Retaining existing customers is far easier, and much less costly, than looking for new customers, yet so many businesses have it ingrained in their thinking that they have to be focused on finding new customers as the driver of their business growth.
Consequently, the business can become obsessed with appealing to potential customers who they have never dealt with before. But, what about their existing customers? Is it just assumed that once a person becomes a customer they will remain a customer?
How do you ensure that customers you already have continue to make repeat purchases? How do you get your existing customers to buy more from you? It’s about making sure your existing customer base remains happy, loyal and content with your business. And in particular, it is about ensuring that you focus on looking after the 20 percent of your customer base that will account for 80 percent of your sales – this is Pareto’s 80/20 principle that applies to much of business.
Examples of the principle: 80 percent of your stock will come from 20 percent of your suppliers, 80 percent of your sales will be generated by 20 percent of your sales staff, 20 percent of your staff will cause 80 percent of your problems, and another 20 percent of your staff will provide 80 percent of your production.
After you have closed prospects who now become part of your customer base, the goal is to give those customers an unexpected positive experience that keeps you and your product or service at the top of their mind.
Your goal should be to have a frequent interaction with customers, so when the time arrives for them to buy your product again, they will think about you and your business first. By doing this you start to add value to your customer that your competitors aren’t doing. This value is often what sets you apart and stops your competitors moving in on your key customers. Remember, it is always easier for your competitors to steal your market share rather than try to find a new customer who has never purchased that type of product before.
A number of market surveys in retail categories have shown that customers leave their relationship with the retailer because of:
- 1 percent: death
- 3 percent: change residence
- 5 percent: buy from a “friend”
- 9 percent: product/service is sold by a competitor
- 14 percent: don’t need the product anymore/retailer doesn’t have product at the “right” price
- 68 percent: perceived indifference
Providing good customer service is building a relationship, and relationships require communication. Good customer service is proactive, so don’t wait until there is a problem to start taking care of your customers. And take positive steps to prevent perceived indifference from developing.
Specific actions that you can take to provide a competitive advantage with great customer service:
Always provide consistency of service, make it easy to buy, and add a WOW factor. This means making sure you know what standards you are setting, what makes people talk about you, what makes people look forward to doing business with you, what makes people tell others about your business.
Send personalized “thank you” notes as one of the most powerful ways to create a point of difference by saying “thank you for your business.” Less than 2 percent ever say thank you in a written format. Think about your last five major purchases; did you get a written note to say thank you for making that purchase? A written note will set you apart and your customers will not only look forward to coming back but they will also rave about your service.
The customer is always right, except when the customer is wrong. So many people think that they have to succumb to a customer’s every whim as they are frightened to upset the relationship. This is not necessarily true. Customers are people and if you give people the opportunity to be fair minded, they generally will be. You must always “level” with the customer and if you are unable to provide the product or service under the terms being demanded by the customer, provide them with the honest answer and tell them the best terms you can offer that will be fair to both parties. It is the same when a customer complains; don’t try to cover it up or get down on your knees. Give customers the benefit of the doubt and give them the chance to be reasonable.
If you made a mistake, acknowledge the mistake and ask what you can do to make the customer feel better. You will save 95 percent of unhappy customers just by taking that action. If customers complain with unjust cause, you need to be straight with them. Don’t just give in under these circumstances or they will expect that from you every time. For example, you could say, “My customers are happy to pay that because they feel I provide value. Is there some way in which you feel I can do a better job for you?” This opens up the opportunity for a mutual discussion in a fair way to retain long-term respect from the customer through honesty.
Provide opportunities for special treatment of your customers, particularly your A customers, the top 20 percent. For example, if you are about to launch a new product or update some of your product range, then let these special customers know in advance rather than find out through public media advertising. It is a way to continue to educate your customers about the benefit of your products and you may also provide an offer to purchase or try the product before it is released to the public. Another opportunity is to contact your customers at times relating to the history of the product or service. It could be that you contact them about 12 months after their purchase to give them an update on your business or simply to check that everything is going well with the product they purchased.
You may want to let customers know that the product is just about to come off warranty and offer to check the product for them. At this point of contact it may be an opportunity to offer some type of special up selling offer for an extended warranty or maintenance agreement – an added value in your customer servicing.
Deliver your product with an unexpected gift or do something that is completely unexpected by the customer. This is the most fun and can be the most effective in customer service. Give people the unexpected and they will be pleasantly surprised. It doesn’t need to be elaborate – it is the unexpected that will create the positive relationship benefit.
A great book to read about the impact of customer service is “What Clients Love – A Field Guide to Growing Your Business” by Harry Beckwith. It is a book about taking customer servicing to another level and it provides great insight into what customers experience and expect, and what to do about it. It also indicates that you need to keep innovating as customers will always expect you to get better.
Make sure you identify your “moments of truth” in customer service. What are the times when it really counts to impress with your customer service? Every time you meet or have contact!
Reprinted from Capital Region Business Journal, Madison, Wisconsin, August 2006 issue.
Brad Sugars founded the brand Action International in 1993 when he realized there was a disconnect between business advice and implementation. The answer was Action! Brad Sugars created a business coaching company so that business owners throughout the world can realize their goals in business. Today the company is known as ActionCOACH. To learn more about business, visit Brad Sugars Review blog