I have spent a lot of time talking about the prices that consumers pay for motorcoach services in North America and my belief that they need to increase to offset the continual cost increase creep that has proliferated in our industry for the past few decades. While in a perfect world we would all hold hands and in beautiful harmony sing a chorus of justified price hikes, the unfortunate reality is that will never happen. There will always be the threat of that “one guy” who’s willing to slash his prices to undercut our efforts.
As they say, there are a lot of ways to skin a cat. Although in all honesty, I have never really understood that particular euphemism. One of the most successful ways to drive prices up in any business is through creating loyal customers. When I ask people at seminars if they have customers who will stick with them even if they aren’t the low-cost provider in a market, I am always met with firsthand experiences that prove this point.
From customers who call and report to a company that they were approached by a competitor offering a lower rate just to reassure them that they aren’t going anywhere to customers who will “tell off” a competitor for having the audacity to contact them when another company is doing things so well, the examples are numerous. When you have loyal customers, you have pushed them beyond price and have helped them see the true value of working with your company.
Value is not a number, but rather a very personal calculation that we all make. One of the things that weighs in our value calculation is the loyalty we feel for that company. This one element of that very complex calculation can weigh heavily on our willingness to pay more for a product or service.
So how then does one create loyalty? One of the most interesting things that I have learned in the past few years is the biological truth behind the buying process. It turns out that buying decisions are made in the limbic system in our brains. What is so very interesting about this is that this part of the brain does not respond to analytics, price or detailed examination, but rather, it deals with emotions. This reality proves what most great sales people have always thought to be true, when consumers make buying decisions, they make them based on some emotional trigger.
I have had the opportunity to sell a lot of things, but nothing taught me more than selling real estate. As an agent, I was a serial listener when I would work with a new buyer. I would listen to what they wanted — how many bedrooms, budget, what neighborhoods and schools they were interested in, everything down to the smallest detail. Then I would spend my days and nights digging through listings looking for the perfect home. I would narrow it down to a few and would then take the buyers out to see what I had found.
To my amazement, even though the homes checked every single box, more often than not, I would be met with a less than enthusiastic response. Often saying things like, “We don’t like the drapes” or “We just didn’t feel like it was THE ONE.” I would inevitably get frustrated and go back to the drawing board looking for homes that met the same set of criteria as the first. I was always bewildered when I would get a call that my buyers were out walking the dog, passed a home with an open house sign, walked in, fell in love and decided to make an offer. That house almost inevitably met very few, if any, of those same criteria that I was using in my search.
The reason wasn’t that they didn’t mean what they said when they told me what they told me, but rather that they had indeed made an emotional decision and pulled the trigger on something all-together different. These emotional decisions are easy to relate with in terms of searching for a home, as any homeowner knows the euphoria of finding “the one.” However, how that relates to the bus business is more nuanced.
Creating loyalty and understanding emotional buying isn’t about crafting a more powerful website or designing a new brochure, it is about realizing that buyers need something unique from you in order to achieve both increasing their loyalty to you and subsequently being willing to pay you more for your service.
This all starts with one word. Empathy. It’s easy to hear the word empathy in terms of business and feel like it is simply too “touchy feely” to really be put to work. In fact, you are probably far more likely to hear empathy talked about in a marriage counseling session than in a sales summit, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. This is because the fastest, most effective way to influence someone’s buying decisions and long-term loyalty is to teach and create a culture around empathetic selling techniques.
Empathy is actually just a fancy way to define one’s ability to listen to someone else’s needs, understand what they are feeling and then respond accordingly. Put in terms of sales, it’s the ability of a sales person to understand not only what’s being said but what the emotions are that are driving those things. You’ll also need to look for ways to help the customer know that you and your company care about their needs and wants and are there to help them reach them.
Translated directly into “bus,” this means that you have charter booking agents who aren’t so busy taking down details and responding to online quote requests that they don’t have time to really listen to a customer and to build a relationship. It means that every customer-facing employee is working on ways to make the customer experience “magic,” not just churning a never-ending string of quotes or operational demands out the door. To create loyalty, we have to look beyond price, amenities, fleet size and compliance and begin to realize that the long list of reasons we may believe our customers should be loyal and pay us more may mean very little if we have missed the step of building a more empathetic sales process.
It’s time we went back to the golden rule. We need to treat others the way we would like to be treated. It’s amazing to me to see the dichotomy created between how we as individuals would like to be treated and how we as companies are willing to treat our customers. Far too often customers are met with a cold indifference. This indifference is driven by an overwhelming pace of business that becomes our operational reality. We forget what it’s like to be a charter customer or a bus passenger and we build businesses that move further and further away from the things that ultimately drive the loyalty we want and need.
Loyalty isn’t created because someone did business with us, it’s created because someone did business with us and we did something special. That something caused there to be an emotional response, a response that not only impacted their interaction but that created memories and set in stone (in their mind) that you are the company they will continue to work with. When we choose to integrate this objective and the activities necessary to accomplish that into our businesses, we see loyalty increase. In direct relation to an increase in loyalty is our ability to raise prices and sell value as a company above and beyond the price of our competitors.
When we do that, we take the steps necessary to increase our margins and have the luxury of spending the money we need to take our companies to the next level. If you find yourself looking for more money every month and are worried that you need to raise your prices, but you’re afraid of the ramifications of doing it, spend time focused on being empathetic with your customers.
It will help you sell more, to more people, for more money!