Customer Retention – don’t let it become a problem

You are probably scratching your head in disbelief – you did everything right, all the checks are in place, you have created great products, offered some innovated services – and yet your customer base is dwindling, you are unable to retain your customers and you are fast losing ground! There could be a plethora of reasons and it would do you well as a company to analyze them and clean up your act before it’s unredeemable.

[img src=”×150.jpg” width=”” height=”” align=”right”] Sure you have innovated and introduced some fabulous changes but are these so from the customer’s point of view? Are they really changes in the right direction or changes for the sake of justifying the company’s existence? Customers are not always affable to changes you make perhaps without getting their buy-in whether it is in the product or a service related to the product. It probably causes the customer enough discomfort to change loyalties. Ensure that your customers hear of any changes, especially the ones that directly will affect them, from you rather than from market talk or social media channels. Even a small group that feels it is getting uncomfortably affected by these announcements could spread the word and become an unmanageably large group of disgruntled customers. You would rather be pro-active and target this small group of influencers and let them know about potential changes and when they pass this information around, you will have a larger group of prepared and receptive customers.

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Customer Service works smoothly only when there is continuity and clear flow of information. Your customer is probably attached to your company because there has been one representative who has shown exceptional insight and understanding of the customer’s issue and resolved them each time. The representative is therefore recognized and the company displays its gratitude by moving him up the hierarchical ladder. Then what? Who do you replace him with – a novice? That is how you will fail since the customer is not used to erratic or misguided information and is sure to deflect sooner or later. Replace talent with talent by bringing the new associate up to speed on each customer’s history with the company.

Innovation is the name of the game. You don’t need to break the bank on marketing and promotions but rather offer great service, value-add and an experience that the customer considers to be at par with their perception. Talking the customer’s ‘language’ and reading his mind will send strong signals to the customer that you need their business and are ready to walk the extra mile – maybe even in their shoes – to keep them with you. These customers will not go anywhere else! However, as you take all these great strides towards customer retention, do not neglect or underestimate the capacity or drive of your closest competitor. It is highly unlikely that he will be a mute spectator to your antics at keeping your customer base and is surely making moves that could potentially pull your customers towards them. Keeping abreast of all the latest happenings, new launches, upgrades on existing products and services offered by your competitor, is a sure shot way of trumping and quashing his every move.

As a company ignoring these insights could spell disaster for you and your brand. Keep at it – consistently, thoroughly and effectively. These really aren’t part of your nice to do list but rather do or get wiped out list! Paying attention to these minute but ubiquitous issues will prevent them from snowballing in to large unwieldy problems. Any top line management knows that attracting and getting in to the fold a new customer takes up a greater amount and number of resources than are required to keep the old ones happy and with you. So it obviously makes a lot of sense to focus your resources on customer retention and keeping the customers from being vexed and aggravated. If a customer decides to take his / her business elsewhere because of feeling welcome and comfortable with someone else, you will have a tough time retaining them and the ones that decide to follow after them. Each customer must feel that they are the most important and their business is needed to make you successful. As you display this feeling to them through all your business units and processes, you will be not just be delighting them but retaining them with increased business.

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How do you display genuine interest in them and in retaining them? Customer retention requires consistent and ongoing focus on the customer’s needs and perception. It is imperative that you read the subtle hints carefully by getting them to provide you with feedback. Provide easy and hassle free mediums for them to give you their honest opinions and then act on the feedback provided. Translate in to perceivable actions and processes. Your customer is sure to stay with you when he / she can see that feedback is being taken seriously and you are leaving no stone unturned to exceed his / her expectations. You will see a dramatic improvement in your customer satisfaction scores that is indicative of a happy and long term customer base.

The next step to translating this feedback is action taken. Delivering as per promises made and within or before deadlines set will increase your stronghold among your customers and the untapped base. For example – when the customer enquires about the cost of a particular service or product and asks for a quote, it is wise and advisable to quote as accurately as possible so that the final bill is either lower than or at par with the original quote. A higher or inflated bill will only infuriate the customer enough to set him thinking of visiting your nearest competitor. You could also look at the possibility of throwing in an added discount or another attractive service or product to gain a lot of goodwill mileage from the customer. Don’t forget – good or bad service – both spreads through word of mouth!

Keep a buffer for human error – be it in the delivery time or in the product or service. Customers are smart enough to distinguish between inadvertent errors versus ones that are meant to con them. Ensure that you let the customers know of any possible delays in service delivery and keep them updated as to when they can expect to receive the product or service requested. Delight your customer with an added something as way of expressing your commitment to them. Even if there is an added cost, it will not be more than what it would cost if you were to lose the customer. A friend’s order from a fast food chain was messed up twice in a row. Not being someone who gets riled easily, I was rather taken aback by the outburst of obvious anger when something happened for the third time. She was vociferous in her feedback and made it clear that she would take these complaints to the next level and never order from them again. The customer service manager on the other end of the line seemed distraught and my friend hung up the line after receiving reassurance that her order would reach in 10 minutes. She was still worked up when the order arrived in 7 minutes but was calmed down when she saw an extra-large helping of her favorite dessert, with their compliments, sent along with her order. This is what one would term as an exceptional turnaround and customer retaining strategy despite not being over the top and costly for the company. Obviously, this chain has empowered its customer service team giving them the leeway to be thoughtful and do whatever it takes to keep the customer happy and with them.

There is really no blanket solution and every customer must be dealt with differently with the underlying thought of keeping them happy and with you for the longest time. Building a rapport and a sense of goodwill with your current customers will not only help to keep your customers happy with you but also talk positively about your company. They will be sure to tell their contacts about the value-added service and the effort you put in to retain and recover their business. Your customer base will grow and your competition will be foxed trying to understand what you are doing better than them.

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