Belfast Telegraph

Want to make your company stand out? Time to go Dutch

By Jase Bell

There was a time in the wonderful world of commerce when you built the store and the customers purchased.

With the introduction of credit we could then buy stuff that we couldn't quite afford but pay it back over a period of time.

Retailing has changed significantly over the last couple of years. Social media has brought companies directly (and indirectly) into the conversation with the customer whether that conversation is good or bad. Twitter has become an instant log of brand sentiment with a catalogue of knee jerk reactions which will either praise you or potentially sink you.

Emphasis has gone from retailer selling to consumer to retailer having a conversation with consumer and getting their trust. People that have worked in sales for a long time will maintain that it always starts off with building relationships with customers. Now it's mandatory. The Dutch airline, KLM, showed the airline industry how it's done. They monitored feeds from Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook and noted any passenger that was flying in or out of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Once KLM had made contact via the customer's choice of social media platform they arranged to meet the customer somewhere at the airport. The KLM representative would have the customer's name written on a piece of card — this might not sound like much but this is basically airport VIP treatment.

Once the customer and KLM staff has met it was an easy win. The airline presented the customer with a present. There were 90th anniversary limited edition watches, books and other things.

This is one step beyond ‘know thy customer’ and goes to ‘communicate, meet up, have a conversation and show that we've done the background so we really know, our customer’.

If you haven't heard of shoe retailer Zappos then go and have a look at their website and also check out the chief executive, Tony Hsieh, talking on Youtube. I was on the look out for some boots and found some on the Zappos site. No mention of international shipping so I contacted customer services. Now Zappos pride themselves on their customer service — there's a book written about it. I'm quite lenient on online retailers and 24 hours for a response is good for me.

Zappos managed to do it within six minutes. And to top it off it wasn't an automated email but it was from a human being who apologised that they couldn't ship but had found two other retailers that could and had the boots that I wanted.The above examples don't cost a lot to implement but trust me, do something to grab the customer's attention even if there is no sale, and you will be talked about.

Jase Bell is founder of . You can follow him on Twitter —

Belfast Telegraph