Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Top 7 Things That Will Make Customers Embarrassed to Leave You

Early in my working career I had a mentor tell me to treat customers so well that they would be embarrassed to go elsewhere, and it has stuck with me ever since. Now the reality is that especially today, you can do everything possible to treat a customer well and they may still leave you. This only reinforces that people make decisions for their own reasons and it may not be anything you did which caused them to leave. It does however, support the idea that you should plan on some lost business every year………just because.

Most businesses plan for at least a 10% loss in customers or revenue due to attrition. In such difficult times we might want to have an estimate double or triple that number depending on the industry you are in. Whatever the number is, you might as well plan for it, make adjustments and take the appropriate action.

These are tough economic times and it is more critical than ever to retain the customers you have. There is a well know benchmark that says it costs 5 times as much to acquire a new customer than it does to maintain an existing one. If this is the case then why is there such a proliferation of poor customer service?

One of the reasons is that customer service is something we all know we are supposed to have and that our customers expect it. We all talk a great customer service story yet we often can’t identify what it is. It becomes this nebulous part of our value proposition that hangs out there with expectations on both sides that are never really talked about.

Here are some specific action items to do to make the 1 Percent Difference for you personally or your business.

  • Elevate their status
    • Would you rather be a customer or a client? A lawyer or architect would never consider calling you just a customer. They elevate your status in both your eyes and theirs. To some people it may not matter, but what if it does? You just made a proportion of your customers feel very special.
    • If you are in the healthcare field you can really set yourself apart by changing your customers name from patient to client. I don’t go to any health related location unless I’m sick and calling me a patient only reinforces that reality. How loyal am I going to be to a provider where I’m just a patient? Ah, but what if I’m a client of theirs? Doesn’t that change my perception of myself and my relationship with them?

  • Ask your clients what good service means to them
    • What a simple concept! Why not have a conversation or send out a survey to get some hard data on what the expectations of your clients are. Now you can build your services around those expectations and develop some metrics on which you can measure together how you are doing.

  • Under promise and over deliver
    • Don’t make promises you can’t keep or don’t expect to keep. It’s that simple! We often assume that just because someone asked a question about delivery for example that it means they need it urgently. They may just be asking for information so they know what to expect. If they want to know about delivery, don’t tell them until you know when they need it, otherwise you may promise to deliver something in 3 days you would have been fine delivering in a week.

  • Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more
    • Use all the tools you can think of to stay in touch – personal visit, phone, email, chat, newsletter, etc. Let them know what is happening in your business and ask what’s going on with them. Don’t forget to ask how you are doing as a vendor and ask what else you could be doing for them. Just by asking you may uncover a new need or fix a problem you didn’t previously know about.

  • How many ways can you say “thank you?”
    • Almost none of us feel as appreciated as we would like. It is in action that we show the true sincerity of how we feel about a person or customer. Send handwritten notes, add a comment to an invoice, and acknowledge their birthday. Be creative here as there are an unlimited number of ways to do this. Pay attention to small talk for clues about what’s going on in their world.

  • Find new ways to add value
    • Want to enhance your value? Add something new to your service or give your clients something for nothing. Especially in tough economic times there is more competition and people are looking harder for value. Look for ways to give it to them without changing their price.

  • Review and reinforce their original decision
    • Don’t forget to remind your clients why they decided to do business with you in the first place. This can be done in a fun way and combined with showing appreciation, but people’s memories get very short especially in light of all the competition that is pressuring them to change providers. For example: visit your clients on the anniversary date of your start of doing business together and reminisce for a minute about what it was like for them prior to doing business together.

One last thing to add for those who are employees and don’t own a business. Remember, your clients are the internal supervisors, departments, etc. that you report to and produce work for. Treat them the same as you would an external client and you’ll shine like a beacon with the 1 Percent Difference within your company.

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