Retain your Customer Base

But don’t expect the work to do itself

I think we all agree on this: It is less costly and more profitable to retain the customers you have than to convert new ones. Everyone says it, and I think we all believe it. But do we pay only lip service to it?  With competition for attention, money and loyalty, it behooves every company, association and nonprofit to consciously work to retain their current customers.

So how do you actively retain customers? Today I’d like to share with you some wisdom I’ve gleaned from several sources. Let’s begin with Here are a few nuggets from this site:

·      Build reciprocity, “the social construct that makes the world go ‘round.” Consciously and consistently go above and beyond what is expected of you. It will build customer loyalty.

·      Use surprise to deepen loyalty. Do something kind or helpful for your customers when they least expect it, not just as part of a deal you’ve laid out for them. Surprise them with your generosity or thoughtfulness or concern.

·      Personalize the experience as much as possible. “In a study from the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, researchers found that waiters could increase their tips by 23% by the simple act of returning to tables with a second set of mints. Do mints have magic powers? Apparently not.” The conclusion was that the waiters had personalized the experience, and the customers wished to reciprocate.

·      Provide flawless, amazing customer support. And “speed is secondary to quality.” Customers are more interested in “courteous, willing and helpful” customer service than in a lightning quick response. In fact, slow down. Take your time. Spend more time with that customer, solving the problem or answering the question. And try to learn their specific traits and preferences so you can render personalized service in the future.

·      Develop a loyalty program, and work hard to understand why your customers use it and what makes them keep coming back to use it again. “The biggest wall that prevents customer loyalty programs from sticking is getting people started.”

·      Make your best customers “VIPs.” Give them a gold membership card or something like that. (Caveat: This works only if there is a “lower class” to which they can feel a bit superior.)

Business Know-how offers four good tips for cultivating existing customers, asserting that the backbone of any business is managing and retaining current customers. Here are their four tips:

·      Maintain customer satisfaction. The first two elements are indispensable: Make sure you have a quality product or service, and then ensure all your employees are polite and easy to deal with. Give those employees a script which includes a broad history of that product or service rather than a laundry list of “what we do.”

·      Resolve customer problems and disputes. Empower front-line employees to address and resolve issues quickly and painlessly. Transferring unhappy customers to a busy manager who just gives them something free to placate them does little to nurture customer satisfaction and trust. Therefore, front-line employees must learn to be active listeners and to affirm what is true.

·      Stay in contact with your customers. Remind them why they came to you in the first place. Put them in a position to reaffirm the value you’ve brought them and the promises you’ve kept. Because these customers can re-order without costing you new-customer acquisition outlay, you might even be able to offer them discounts from time to time.

·      Ask for referrals. And consider hosting events in which current customers can mingle with future prospects.

Finally, let’s check in with Client Heartbeat. Here is what they have to offer. This article by Ross Beard begins with some sobering statistics on why customers might leave you. According to research, he explains:

·      68% leave because they are unhappy with the service they receive.

·      14% leave because they are unhappy with the core product or service they’ve bought.

·      9% simply decide to try your competitor

So, where does that leave you and me? Here is some of what Beard advises:

·      Set customer expectations. Under-promise and over-deliver. If you are confident you can provide the report or reply or delivery in 24 hours almost all the time, guarantee it will be there in 48. Then surprise them with a speedier response. A trend of over-delivery on a promise can offset the occasional negative customer experience, such as happens when you’re a bit late.

·      Be the expert. Apply your expertise to become your customers’ trusted advisor. Cultivate a “guru” image, offering information and advice beyond requirement. Where to start? Identify industry-specific problems and challenges, and then learn how to solve them.  Notify your customers of an upcoming change in the industry and be ready to offer insight on how to address it.

·      Build trust through relationships. And develop it through shared values. That means taking a sincere interest in your clients, learning about their business and the role you play in it. Start by simply asking: What differentiates you from your competitors? Then figure out how you can help them strengthen their golden trait. And build a relationship marketing strategy through regular digital information sharing and/or blogging.

·      Anticipate their needs – and have a plan to serve them. Learn their information needs, and respect their communication preferences. Proactively alert them to potential glitches (a delay in their plane’s departure today) and to upcoming positive experiences (Your package is on its way.) Visit customers if you can, so you can see with your own eyes what they might need.

·      Incentivize your employees based on measurable customer service. Develop the key performance indicators by which they will be evaluated in terms of the contractual agreement with the client. If the agreement is not fully met per every indicator, your employee has not rendered acceptable customer service.

·      Implement customer feedback surveys. Monitor these three key metrics: the specific feedback of each individual customer – followed up by action; trends across time to detect broader areas of satisfaction improvement and decline; data that helps you identify customers at risk, weak areas of your business that need improvement, and where your strengths lie.

Let’s quickly identify the common threads in all this advice. Begin by exceeding customer expectations as often as possible, including giving them information, advice, discounts and gifts. Personalize the experience by learning as much as you can about each individual customer, and then act on that knowledge to personalize their relationship with you in as many ways as possible. Make top quality customer service an expectation among all your employees; then train them to render such service, empower them to do so, and evaluate their performance on the basis of it. Probably the most important piece of advice, the one that underlies all of the above, is this: Get to know your customers – individually. The relationship and the trust, satisfaction and loyalty will all grow from there.