To only source business from new prospects without a deliberate focus on customer retention, is like rowing a boat with only one oar. The result is wasted time with no ability to move your business forward.
To grow your business through improved customer retention, take a look at these suggestions.
Ask and Listen
To improve your customer loyalty you need to learn how your customers feel about doing business with you. The best way to do this is to ask.
Your customers want to be heard. However, you cannot expect to receive well thought-out or critical feedback from clients when you as the business owner are asking the questions. Instead, have someone independent of your business ask questions over the phone with a selection of your customers. Give the option for feedback to be anonymous to encourage honesty.
The aim of this process is to:
- Show them that their desires and opinions matter to you, because they (the customer) matter to you.
- Find areas for improvement in your image, branding and messaging, customer service, delivery, and business offering.
- Learn more about your target market and what is important to them. You may be placing greater value on things that do not matter to them while ignoring what does.
- Discover how they perceive your business. For example, do they know what you do, do they value it and do they believe you know what you are doing?
Another important part of listening is to make sure you are always aware of what is being said about your business. Is there a common complaint or question? Are people talking about your business online?
Do not discount negative feedback. It is free advice that can help you greatly improve your business offering and service delivery. Personally thank and reward your customers for their honesty, acknowledge your mistakes and communicate what steps you will put in place to ensure it does not happen again. If a problem is solved to a customer’s satisfaction in a way that demonstrates their value, you very often have a ‘customer for life’.
Make sure you show your appreciation to your customers for sharing their insights. Inform them of all the positive feedback you received and also the steps that you will take to give them a greater customer experience based on their contributions. This reinforces that they did not waste their time in sharing their ideas and concerns.
Make it personal
Business is personal. It is certainly personal to your customers.
We must remember that organisations are not things or invoice numbers, they are collections of people. While your product, service, results or price may be enough to win over a new client, it is not enough to make them a loyal client.
The more emotional factors that lead to delight, surprise or feeling appreciated and valued are also key to the total customer experience. So make doing business with you an enjoyable and memorable experience. This is something that small businesses can often do better than larger businesses.
For example, some of my small business clients depend on doctors referring patients to them. Their competitors are focused on logical elements such as price and technology while we have made service and personal care the focus for my clients. This can be as simple as customised reporting for each doctor or having cake delivered on their birthday. The result: word-of-mouth referrals to other doctors and fiercely loyal customers.
Just how important is service and personal care in business? Enough that people will often pay more to receive it.
Ask yourself: what can I do to personalise my relationship with my top customers? For example, keep blank greeting cards in your drawer, ready for use. A hand-written, personalised ‘thank you’ note is rarely thrown out. It is not part of a contract, nor is it a big expense, but it has a big impact.
Where appropriate, why not have some thoughtful fun with your customers? For example, if you know one of your customers is entering a marathon send them an encouraging note or a heat pack. If one of your clients has taken time off work due to illness, send them a good DVD that they can watch instead of daytime television.
Recognise why people do business with you in the first place, and be consistent. Often small businesses put a lot of effort into winning over a new prospect, giving them lots of attention, only to offer them the complete opposite once they become customers.
Very few customers will actually tell you if they are disappointed, and even fewer will give you an opportunity to rectify a problem. They are more likely to take their business to your competitor or hurt your reputation by complaining to others. So don’t for a moment take your customers for granted.
Deliver what is promised before the deadline and do all you can to accommodate customers unique needs. Keep your customer service, value, accuracy and quality consistent. Remember, the only unpredictable element of your business should be the pleasant surprises you give them.
Don’t use gifts as ‘bait’ to close a sale. Your customer should know that they did not choose you over your competitor because you were offering a free gift with every new sale. That is not enough of a selling point to sustain them as a customer further down the track.
Win new business by being excellent and marketing yourself well, and then surprise them with a gift to show your appreciation. How much more will your customer talk about that to others?
Finally, your customers need to be constantly engaged and delighted. This is what will keep them coming back to give you repeat business. It is also what will make it easy for them to refer new business to you.
Keep the lines of communication open and share complimentary advice and helpful material with your customers. If you want to go the extra mile, look for what might benefit them, such as inviting them to a free webinar, giving them a relevant book or offering them free tickets to an event that would interest them.
Initiate a true relationship with your clients, rather than a business connection with an invoice number. Do this by celebrating each other’s successes. For example, sharing your business’ milestones and media coverage with your clients helps make them proud to be your client and gives you an opportunity to thank them for being part of your business’ success.
The Bottom Line
The growth of your business not only depends on your ability to attract new customers, but also on your ability to keep your customers engaged, delighted and therefore loyal.
By improving your customer retention you will be rewarded with ongoing repeat business, referrals and positive word-of-mouth promotion. Invest time in this now and you will begin to notice a healthier bottom line.
–Phoebe Netto is the managing director of Good Business Consulting, a business advisory specialising in marketing and public relations for small business.