There’s a saying in the business world: Customer acquisition is an investment, but customer retention delivers profitability. With the economy in its current state, it’s more important than ever to keep the customers you have.
So, how do you retain your customers and earn their loyalty? It’s like any successful relationship: If you want customers to be loyal to you, you must be loyal to them and demonstrate that loyalty.
For starters, you must have a product or service that delivers as advertised, but that’s just the minimum requirement — kind of like dressing appropriately and smiling on a first date. What you do after the initial sale will largely determine customer loyalty.
Strategies to Keep Your Customers Loyal
1. Provide stellar customer service.
Customer service is the key differentiator for companies that offer similar products and services. Customers have problems; they want them solved. Customers have questions; they want them answered. The winning company makes it easy for customers to speak with a service representative — a real person, not an interactive voice response system with a long menu — who has the authority to resolve issues and make them happy.
The problem with some companies is that they see customer service only as a cost center, which leads to constantly trying to cut customer service costs. Rather, customer service should be considered a customer retention initiative. In the best of cases, it can be a profit center if your customer service team is trained at cross-selling and upselling appropriate products and services. A change in perspective can equal a change in the service you deliver and spark an increase in customer loyalty.
2. Make your Web site a customer self-service center.
It’s more cost-effective having people answer customer service telephone calls if your Web site is set up to address most customer service questions and makes it easy for customers to find answers. Your call volume will decrease, customer needs will still be met, and customers may visit other pages on your Web site to learn about additional products and services.
Consider implementing a customer-only area of your Web site that provides support information, refund and exchange policies, FAQs, interactive discussions and message boards, or click-to-chat functions. In addition, be sure to have up-to-date and comprehensive product information available and special offers just for customers.
3. Use email to communicate with customers.
It is hard to foster customer loyalty if your customers forget about you. A great way to stay in touch is through email. Establish a regular customer-only e-newsletter and send customers information that is relevant and helpful to them: white papers, technical articles, invitations to webinars, and links to industry news stories.
While there’s nothing wrong with promoting new products to customers, your main objective in customer retention email should be educational rather than promotional. If you help customers do their job better, they’re more likely to come back to you when they have a need for products or services.
4. Pick up the phone.
Begin an organized effort in your company to call customers at regular intervals, simply to see how they are doing or if they need anything. A courtesy call is a personal touch that can go a long way toward establishing customer loyalty. Sales representatives for each account are ideal, but it doesn’t have to work that way in order to be successful. The caller should know how to route a call to the appropriate person in your organization if a customer needs help.
5. Solicit customer feedback.
Customers who feel you are listening and responding to them are more likely to stay loyal to you. Conduct online surveys of customers to solicit their feedback on your products and services, better understand their needs, and get their ideas to help shape new product direction. Write an executive blog that addresses customer and industry concerns, and offer an opportunity for customers to comment and respond. Establish a customer advisory board and communicate their recommendations to all of your customers.
6. Reward customer retention.
Your customers are exposed constantly to offers from competitors asking them to switch. Customers who do stay with you should be rewarded. Make special offers or send a gift to customers on their anniversary date of becoming a customer. Establish a customer loyalty program allowing customers to earn points that can be redeemed for discounts, service or gifts — anything from extended support to consumer gadgets.
7. Establish customer-friendly policies.
Have you ever been a customer of a company that retired a product without continuing to support it? Have you ever faced strict return or exchange policies? Poor warranty support? This is a good way to send customers fleeing to competitors. An organization focused on customer retention and loyalty will always realize the consequences of any policies that are not customer-friendly.
Guy Maser is senior vice president of marketing for GlobalSpec, a specialized vertical search, information services and e-publishing company serving the engineering, technical and industrial communities. He can be reached at email@example.com.