Customer Relationships

Power Up Your Customer Relationships

By Alice Bredin

Keeping your customers happy is cost-effective and builds company profits. Acquiring a new customer can cost a business as much as 30 times more than retaining an existing one, according to research from The Chartered Institute of Marketing. Reducing even a small number of customer defections can have an enormous impact on your bottom line.

Despite this research, businesses commonly neglect to do all they can to retain customers. Try these tips for improving your customer relationships to drive retention rates — and profits — up even further.

Know which customers you want to keep
Not every existing customer is worth retaining. You want to focus your retention efforts only on customers who earn you a profit, so you first need to figure out who they are.

Cutting-edge sales tools now make it easier than ever to track customer purchases, habits and history. Implement point-of-sale technology that tracks customer behaviors, and analyze that data carefully to see who your earners are. Other tracking tools can be used internally to measure exactly how much effort you’re spending on each customer. Analyze both data sets carefully to identify your best customers, and enhance those relationships with incentives, special offers or friendly contact.

Consider the entire relationship
Contrary to popular belief, one bad experience or better offer usually isn’t enough to drive a customer away. Bain & Company, a management consulting firm, found that customers more typically leave after a series of disappointing interactions, failed products or service mishaps. With this in mind, consider your customers’ cumulative experiences: expectations set during the sales or onboarding process; interactions related to billing, returns or exchanges; and other follow-up customer service experiences. Conduct customer surveys, create comment forms on your website and closely monitor social media interactions. Quickly respond to complaints via these channels, and pore over the data they provide so you can pinpoint trouble spots and address them strategically.

Train your communicators
Your customer service provides an opportunity to strengthen relationships or erode them. More than 60% of 1,200 consumers polled last year by Corvisa, a provider of call center and cloud communications technology, said most customer service agents are scripted and robotic, abrupt and unfriendly, unhelpful or not qualified. Respondents said most customer service reps were interested in selling them something, not helping them or resolving an issue.

Great customer service starts with training. The key is to let your staff know that customer service matters to your business, so invest in training to make sure they understand how to resolve customer questions and complaints. Listening is a fundamental part of customer service, so emphasize this rare and important skill. Also, make sure your entire team is knowledgeable about your products and knows what to do when they don’t have the answer at their fingertips.

This effort is well worth it because survey respondents said they would stick with a business that gives them immediate responses from knowledgeable and polite representatives.

Become a trusted advisor or source
When customers trust your business as their expert source, they come to depend on you. Whatever your industry, it pays to invest in activities that position you as a go-to expert in your field.

Identify the problems your customers face and deliver solutions they can rely on. Offer customers troubleshooting Q&As on Facebook, create a YouTube series showing how to use your products, post photos of your offerings in action on a blog or notify customers of sales and special deals via email newsletters or even courtesy phone calls.

Go beyond responsive customer service: Anticipate problems
By providing service in anticipation of problems, businesses can avert them altogether while delighting the customer. A text message to alert a customer of shipment delays before they’ve been noticed, or a friendly reminder that a service anniversary is approaching, are ways to provide this type of service.

Consider aligning with societal goals
So many customers look to shop and deal directly with businesses that align themselves with positive societal goals. One such goal is the pursuit of energy efficiency. A poll by Time Magazine found that almost 50% of Americans value environmental protection and nearly 40% made purchases based on the social or political views of a company. To further improve customer relationships, businesses may want to consider how they can reduce energy usage. If your business is looking to become more energy efficient, download PG&E’s “20 Sustainable Products to Help Businesses Save Money and Energy.” eBook.

Retaining customers is more cost-effective than acquiring new ones. Learn the benefits of improving customer relationships.
  • SMB Blog Author
    Alice Bredin
    Alice Bredin is an internationally renowned small business expert and author. Small business owners worldwide have relied on her books and columns to improve their productivity and success. She is a former small business commentator for public radio's Marketplace program and has helped shape small business policies through her testimony to the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship. Alice is president of Bredin, Inc., a B2B marketing agency that helps the Fortune 500 sell to small and midsize businesses.

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