Creating customers for life

I regularly ask business owners what general issues they are experiencing in today’s economy.

I regularly ask business owners what general issues they are experiencing in today’s economy.

Without fail, the two I hear about most often are: increasing sales and attracting, hiring and retaining the right team.

Business has been slow to rebound, however, people believe that there will once again be a shortage of qualified people as the economic recovery continues.

Before discussing these two subjects, I believe it is important to review the basics and set a good foundation. Let’s start with service.

There are three key things that define good customer service.

Deliver consistently

By far the most important of the three. It takes time and effort to build the systems and train your team to ensure that orders are processed systematically, and that the services are delivered with regularity so that customers can trust coming back and even refer others to buy from your business.

Make it easy to buy

This includes everything from the ability to reach the “right” contact people, website navigation and phone and e-mail protocol, to payment methods, delivery choices and post-purchase followup. Do as much “market research” as you need to make sure buying from you is both simple and satisfying.

Deliver the WOW factor

Do the unexpected; it doesn’t have to be big, just genuine and different from your competitors. Check your industry to determine basic standards then build in a strategy to WOW them.

But remember, if you can deliver the first two, the WOW factor is irrelevant.

So now let’s look beyond the basics and analyze customer service in more detail.

Adopt a “customer for life” attitude. Statistics indicate that it is six times more expensive to find new customers than it is to service existing customers. In other words, the lifetime value of loyal customers is six times more profitable than attracting new customers.

Know what it costs your business to acquire a new client and compare that to keeping an existing client.

Survey your current clients to discover what interests them. This can be done in an anonymous format like the “How are we doing?” cards.

A better method is to have an informal conversation with clients. Ask what their expectations are and what extras might be attractive.

Gathering this information will help you to determine what your business can offer that your competitors don’t. The goal is to become the source where existing customers purchase regularly and make larger transactions.

Develop a strategic plan to build long-term relationships. The worst mistake you can make is to assume that your existing customer base will continue to use your products and services in the future. The number 1 reason customers leave is because of perceived indifference.

It’s important that you communicate by some method at least every three months. Special offers and “front of the line” opportunities show your clients that they are valued.

Find ways to become the expert in your field. Every team member must have a knowledge base and expertise that will effectively serve and grow your sphere of influence.

Know and record customer details. Gather demographic, statistical and behavioural characteristics and track each transaction. Depending on your business products and/or services, it’s important to stay informed about your client’s business.

In some cases, it’s useful to know information of a more personal nature: family stories, where they like to vacation, sports or hobbies they enjoy, and the charities they support.

Remember, companies don’t buy things — people do.

ActionCoach is written by John MacKenzie of ActionCoach, which helps small- to medium-sized businesses and other organizations. He can be contacted at johnmackenzie@actioncoach.com or by phone at 403-340-0880.