Studies show it costs business owners much less to keep an existing client than to pursue a new one. Some research suggests that a handful of very loyal customers are responsible for as much as 80 percent of sales in the average company. What's more, one happy client can influence 50 to 300 people and likewise act as a continual source of new leads. Considering those statistics, customer retention isn't just smart - it's vital.
Today's marketplace has created savvy, exacting consumers. Unfortunately, their demands for superior service frequently go unmet. To foster loyalty in disenchanted clients, companies must perform above and beyond the standards their customers expect.
Earning top grades in customer satisfaction involves seven criteria. If there's room for improvement in even one of these areas, you may not be an "A" student - yet.
- Worth. Are your customers getting the most for their money? Of course, it's good business to offer high-quality products at low prices. But value also comes in the form of excellent service protocols, such as trial periods, clear and fair return policies, and product/service warranties and guarantees. Offering sturdy or attractive packaging, reasonable shipping and handling fees and a constant supply of fresh inventory likewise adds value to transactions.
- Information. Customers feel more confident about purchases when they have all the information they need to make the best decision. Sales representatives should know how to explain and demonstrate everything in their product lines. In addition, they should be able to analyze the company's offerings and compare their results favorably to your competitors' goods.
Once a transaction is complete, don't let customer service slide. Send email newsletters filled with updates, tips, new products and special promotions.
- Timeliness. Examine company operations and policies to see if you can save clients time. Does your staff return emails and calls promptly? Do products ship out for delivery as soon as possible?
- Personality . Hire the best people and make sure they are happy in their work. Customers love to do business with positive, competent employees who remember names and favorite products. Clients easily spot genuine friendliness, enthusiasm and helpfulness - and qualities such as these build long-term relationships.
- Availability. Are customers able to get in touch with your staff in a number of ways? Do they know who to contact if there's a problem? Some people prefer to do business by phone and others like to complete transactions online. All areas of customer interaction should be of the highest quality.
- Convenience . Making life easy for your clients is sure to win points. Use software to keep track of product preferences, birthdays, past purchases and other account information. This brand of service makes repeat business far more likely.
- Consistency. Many customers return again and again to a particular company because their experience is consistently solid - again and again. What do your clients most value? Whether it is polite staff, a little small talk or a quick checkout, make sure the experience is repeatable and reliable.
That Personal Touch
Instill a sense of investment and devotion in clients by cultivating personal relationships with them. These "above and beyond" measures demonstrate an attention to detail they probably won't get elsewhere.
- Treat them like valued friends. Offer special customer appreciation programs or regular giveaways. Learn about their businesses, and when you talk with them, keep their buying histories and other information at your fingertips.
- Patronize and support their establishments. One clothes retailer, for instance, has a florist who is a loyal customer; so when a special occasion arises, he heads right to that customer’s shop. By the same token, he’s quick to spread the word about the florist’s gorgeous arrangements.
- Share your time. When customers are in your store or office, impart extra information that can enrich their experience with your business. If it's practical and you're in the neighborhood, drop in for a visit at their workplaces to show that they are important to your company's success.
- Instill mutual trust. Assume your clients are honest, unless they prove otherwise. Tackle problems quickly and efficiently when they arise. Most of all, keep anything they tell you in confidence locked up tight.
- Send personal notes. In addition to thanking clients after doing business, find other times and occasions to mail handwritten notes. Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays and special events are good examples. Send follow-up emails or links to newspaper and magazine articles that relate to their work.
- Develop a network. Encourage customers to treat you as a business resource, and ask if you can use them as references, as well. Provide clients with information about business connections and job openings. Keep track of leads and sales opportunities. If you maintain social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest, invite them to join, and follow them, as well.
- Add something extra. Show your customers they are special by doing small favors or giving gifts, such as holiday cookies or a special book purchase. One restaurant owner features a “diner of the month,” with Facebook photos, free lunch and a sandwich named in the customer’s honor.