It happens every year about this time. College students descend on largely beachside communities bringing booze, irreverence, and the nonstop pursuit of debauchery! Merchants in their wake worry about their potentially added revenue being offset by the cost of breakage, shrinkage, and the disappearance of regular customers who will be there after students leave. But, it does not have to have an unhappy dread.
Here are a few tips for small businesses:
Be a really great host.
Assume your business is the site of a party and student-customers are your guests. Start with a welcoming attitude. Aim your best smile at your guests as they enter your establishment. Accommodate unique requests just like you would good friends in your home. Be famous for your happy disposition and optimistic attitude. Embrace individuality and seemingly strange tastes in whatever. Provide a wider than normal berth for rowdy, boisterous behavior. We were all sophomores; impressing friends is just part of the growing-up ritual. Accept it; don’t try to control it.
Make getting great service a priority.
Student-customers enjoy easy and comfortable. Ensure easy access, friendly servers, and accommodating service processes. What would free Wi-Fi do to your business? If you gated your Wi-Fi, what if the password was clever and memorable? “Our password today is Adele.” What if signage was funny? What if you flipped all negative messaging “We do NOT take personal checks” or “We card everyone” to language that was positive and clever. What if you decorated your bathroom? Be creative in making your establishment a destination location.
Be noticeably respectful.
It is hard to misbehave when someone is treating you like you are valued. “Ladies and gentlemen” should replace “boys and girls;” with plenty of “mam’s and sir’s.” Start lots of kind, personal conversations. Request their feedback and suggestions. “What music would you like us to play?” Make statements that signal you are appreciative of their business and eager for their return. Offer discounts and rewards that matter to students. Again, their ideas can give you guidance on their interests and tastes.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Check your parental tendencies at the front door. But, be humble, courageous and confident. Peer pressure can be your friend. Instead of trying to discipline an unruly or misbehaving student-customer, get one of their peers to assist you. When a unique request requires time and effort to accommodate, suggest they assist. “We want to put three tables together for you all, would you gentlemen mind helping my staff move a few chairs?” Customers will care if the share; and most are willing if asked. Putting skin in the game can elevate their loyalty.
Always take the high ground.
When students cross a line… they shoplift, damage property, insult other customers – always take the high ground with firm allegiance to your core values of integrity and fairness. You have rights and you must protect others in your establishment. And, exercising discipline when that line is crossed will garner you respect not disdain for student-customers. All students understand what is right and wrong. Even in the midst of their most rebellious antics, they know the meaning for fair play.
Spring break can try the patience of the most patient, tolerant merchant. Locals have learned to alter expectations during this annual escape from control and order. Yet, it can become the spring of revenue instead of the season of breakage when students are treated like valued guests.
Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books. Global Gurus ranked him both in 2014 and 2015 as the #1 keynote speaker in the world on customer service. Chip Bell’s latest book “Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service” offers a gourmet banquet of ways that today’s companies can devise ways to cost-effectively surprise and delight customers with every experience.