It’s still not about you.
Last time we talked about new customer acquisition and the importance of keeping your selling message focused on your customers’ needs, not the features of you. Now let’s talk about customer retention where it’s even more important to maintain a customer-centric approach to doing business.
Marketing 101 taught us that it’s far more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to maintain an existing relationship. And the key word here is “relationship.” Cultivating your client or customer relationships requires a focused and specific program that everyone in your organization understands, embraces and practices, every day. Your customer relations program should be embedded in the very culture of your company and serve as the cornerstone of your proprietary brand.
It sounds easy, but the devil is in the details. What, specifically, does the term “customer service” mean to your organization? How is that described and implemented in tangible ways? What does customer service look like, sound like, even smell like? More importantly, what does it feel like and how do you know when you’ve delivered that feeling? And where do you start?
As Lewis Carroll once suggested, begin at the beginning. Your customer relations program is and always will be ever-evolving, but putting the basics in place from the start will provide the foundation you need to grow. So here are five starting points on which to base your program. They may seem simple and obvious, but if you truly and consistently follow these five steps and make them part of your service culture, you’ll have the framework in place for retaining your valuable customers.
1. Know your customers by name. Call them by name.
Seems simple, but this is the most powerful step you can take in developing, maintaining and growing your customer relationships. This will require some staff training, but when you encourage and teach your people to call customers by name at every touch point, you establish the fundamentals of a strong relationship.
2. Anticipate your customers’ needs.
Understanding what a customer needs in advance demonstrates that you know your customer, know your business, and bring value to them that is unique to you. By simply paying attention and putting yourself in your customers’ shoes, you can build long-term relationships that your competitors can’t match.
3. Provide incentives to your best customers.
Your regular customers want to feel important and they want acknowledgment of their importance to your business. So implement a rewards or discount program that provides added value to your best customers. When you demonstrate appreciation for your customers they will return that appreciation with loyalty to you.
4. Allow your customers to give feedback.
Listening is a powerful skill to bring to any relationship. Empower your customers by allowing them to tell you exactly what they think of your business and the service they received. Institutionalize your feedback loop with suggestion boxes, feedback cards or email, then take active measures to improve on issues that arise. And a personal phone call from you to select customers asking about their experience can solidify and strengthen your relationship. It takes time and effort, but keeping in touch with an open mind can make a big difference in customer retention.
5. Settle difference promptly, honestly and respectfully.
Every business makes the occasional mistake. How you handle your mistakes will determine whether you lose a customer or retain them. First listen to your customers’ side of the issue before drawing conclusions. If your organization is at fault, admit it and find out what you can do to make things right. If you are not at fault, calmly and respectfully present the facts and make sure the customer fully understands the situation. The customer is not always right, but when a dispute arises, see it as an opportunity to show your customer that you value them and are willing, within reason, to make things right.
Your customers are your lifeline to profits, referrals and reputation. No business can survive without a solid customer retention program. That is why, along with acquiring new customers, retaining your current customer base is so important. Your marketing, branding and business development efforts should contain a customer retention component that becomes a fundamental part of your business culture.