I recently shared some thoughts on how many companies, at least at the time of their initial launch, don’t always have a clear or full understanding of their buyer. However, I’m still surprised that once a company has established a solid customer base, it often doesn’t take the necessary steps to retain the customers it has worked so hard to secure.
As an American Express customer for over 20 years, it never ceases to amaze me that I still receive marketing materials aimed at AmEx prospects. These wasted efforts are indicative of the poor state of database marketing. You can’t have multiple personalities with the same customer and be successful.
While it may sound rudimentary, you must treat your customers like customers, not just a name in a database. The relationship you established to build your customer base must continue to grow and thrive. A good relationship is based on two-way communication so you can continue to understand the needs, wants and desires of your customers. Listen to what they have to say. Spend more time with them and learn what they value from your company, as this can and will change over time. This may require adjusting your marketing approach and messages.
One of the most valuable relationship-building approaches I’ve embraced over the years is easy to implement, doesn’t involve any technology and provides a great opportunity to gauge a customer’s ‘happiness factor.’ I simply take my customers to lunch on a regular basis. A face-to-face gathering provides an extremely successful strategy in terms of staying close – even if it is simply learning more about their hobbies, vacation plans or kids. Unlike emails or phone calls, this facetime also provides me with a sense of a customer’s happiness, whether he or she is not sharing certain feelings and simply the chance to exchange new ideas.
In addition to listening to your customer, conduct research to understand what is important to them. Are there emerging regulations or other issues that could impact your customer? Take the time to learn about their world and their customers. This information will strengthen your relationships and offers insight that will prove invaluable as you pursue additional business opportunities with a particular company.
Also empower your employees to address customer issues. Larger organizations sometimes decentralize their customer service responsibilities, for instance creating a sales and marketing team that is mainly focused on prospects and securing customers, and running a separate call center to address customer satisfaction issues. As a result, some matters and concerns may fall through the cracks. But by establishing a culture of success and enabling employees to embrace a leadership role in which they take responsibility and ownership of issues and challenges, companies of any size can quickly resolve customer concerns and increase brand loyalty. An excellent example of this is Zappos, whose customer service reps have gained legendary status because they are encouraged to do whatever is needed to keep their customers happy.
Ascertaining the right level of engagement with existing customers is also important to success. Some customers may not desire a high level of interaction while others will want more regular contact. Regardless, ensure that any communication is meaningful. One way to build on regular communication is to establish a board or council consisting of a group of customers. By bringing this group together on a regular basis, you can learn how to better address their needs, improve products and services and simply listen to the obstacles they face each day.
At the end of the day, continue to invest the time in relationship-building – this isn’t just an exercise relegated to the customer acquisition process. In fact, you can’t avoid it. This well-spent effort will not only equate to happier customers but a stronger business.