are helpfully customised based on preferences. “We care about each and every customer … we understand everyone’s requirements are different.”

Whether it’s acknowledging their support or finding ways to make their lives better or easier, the question is the same: what can you add to your business to make you stand out?


What are your customers saying?

The benefits of this additional customer focus is not just repeat business – it’s also customer advocacy. In a hyper-connected world, word-of-mouth is all important. And it’s the special anecdotes that linger and resonate beyond the regular status quo. Sydneysider Suzie Gomes reveals that even big business has the opportunity to be personal and make an impact. She recently purchased a product from Woolworths and found a problem with it when she returned home. She contacted her local store and was surprised and impressed when the manager organised a replacement product to be delivered that afternoon, along with a gift voucher and bunch of flowers for her trouble. What’s more, she shared the experience on social media.

A human, proactive response to both positive and negative feedback is certainly an opportunity to connect and create a point of difference. “You have to put the customer’s helmet on,” says Ben Farley, director of BBQ School. He explains that, like Hunter Valley Cadillacs, he also makes an effort to connect personally with customers when he receives feedback. “I value their custom in my business, they fund my life, [pay] my staff and my mortgage… and I massively believe in my brand.”

Farley says that positive feedback goes further than promotion though – it allows him to motivate his team and further develop his company. “Everyone loves a pat on the back,” he agrees, “but what keeps your heart ticking and passion involved is that you’ve gotten recognition above your pay packet – here’s the impact you have had on a customer’s experience.” He explains that all feedback is examined for learning experiences and encourages 'health checks' on their offering.. “People are different and what ticks one person’s box is going to be vastly different to what pleases somebody else.”

As Farley explains, the personal touch can go beyond retention and acquisition, and move towards collection – a way to curate your current offering and use the unique value of customer feedback to develop future products, services and experiences more likely to succeed. Collaborative customisation isn’t out of reach – it’s essential.

Making an impact: 8 point health check

1. How many of your customers do you know by name?

2. The last three customers you lost: what made them leave and what could see them return?

3. What two things do your customers most value about your business?

4. How can you add to your customer’s experience?

5. When was the last time you went through the purchase process as a customer?

6. Is your business adding value to your customer’s life? 

7. What anecdote would your last customer share about their business experience with you? 

8. Do you respond to all your customer reviews?