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Accentuate the "Positive"

Patron Loyalty Achieved by "Positively Outrageous Customer Service"

They do things big in the Lone Star State, including customer service, if Texas-based author T. Scott Gross is any indication. His supersized brand of PR not only transcends the large-living Southwest, but is a commodity that should be exported the world over to reverse the psychological and economic impact of our increasingly impersonal era.

Gross, jocular author of the "Positively Outrageous Customer Service" series of books and the former director of training of a major food service organization, addressed ShowCanada delegates at a seminar designed to maximize audience loyalty. Gross pointed out that if you're getting a slice of the pie but the pie itself is too small, "you'll starve do to death" -- so the only solution is to make the pie bigger. If theatre owners "make going to the movies more fun, people will go more often," Gross reasoned. "If you entertain [the customer] in a way that wasn't expected, it creates a halo effect: Service in the future will seem to be better than it really is." The inclination for reciprocity also results, wherein the customer feels obliged to bring their business back to the place where they received superior treatment.

It can be easy and inexpensive to make a big impression: Scott himself was tickled to find that the truck he'd bought came with a pair of white cotton gloves stashed in a compartment for emergency tire changing. He had just paid in the neighborhood of $20,000 for the vehicle, but the 69-cent freebie is what really made him excited about his purchase. "Make people say ‘wow' when they aren't expecting it," Gross advised.

"It's important for you to be out there to greet customers," he continued. "Try to remember names or at least that they're a regular customer." This makes your patrons feel good, which is vital, for Gross theorizes that "every decision a human makes is a buying decision" -- one whose end result is motivated by one of two catalysts: feeling good, or avoiding feeling bad. "The customer wants to know you. It gives them status: ‘I know the owner and the owner knows me.'" If they don't know who you are, they're apt to simply think upon seeing you, "'Isn't it nice -- the theatre is hiring old people,'" Gross ribbed. Furthermore, the owner interacting with the customers sets a good example for other employees, and also allows for continued on-the-job training. "Always work with another employee," counseled Gross; that way, "you're training at the same time."

When hiring, keep in mind that "you cannot afford to have people without personality. The value of face time is growing. It counts more than ever because [in the Internet age] there's less of it." You have to have an usher who's going to say more than "Left." Above all, "people want to be served by people who like them."

Also important is having a phone "where someone can talk to a person," asserted Gross, who jokes that "phone messages are for [businesspeople] who want to annoy customers but don't have the staff to do it."
Gross believes that people "are really not that conscious of price. If they want to see a movie, they will. It's a factor, but not the only one." To ensure that your theatre is the one patrons choose, "Carry a brand image; make up crazy names for concessions; announce the film -- wrap an experience around it," Gross recommended, along with passing out silly surveys to people in line and giving out prizes randomly when there are a lot of customers around to vicariously share in the moment. "Get ‘in fun.' Be psychologically ready to play."

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