Customer loyalty isn’t what it used to be.
With comparison websites and online shopping it takes seconds to find the best deal.
The world has become smaller, it’s much easier to reach customers anywhere, without having to travel, without large costs and without a large sales force.
What does this mean for the small business owner?
If your customers don’t remember you, they will call someone else.
A business that is in your marketplace right now, trying to steal them.
Who are the easiest customers to sell to? The ones you already have.
Yet, so often I see businesses that put all of their efforts into finding new customers, which is the hardest part of sales, rather than keeping in regular contact with their existing customers.
Here are four reasons why it’s so important to keep in contact with your existing customers.
Before a customer will purchase from you they need to know, like and trust you.
Existing customers have already been through that process, you’ve already gained their trust, you just need to keep it.
Keep your business in their memory.
We all live busy lives, and our customers are no different. If they don’t hear from you on a regular basis then you move out of recent memory. The longer you are out of their memory, the more work you have to get them to know, like and trust you all over again.
Walt Disney said: “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”
If you’re a solicitor specialising in property sales you won’t expect to hear from every customer every year, but what about your customer’s friends, family and colleagues?
Keeping in contact makes it easy for customers to refer you to other people, building your customer list.
Referral business is especially good because the personal recommendation from the person referring you makes the process of know, like and trust easier. A lot of the work is already done for you.
Customers respond to different messages and have different needs and issues.
Often a marketing message will be relevant for one customer and not for another.
Keeping in touch with customers gives you the opportunity to use a variety of marketing messages and topics with your customers. This increases the chance of a message being relevant and the customer wanting to purchase more of your products and services.
This is a much better small business growth plan than relying on a single message and a one-off sale.
Staying in the recent memory of your existing customers helps keep others out.
In most industries, there will be several businesses keen to steal your customers, as an old boss of mine used to say — “trying to eat your lunch”.
Don’t let them.
Make sure when your customer thinks of the types of products and services that you sell they immediately think of you.
Robert Peters is a Small Business Advisor and Director of Fresh Eyes Consultancy.
You must keep asking questions of yourself: “What's the unmet need?”, “How are we doing?”, “How can we do better?”.
Treat them how you would like to be treated yourself.
Consumers are fed up with mass-produced mediocrity. “Authenticity” — a genuine product rather than a created manifestation from the brains of the marketing department, will generate customers for life.
Inspire customers to spread the “legend” to others.
Customers hate to be “sold at” but they love to buy.
Make it easy to understand for your customers and for yourselves.
Is this really so very hard to deliver? Evidence would suggest that it is…
But think of the benefits to you if your business could deliver this way!
Consumers are becoming increasingly jaded as a result of excessive contact from businesses, especially via email. In fact, British businesses risk alienating almost 90 per cent of customers through poor communications, according to new research.
A 2012 report commissioned by Pitney Bowes, Why Some Customers are Just Not That Into You, was conducted across the UK, France, Germany and the USA. It asked more than 5,000 consumers about their preferences in communications with brands and identified the seven most intrusive and annoying communication techniques used by companies:
1. Failing to provide an opt-out of emails and texts
2. Sending customers advertising emails every week
3. Requesting that customers support your brand’s charity or ethical concerns
4. Addressing customers as though they have never been a customer before
5. Sending offers from third parties
6. Encouraging customers to interact with other consumers via an online community
7. Inviting customers to attend branded lifestyle events.
Failing to provide an opt-out of emails and texts (an illegal offence) came out as the most infuriating marketing technique, with 89 per cent of respondents claiming that this is intrusive. This was closely followed by sending customers advertising emails every week (88 per cent). Monthly emails were considered to be intrusive by 53 per cent of respondents, while just 23 per cent said they’d be annoyed to receive the same message by post.
The next most irritating techniques were: being requested to support a brand’s charity or ethical concerns (86 per cent); being addressed as though you have never been a customer before (86 per cent); being sent offers from third parties (82 per cent); being encouraged to interact with other consumers via an online community (77 per cent); and being invited to attend branded lifestyle events (76 per cent).
British businesses need to tread carefully when checking customer satisfaction levels too; those companies that call their customers risk annoying 48 per cent of them, whereas a survey form would be acceptable to three quarters (74 per cent).
When running an ecommerce store over busy periods of time, it can be extremely hard to manage a thousand things at once. However the most important factor in any business is ensuring that your customers are happy.
Facebook fan pages are the prime place for people to complain and these complaints can be the most difficult to tackle. Within an open space for everyone to see, comments will be seen by fans of the group and viral word of mouth soon develops. A common saying is that if one person has had a bad experience they will tell ten other people, however on a Facebook fan page with 6,000 likes- the amount of people hearing about this experience will increases dramatically.
In a study carried out by the CMO council of 1300 consumers and 132 senior marketers, 46% of consumers stated that they would expect a reply to their query within 24 hours.
No 1 Rule: You may have already heard this one before but it is worth repeating. Do not ignore comments on your business profile or Facebook fan page; it can be a lot worse than ignoring an email. Customers can soon feel neglected if they do not obtain a response and are left to think about what is happening next. The worst thing you can do is delete comments as this adds fuel to a fire that can soon get too hot to handle.
Think of a way you can help and respond like you would over the telephone or via email. If the comment indicates you are at fault, ‘remember your customer is always right’ and apologise before you even begin to solve the issue.
Once you have responded to a query, ensure that yourself or someone in your organisation monitors the conversation taking place on Facebook and responds on a regular basis. This reaction will reassure customers that you care and calm the situation down.
If a customer has threatened to spread bad vibes about your business or set up another Facebook group to encourage others to bad mouth you, contact this person directly via email and see if you can solve the matter out of the public eye.
If you do receive a positive response from the way you handle a customer complaint, you may find yourself receiving a worthy comment like the below:
“I had a real moan about your company yesterday - as you were unable to supply a pair of shoes that I specifically ordered. In hindsight, I can appreciate that you must have been incredibly busy over the Christmas period, and I thank you for your email of apology from ----------. I would order from you again, and apologise, once again for my bad manners.”
If other customers read this comment, they instantly become reassured that you are a company that cares and deals with complaints respectively.
The bottom line is; consumers want more experiences, more engagement, more rewards, and more reasons to connect with each other and brands through social media.
Most businesses lose around 10 to 30 per cent of their customers per year, for which bad customer service accounts for 68 per cent.
This means if you have 100 customers you could lose 20 customers every year due to bad customer service (even if you don’t agree it’s bad!)
These ex-customers will each tell 8-16 people about their bad experience, which means up to 320 people could be thinking bad things about you. And all because you didn’t know your clients were unhappy.
However, if your customers are able to tell you they’re not happy, and you act on this feedback swiftly, you could retain 95 per cent of them — or 19 out of 20.
And this 19 will be so happy they’ll each tell 4–6 people. So you’ll have 114 people thinking brilliant things about your business. And all because you were able to capture and act on customer feedback.
The old adage — “the customer is king” — came from a time when companies aimed to provide great customer service for their clientele. Great service was literally about serving customers. In other words, service was something done to a customer.
One of the consequences of the World Wide Web is that customer service has been commoditised. For example, Amazon provides outstanding customer service, whereby packages can be tracked, speed of delivery can be chosen, and it is all completely automated. Companies used to try and differentiate themselves by the quality of their customer service, but in this environment that becomes almost impossible.
Customers are no longer attracted to, or retained by, companies, due to the service they deliver. Rather, in order to become “sticky” or attractive to customers, companies now have to concentrate on the experience they provide. While a service is done to a customer, an experience is done with a customer. So, while Amazon delivers great service, it also provides an experience by allowing customers to write and, therefore, share reviews and opinions about particular books. For Amazon, the customer is no longer “king” but a partner helping them deliver great experiences for others.
The web is teaching us to no longer be passive receivers of goods and information, but rather, to be active participants. Websites require us to click, state a preference or provide a comment. This is seeping into all aspects of our lives.
For example, the biggest shows on TV today are reality programmes like The X Factor, Britain’s or America’s Got Talent and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, etc. What these shows have in common is that they are no longer just passive viewing. It is the audience who decides the outcome. In other words, they are no longer simply entertainment shows for us to watch but, rather, vehicles in which the viewer becomes involved.
Herein is the point. Consumers today are empowered. They have a plethora of ways to talk directly to companies. Moreover, through social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Linkedin, or forums and blogs, and sites such as Trip Advisor, consumers can now influence the purchasing decisions of people whom they have never even met.
What used to be most important for companies was the image they conveyed. Millions of pounds would be spent by big firms, whose agencies would try and create irresistible messages. Consumers had little right of reply. Now, through the web, customers have an outlet and are literally producing millions of messages about companies every day. It is now less important what a company says about themselves and far more relevant what others say about them. Brand has gone from “image created” to “reputation earned”.
Brands were created in creative agencies, but reputations are earned through delivering great experiences. Today, even delivering a good service can still leave a customer cold. However, providing an experience, whereby a customer is involved, is always emotional because a customer is giving something of themselves. This involvement makes it more likely that a customer will talk about you and spread the word. This will not only enhance your company’s reputation, but will help to deliver referrals into your business by creating positive word of mouth in the marketplace.