What My Former Tanning Obsession Taught Me About Customer Loyalty

When I was in high school, there was a tanning salon that turned me into a tan-a-holic. Cut me some slack here (especially you- my dermatologist clients), it was the late nineties/early aughts and I’m from Long Island. It was a rite of passage. Plus, I have the battle scars to prove it was a dangerous habit. But I digress…

You couldn’t go a half a mile without running into a tanning salon back in those days, yet this particular salon I mentioned often had a line of customers waiting to fry their epidermis. No, this salon wasn’t the least expensive game in town. What they nailed was identifying the less obvious reasons why people wanted to go tanning, and going all-in on delivering an experience that ticked those boxes.

Did I love a bronze glow that concealed any minor blemishes without makeup? Yes. Was I happy that I wouldn’t blend into the mountain if my snowboard took a spill? Of course! But there was more to it than that. Walking through the doors of that Long Island strip mall tanning salon in the dead of January, and entering the tranquil, beachy habitat on the other side of the door gave an instant release of serotonin. This place had actual SAND throughout the salon beneath a winding boardwalk that led you from room to room. The air was filled with the scents of saltwater and coconut. Each tanning bed had built-in speakers that allowed you to select your preferred music to accompany the white noise of peaceful ocean waves. And of course, the bulbs from the tanning beds warmed your skin as if you were basking on the beach in perfect, 85-degree weather. It was a FULL sensory experience that completely transported you. I would swear that just recalling the feel of being there took my blood pressure down a notch right now.

As service providers, we think about the end result that brings clients to us and we develop our solutions around meeting that need. That is, we focus on the obvious reason people seek out our service.

"I’m an aesthetic medical injector. They hire me to get rid of their wrinkles."

Well yes, but what else is going on there? Perhaps the client feels like “they’ve arrived” now that they can afford such a luxury. How often do we consider the tangential reasons for using our service or the feelings that accompany our clients' motivations for hiring us? Until the memory of that beloved tanning salon dawned on me as I rocked amongst the white noise of ocean waves in my baby's nursery, I don’t know if I had quite contemplated this question in my own business. But I sure will now.

You may be thinking,

“okay Denise, I’m a small business accountant. I’m not exactly sure I should be hauling sand into my office.”

Okay, maybe not. But have you considered what your clients expect to feel when they hire you to advise on how to best manage their business’s money? Perhaps they need affirmation that they’re handling things appropriately. Maybe they even feel a sense of pride that they have a business worthy of hiring an expert. Suppose those assumptions are accurate. What can you do to amplify those feelings? When you’ve got a physical location, you sure can subtly implement some sensory solutions. Office renovations or décor updates can increase the feelings of success a client has when they push through your doors. Subtle music and fragrance will most likely go unnoticed when done appropriately, but can have great psychological effects that make your clients feel comfortable and secure.

Dig deep to understand (maybe even formally ask some of your close clients) how doing business with you might make them FEEL. Maybe there are some negative emotions you have to combat. Perhaps there are some extra benefits beyond the obvious result that you can play up.

Finally, what about all my fully digital or mobile business owners? Are you feeling left out? Don’t worry, I’m in your shoes so I got ya. Maybe we can’t diffuse scents through the computer screen or bring a boombox to a client’s house, but there are ways to tap into our clients' emotions.

Again, it all starts with understanding not just the result your service provides, but the feelings clients have about either GETTING to or HAVING to hire this service and the reasons why they choose YOUR business in particular. Once you understand the emotions they have or are hoping to feel, you can work on amplifying or counteracting them accordingly. If clients hire you for the convenience of your mobile service, you can really try to capitalize on that convenience aspect. Do you have an app that makes doing business with you even easier? Are you able to accommodate last-minute schedule changes?

Whenever people are paying for a premium service, reinforcing that luxury aspect is critical to driving loyalty. No one wants to feel like they're making payments on a Porsche while driving a Honda. They'll be searching for the next luxury service provider the moment your transaction ends. When you show up to Zoom meetings, be professionally dressed and impeccably groomed in front of an aesthetically pleasing backdrop. Want to show some appreciation? Invest in a high-end client gift. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to send Louis Vuitton luggage to everyone. It could be a $60 candle or a $30 tin of tea. Think small, everyday items that you could purchase a luxury brand version of. Alternatively, you may want to go the ultra-thoughtful and personalized route to show appreciation. For instance, you could record completely customized individual video greetings to wish each client happy holidays, or enroll each client in a one-year magazine subscription related to their personal interest or hobby.

Do clients expect that we business owners know how they want to feel when they do business with us? Probably. But do we actually know how they want to feel? In most cases, no. We're just cavemen hammering stones into wheels, not realizing that the clients want the wheels to make them feel intelligent and powerful.

If you can nail down all the emotions that come along with hiring your particular service. You’re in a position to start creating a unique competitive advantage. Personally, I’ve got some thinking to do…and some pallets of sand to order. Just kidding.