Years ago, when Simon Bailey worked for Disney, one of his first assignments was to go into one of the theme parks and do routine maintenance. It was a way of familiarizing him with the resort. While sweeping an area of MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios), Bailey encountered a family from his hometown of Buffalo, New York. They got to talking, shared a few stories about their common experiences, and Bailey gave them some friendly pointers about how to have the best experience at the park. Reflecting on that interaction later, it occurred to Bailey that he hadn’t been sent out to do a maintenance job; he’d been sent out to interact with guests and to make the kind of connection he’d made with that family. He’d been unwittingly tasked with creating a moment.
Years later, as a best-selling author, speaker, and business coach, Bailey brings up that interaction when consulting with entrepreneurs on how to create memorable experiences for clients—and turn them into loyal fans in the process. He recently presented a keynote on the topic at Imaging USA 2023.
“Customer service is a department,” he says, “But customer love and customer experience is a mindset. Successful entrepreneurs find a way to create an experience that is second to none.”
The foundation of Bailey’s approach to attracting and retaining great clients are his five platinum service principles, or SPARK:
Make the experience of working with you easy and pleasant. In a world where people are overwhelmed with information, being easy to do business with speaks volumes about you as a professional.
A critical adjunct to the SPARK principle is client relationship building. Bailey suggests putting yourself in the shoes of the client you want to attract. What is important to them? What do you know about them? Think about milestones and personal insights. How can you follow up with something creative that shows an attention to detail and is memorable?
Make the experience of working with you easy and pleasant. In a world where people are overwhelmed with information, being easy to do business with speaks volumes about you as a professional. Making people’s lives a little easier by offering considerate touches and a simplified process goes a long way toward earning their repeat business.
Study the luxury market. What do luxury brands do that others won’t? How can you set yourself apart by offering something above and beyond? Take the extra step because that extra step is what people talk about when referring professionals to their friends and family.
Fostering good, long-term relationships with clients is important because clients are often your best source of new bookings. Bailey recommends using a customer relationship management system to record client interactions and keep them organized. Make notes to remind yourself of what you know about clients. Record things such as what you did for them in the past, what styles and options they prefer, and their preferred method of communication. Track your interactions with each client so you can pick up where you left off during your last correspondence and create a more personalized experience.
Then follow up using their preferred communication method. That shows you’ve been paying attention. Bailey recommends following up with one person a day from your client list. If you feel like you need a reason, then schedule those follow-ups around anniversaries, birthdays, and other key dates. If you do that, you’re reconnecting with five people every week and strengthening those relationships. “The fortune is in the follow-up,” says Bailey.
It’s important to budget for growth even though that’s sometimes daunting to do. Because if you don’t prepare to grow, you’ll never advance your business in the direction you want to go. For example, if you need to hire an assistant to help your business get to the next level, then make that hire a priority in your budgeting.
Investing in yourself and your business requires confidence. “It’s not who you are that holds you back,” says Bailey. “It’s who you think you’re not.” So have faith in yourself and your abilities and have the confidence to invest in your future.
It’s helpful to take microsteps in the direction you want to go. Instead of going all in from the beginning and then backing up if the move doesn’t work, progress incrementally toward your goal. Once you start seeing the benefits, you’ll become more confident to take the next step. For example, rather than breaking the bank to hire a full-time assistant, start by contracting a virtual assistant for a few hours a week. Then expand the position as needed after you start getting positive results.
You might find it helpful to get counsel from people who’ve taken the same steps in their businesses. How did they budget for growth? How did they manage their finances to make investments that took their businesses to the next level? “You can have a 50x60 dream for where you want to take your business, but if you have people around you with 8x10 thinking, you will always shrink to where they are,” says Bailey. “Put yourself in a bigger room with people who have taken the leap and learn from them.”
To get the process moving, start with an examination of your personal values. Consider what you want to be known for. Then go deeper. Understand who you are as a professional and what fundamentals guide you, then work through the process with those values as your map.
When you’re ready to work through the five SPARK principles, don’t tackle them all at once. Start with one, dial it in, and figure out how you operationalize it into your business. Journal about it. Write down what went right, what went wrong, and what you can improve. Once you’ve got that principle nailed, then work on the next principle. Make each principle a part of who you are as a professional.
Throughout this process, it’s helpful to work with an accountability partner. Over the course of several weeks, schedule quick check-ins (five minutes should be plenty) to touch base on what you’ve implemented and what is working. Hold each other accountable, share best practices, and learn from each other as you level up your businesses.
Jeff Kent is editor-at-large.