Most organizations with a high percentage of customer retention have one thing in common: the product or service they offer has some sort of value above and beyond what their competitors provide. Whatever their industry, successful businesses meet or exceed their customers’ expectations at all times.
And what’s more, that commitment to excellence isn’t just a strategy – it’s a guiding principle held by every member of the company.
Customer retention often begins as a philosophy held by upper-level management, a policy decision that encompasses all areas of the business, including marketing, sales, and customer service. In order to keep customers happy and loyal, though, employees at all levels of the business must buy into this policy. The organization as whole must commit to the idea of ‘dazzling’ their customers, and this requires dedication – a level of dedication, in fact, that many businesses don’t believe they can achieve.
So how do we keep customers happy while continuing to run a profitable business? Here are some suggestions to take into consideration for your 2012 customer retention program:
1) Know your customers.
No organization, large or small, can hope to succeed without being fully aware of their customers’ needs, wants, attitudes, and preferences. It goes without saying that businesses need to carefully research their targeted prospects before building any marketing strategies, but it’s just as important to keep listening to those prospects after they’ve become customers.
To retain your customers, always act in their best interest. If they make suggestions, take those ideas into consideration and thank them for their input. If you can’t fulfill a request, be sure to explain the situation and offer them alternatives. And don’t be afraid to get personal: offer your customers special coupons, express your appreciation, or even send greeting cards. Simply doing what’s easiest for your company will only alienate your customers, making them feel marginalized and unimportant. People love to feel special, and that they’re getting the attention they deserve. If your organization can’t provide that kind of satisfaction, your clients will move on to someone else who can.
2) Give customers your full (and prompt) attention.
The best service possible – be it competitive prices, payment plans, stellar customer service, or tech support wizards – are meaningless if clients have no confidence that you’ll respond to their questions or problems in a timely manner, or that you’ll take those problems seriously. It’s easy for businesses to assume that their customers are busy (who isn’t, nowadays?), and therefore, those customers will understand if their needs are not addressed quickly. In reality, though, clients appreciate a prompt reply precisely because they’re busy. When customers must wait 24 hours for an email or phone call, what kind of opinion will they form of your organization? What if they must make inquiries two or more times before getting a response? What if they can’t get through to a live person to help solve their problems? Though it may be more convenient for the business, behaviors like these leave a bad taste in customers’ mouths – the kind of negative experience they’ll definitely share with others.
A little extra vigilance can help avoid this scenario. For starters, take care to respond to all client correspondence and phone calls as they come in – including emails and social media comments. Work out a set timeline to deliver your services, and be sure all employees understand the plan and work within those guidelines. Finally, keep in touch with your customers throughout the process. That way, if there are unexpected challenges or delays, they won’t feel neglected and will know what they can expect from your company.
3) Stay one step ahead.
It’s crucial to respond promptly to customers’ requests, but a successful retention strategy takes it a step further. By staying in regular contact with your customers and tracking data about their interests, requests, and past purchases, you can anticipate their needs before they actually ask. Use that information to cross-sell and up-sell. Every time customers order something from your website, for instance, suggest other products they may find useful or interesting. This will expose them to items they may not otherwise have realized you offered, and perhaps inspire them to make another purchase. Similarly, you can offer special promotions on products your customers have ordered in the past, on different products in the same line, or even on new products similar to what they’ve already purchased. Whatever your strategy, the key is to continuously offer advice, suggestions, and incentives that meet your customers’ needs and wants, and entice them to revisit your business. Customized attention makes clients feel significant while also keeping them informed about new opportunities with your business.
4) Show your appreciation.
However satisfied customers may be with your product or service, they always have a choice in working with your brand: they can walk away at any time. Be sure to reward their patronage with meaningful benefits. If a client sends you a referral, for example, give them a gift in return, or at least reply with a ‘thank you’ note. Acknowledge your most supportive customers through impromptu emails, coupons, or even social media posts – and don’t limit your appreciation to referrals and purchases. Thank your customers for making payments on time, submitting comments, or participating in surveys. Word of mouth is the best marketing an organization can get. Show your clients that you’re paying attention, and that you value their business.
Remember: it costs a lot more to recruit new customers than it does to retain existing ones, so it’s imperative that any business keeps their customers loyal. By creating and implementing a strong customer retention program for 2012, you’ll be halfway (if not closer) to reaching your business goals for the next year.