Keeping your customers coming back

Many businesses believe that to be successful they have to keep attracting lots of new customers.
Whilst this is important in the early days of a new business, it is more important to begin developing a lasting relationship with those who have already done business with you.
Customers, like partners, should never be taken for granted. If complacency is allowed to develop, the relationship is in danger.
Customer care is important
So why is customer care – or to use marketing jargon ‘customer retention management ‘(CRM) so important?
One of the main reasons is that it costs on average six times more to attract a new customer as it does to keep an existing one.
All companies aim to maintain a competitive edge – and one ingredient for doing this is through service. Take for example Pret A Manger . In an article in the Sunday Times recently it explained how a regular mystery shopping exercise once a week at every one of Pret’s 224 outlets has paid dividends for staff are rewarded for good service.
Today’s customers are much choosier than they were years ago an now expecting the wow factor when they deal with a business.
Why customers quit
Sadly as many as 96% don’t bother to complain about customer service- they just go elsewhere. When Regus Business Centres undertook research into attitudes of businesses it claimed that 20% of large UK businesses had abandoned a potential supplier due to the rudeness or incompetence of the receptionist when answering the telephone.
The management of such companies rarely bother to find out they have not won the business, often thinking mistakenly that they were too expensive.
Who should practise customer care? The simple answer is everyone in an organisation, whether they have face to face contact with a customer or not.
The late Anita Roddick is on record as saying ‘My people are my first line of customers’. If staff  are  treating one another with respect and helpfulness, then there is a good chance that this will cascade down throughout an organisation.
All staff have a role to play
Many employees don’t think that they have a role to play, particularly those on the shop floor- and yet they do so by ensuring that goods are produced on time, and if there are delays making sure that the customer is made aware
One department that often upsets customers easily is the credit control department in accounts. Whilst their job is to gain payment from creditors they often end up upsetting a customer with their approach.
Just imagine a pyramid. On the top is the customer, supported by every member of all other departments. If one of those departments gives the customer continuing grief, then the pyramid will collapse. The customer will dust themselves down and seek a new supplier
By practising good customer care all of the time, your customers react by feeling pleased, happy and satisfied and wanting to continue their relationship with you. What is more they tell their colleagues about you. And when a hiccup does occur, they are much more likely to be understanding.
Keep in touch regularly
The essence of good customer care is to keep in touch with the customer on a regular basis. For many companies the only contact they have with a customer is when they send out an invoice at the month end. Not the most productive way to conduct a relationship!
Sound familiar? A McGraw Hill survey found that 67% of customers who go elsewhere with their business do so because nobody has kept in touch with them
Here are just a few basics you can start using straight away
  • Use the telephone or email to keep in touch. Aim to ring a different customer each day not always in sales mode but to see how you can help improve your relationship with them.
  • Produce a single sheet newsletter that you can email customers on latest developments.
  • Get out and see customers. In our high tech world it is easy to forget there is a human being out there.
  • Run an event or open day and invite customers and suppliers along-it’s also a great networking opportunity.
  • Make sure that you get to know a customer’s interests outside work. For example, if they are fond of classical music or rock then invite them along to a concert and share with them their interest.
  • Let’s not forget to send a letter of welcome to a new customer, as well as a thank you note for their business, Lakeland Ltd excel in customer service and send out postcards featuring one of the great lakes to thank people for their first order.
  • These are simple things, but they can make a world of difference to a business relationship. Customers want to be treated as a person not a number. Take a leaf out of First Direct’s book where they always use your name (not just your account number)
Customer service surveys
Accepting that customer satisfaction is one thing- measuring whether it is working to generate ROI is another
We have mentioned the power of mystery shopping particularly in the retail trade but increasingly companies are conducting on line surveys. The Institute of Customer Service recently set out to discover what organisations should be undertaking to generate ROI in customer service. They set up an online survey which generated 150 responses mainly from senior management and produced 23 case studies from across the public, private and third sectors.
Tesco listen and respond to customers and their changing needs. They do this via Customer Question Time sessions where 12,000 attend each year.
In addition customer comment cards are in all stores. Alternatively customers can free phone the Tesco customer service helpline. Customers’ wants are better understood thanks to their 13million active Clubcard holders.
Telephone surveys work well with B2B customers particularly if you write to them explaining what you are aiming to do. Response levels can be as high as 90%.
Dealing with complaints
Many companies don’t like to receive complaints, and when they do often there is no planned system in place to deal with them and often the customer never hears another word. What this encourages them to do is to stop trading with the company.
If your business is like this then investigate immediately and set up a system via your Customer Services Department and ensure that any complaint is acknowledged the same day it is received either by text or email or letter.
Always ensure that the complaint is dealt with sympathetically from the customer’s point of view. If you do you will find that the majority of customers who do complain and have it resolved to their satisfaction will stay loyal to you.
Analyse all complaints received to see if a pattern emerges. If it centres on staff attitude it is then much easier to resolve the complaint.
Start to look at yourself and your business through the customer’s eyes.
Become a customer
As part of your investment in customer care, take time out to become a customer of your operation. If you do you will unearth things that will shock you.
Remember the receptionist example? When you spot any degree of poor customer care, investigate and come up with a positive solution. If you don’t you may well be losing customers without knowing why.

< div>You can start encouraging better customer care straight away by checking out your five main competitors, and if you like an aspect of their service that you are not giving, then introduce it.

Ensure that all staff are  encouraged to be customer focuses all the time and to remember it is the customer who pays their wages.
Rewarding staff as Pret A Manger is doing very successfully is another tool that can be used. Encourage them to put forward ideas that they feel could improve service for the customer.
It is often the little things that people come up with that can make such a world of difference.
Gordon Jones is a Chartered Marketer and author of several booklets including Successful Customer Care on a Shoestring available at www.successfulmarketing.co.uk 
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