Ask any small business what’s their top priority, or their major headache, and more often than not, depending on their particular circumstances, they will say marketing.
In other words, finding ways to bring in new customers to keep their business not just fed, but thriving.
And while keeping the sales funnel filled really is the top driver for many companies, there is a flip side to this… and that’s keeping the customers they’ve already got.
Unfortunately, this seemingly obvious statement of fact is one that’s often overlooked or ignored by businesses which, driven by the buzz and excitement that comes from new customers, forget to serve the needs of the ones they have.
Customers who, quite justifiably, end up walking away to find someone who can better meet their requirements and really understands the support they need.
This isn’t like the ‘cowboy builder’ who never had any intention of providing a good service, but rather a consequence of lack of time and poor prioritisation.
In some industries, churning customers is regarded as acceptable, but it doesn’t recognise the true short or long-term worth of holding on to the customer in hand.
Anyone familiar with the tactics of insurance companies, who offer their best deals to new customers while putting up the premiums of existing ones, will know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such ungrateful business behaviour.
But given the amount of time and effort it takes to get a customer in the first place, letting them slip through your fingers isn’t a sound policy.
It’s like running a bath without the plug, and constantly having to fill it up to replace what’s leaked away.
That’s not only wasteful of your time, money and resources, but can eventually ‘contaminate’ your marketplace and see your reputation go down in flames.
The cynical approach to business is to see each of your customers as a one-off opportunity to squeeze them as much as you can. If they don’t come back, so what? There are plenty more fish in the sea.
However, most businesses don’t operate like this, so it’s important to have a on-going ‘satisfaction policy’ in place – the things you do to maintain, build and strengthen the relationship with existing customers for long term success.
So how do you set up a programme to ‘wow’ your customers?
1. Recognise that your customers have a ‘LTV’ or ‘lifetime value’
In other words, the total amount they will spend with you during their lifetime as a customer, if you let them.
From this perspective, spending time to build trust and nurture a relationship with your customers, so they continue to return to you, is time and money well spent. This is an ‘investment’ in your relationship, it is not a cost.
2. Keep adding value by listening to what your customers want and improving what you do for them
This could just be delivering an existing service with added benefits, or it could mean proactively introducing them to a new idea.
If you’re not sure what this could be, look outside your industry for inspiration. Many great ideas taken from another sector have made many business owners wealthier.
3. Stay in touch with your customers regularly, not just when you want to sell them something
If you want to build an ‘added value relationship’, then contact them with ideas, information and introductions that will help them, without asking anything in return.
When people feel happy about your services the easiest is for them to refer you to others.
4. Be as responsive as you can to customer requests.
Get back to them as quickly as you can with the information they’re looking for. This may not be easy, particularly if you are up to your eyes with work.
However, having such a ‘follow up system’ in place isn’t a luxury but a sensible practice for creating business success.
5. Continually update your knowledge and adopt new techniques and technologies to keep yourself ahead of the game.
A virtual assistant, suitably trained, could handle many of those all-important responses to existing customers, while using templates and standardised responses can automate much day-to-day customer communication.
Adopt this approach, and phone calls and emails become part of the customer retention process, with each one offering an opportunity to build trust, put down deeper roots in the relationship, and add the all-important value that will see the customer coming back, and you being recommended to others.
Of course, going the extra mile to help has to be tempered by commercial reality at some point – providing the best customer service in the world will count for nothing, if it puts you in a position where you can’t do the work needed to earn sufficient money!
But for many businesses, the question they need to keep asking themselves is, how can I keep adding value to my customers?
If they can do that, not only will the business become appreciated and recognised for the service level it offers, but bit by bit it can rise through the ranks to become potentially world class at what it does.
Further reading on managing customers