The old adage of, ‘it’s easier to keep an existing customer than it is to find a new one’, was never more relevant than today. It is widely recognized among marketing professionals that the most expensive way to grow your business is by going after brand-new prospects.
Make no mistake, I love it when I land a new client but only if that new acquisition is incremental to my client base. If I lose one or more while carefully cultivating this new relationship, I have created a client revolving door that will eventually take a toll on my reputation and my bottom line.
So how do you keep the customers you worked so hard to get and why do so many business owners, (especially ones that provide professional services) have trouble with this? It has to do with too much emphasis on the product or service provided and not enough on understanding what is most important to the customer.
Think I’m daydreaming? Just go check the reviews of some of your competitors and you are likely to find less than flattering commentary not about the quality of the service itself but the way the customer was treated in the process.
If your business is reputable, you have already passed the test regarding value for the money. People expect to get what they pay for doing business with reputable companies. What they are looking for are companies that value them, meet their expectations, and conduct themselves in line with what the customer sees as important. This is the difference between customers that are ‘transactional’ from customers that are raving fans!
So, how much do you know about the customers (or clients) you serve? Most customer data bases do a fairly good job of capturing purchases, frequencies, preferences, addresses, emails, phone numbers and such. This is good demographic data but insufficient for knowing how your customer feels about the experience of doing business with you. You need ‘psychographic’ data.
Consumer decision making is largely based on emotions; wants, desires, expectations, and fear of mistakes. So, when a customer decides that you are the ‘business’ they want a product or service from, they have likely determined this because of who you are as a business, not necessarily your breath of selection or your price.
Understanding what your best clients really value in doing business with you is the key to knowing what things impact their decision making. This approach is highly effective, but it is also a process that requires planning, time, and a commitment to honor what you discover about yourself as the business.
To start this process, recognize that people are more accustomed to airing complaints than offering praise. They also tend not to attribute things they dislike to one single business. An example would be repair people who do not show up on time. The homeowner does not like this solely because of one local AC maintenance company who occasionally shows up late. They dislike this behavior across all trade classes. Similarly, many people who select one restaurant to eat at may like the food but continue to come back because of the service. The first step is to learn about your business type and what customers universally dislike about doing business with companies like yours.
Start by visiting any reputable review sites. You can visit Google or Yelp, or you can go to sites that specialize in particular industries. Customers that post complaints tend to go into great detail about their experiences so pay attention to reviews rated 3, 2 and 4 in this order. They contain the most balanced feedback that you can work with. Forget 5’s and 1’s as they may be too vague or too emotionally extreme. After reading a few dozen reviews, take note of the common themes. Next, compare these issues with your own business. Be honest with yourself! If you are doing the same things, fix them fast. Then, promote the fact that you don’t do what others do to irritate loyal customers.
Now, select a handful of your best clients and survey them to find out what specially they value in doing business with you. Have someone other than you contact these people by phone and interview them. Another universal truth is that people love being asked their opinion, especially if they know they were selected because they are your most valued customer.
After interviewing a number of these customers, you will start to see patterns appear. They might like the fact that your staff keeps records on what they like. How do you think Nordstrom achieved their hallmark service reputation? They might also feel a closer relationship with you because of your interest in them rather than the garden variety customer service that stops when they leave the other stores.
Once you have identified a few key customer ‘likes’ and a few things to avoid, make sure you and your staff build these new findings into everything you do, no exceptions! It cannot just be a strategy. It must be seen as a belief, a core principle about who you are and how you value your customers – both new and loyal.
Stop chasing your customers away and start giving them a reason to love doing business with you.
Steve Smith is the owner of GrowthSource Coaching, an Orange County, CA based business and executive coaching company that specializes in helping business professionals become extraordinary leaders, savvy business owners and confident marketing strategists. After a stellar 30 year career in the consumer products manufacturing industry, Steve began coaching as a way to help business people develop the skills and attitudes to perform at a world-class level. Steve co-hosts a business podcast called The Business Wingmen and is the author of, ‘Leadership Axioms’- Timeless Principles for Leading in Business and Life.
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