“Point of difference” is a commonly touted term in marketing. For small businesses, especially those in the tourism and service industries, like Redlands Kayak Tours, one of the key “points of difference” should be the personal touch.
Whether the customer’s first point of contact is a phone call, email, or even face-to-face, it is invariably one of the owners of the business that has that initial interaction. Sometimes that contact is occurring before the customer even knows they are going to be a customer, because networking is a key strength of one of the owners.
Each contact is regarded as an opportunity to connect with the customer. We like to ensure that the customer’s expectations and needs have a good fit with the tours we offer.
The nature of our business means some essential safety briefings and paperwork are required. Rather than just being mandatory annoyances, however, these are ways of interacting with the customers, getting to know them, and building rapport.
For example, filling in their registration form allows us to not only learn their name, but gain an idea of any health issues or physical limitations that they may have, or nervousness about the trip. This gives us the chance to talk over these issues, reassure them, and where necessary make little adaptations to make them feel more comfortable. Helping them fit their life-jackets gets them introduced to the guides and again opens-up the conversation about their expectations and level of confidence on the water.
The safety briefing, adjustments to their seating positions in the kayaks, and basic instruction are all further opportunities to develop the rapport between guides and customers, and build their feelings of being safe and comfortable.
The basic instruction gets everyone out on the water, but that is followed up during the tour with one-on-one instruction by the guides for those requiring more assistance. Not everyone wants to become an expert paddler, so the guides adapt the amount of instruction they provide and how they provide it to suit the customer.
The speed of the tours, and at times even the distance and direction, are always adapted to the needs of the customers.
During the trip, the guides use break opportunities to photograph the customers (where they have given their permission). These photos are emailed to the customers after the tours – free of charge – and are an unexpected bonus.
Another unexpected bonus is the morning/ afternoon tea provided after (and depending on the tour, during) the tour. The personal touch comes through here again, with home-made cakes and muffins being included. The added benefit here is the opportunity for the customers to mingle, share their experience, and generally relax with the business owners – leaving them with a positive experience of the day – even if they are tired, or even worse, wet.
You might be thinking, well that’s ok for an owner/ operator, but it won’t work for me, I have to employ staff. So does Redlands Kayak Tours, and we know that is one of the most important business decisions we make. We eschew the standard approach to advertising positions and conducting interviews. All our staff are employed using the personal touch – we find them through our wider networks and get to know them before we might approach them to work for us. We make sure they have the necessary interpersonal skills to offer that personal touch, just as much as they have the technical skills for the job. The latter can always be taught, the former not so much.
The pay-off for us – the number word-of mouth referrals for new business, the return customers, and the direct positive feedback about our personalized approach – all tell us that we’re doing the best thing for our business. It will probably work for yours.