“Once you create a loyal customer base, it’s tough for a competitor to take that away.”- Joe Mansueto
Attrition or turnover in business is very real. Companies have employee turnover and if they do not have customer focused processes and strategies, customer turnover is also fast and high. Exodus in both these areas directly hits the bottom-line and revenues of a company and marks the decline of the company. Creating a happy workforce and more importantly a set of loyal customers is the need of the hour.
Creating a satisfied customer base seemed to work well and sufficiently enough even a few years back. Now however, with the ramp up in technology and new competitors with even sharper business acumen, a ‘satisfied customer base’ seems grossly insufficient. True the first step is doing everything in your power to keep your customers satisfied, but turning satisfied customers to loyal customers fast enough, will be the game changer. It starts with first ensuring that your customers receive satisfactory service, but unless you can wow them with each interaction, they will never move to being loyal customers.
As an example – a friend working at very large and well known MNC, was responsible for the staff meals and had to go through several vendors before deciding on one. She would list out the menu for the meals and provide specific instructions as to the quality, quantity and timing. As her responsibilities in other areas increased, she expected the vendor to work on the instructions and make things happen. However, they were unable to meet expectations if they did not receive instructions daily. She was satisfied with their work but she wasn’t wowed. Deciding to try out another vendor, she finalized on one ‘small time’ vendor and pressed them in to service. This new vendor needed instructions for the only first couple of days and then took it over – innovative, creative and keeping standards high. She was wowed and the vendor remained with the company for many years and she even got them catering assignments through her recommendation at 3 other companies. She was satisfied with the first vendor but the second one commanded loyalty. It was a win-win for all involved.”
Companies need to change and make major changes in the way they relate with their customers. Turning satisfied customers to loyal customers is not easy and immediate, but certainly not impossible. It is imperative to understand that a satisfied customer is not necessarily a loyal customer, as we saw in the example above. Moving customers from being satisfied to loyal is an unrelenting, constant and consistent process. It requires a focused attention to the customer’s needs and a long term company-wide commitment to deliver customer service excellence, each time.
Every customer will possibly be dealing with multiple companies for the same product and or service. If the customer decides to do away with most of the companies and stick with one or two, do you know if you will be one of them? If you have been competitive in your pricing but unable to build some degree of customer loyalty you can be sure that you will be trumped by the companies who have. Price and satisfaction are clearly not differentiators, customer loyalty is. To make things harder for companies, customer satisfaction also comes in degrees and levels.
Customers can be satisfied or very satisfied – so companies need to first get satisfied customers to a very satisfied level to turn them to loyal customers. Wow! The highest degree of customer satisfaction makes them loyal customers and will be the ones that enthusiastically spread the word about the customer service they receive and the product or service of the company. They become brand ambassadors and gladly market the product and or service through such ‘advertisement’. They even talk about you on the most visible platforms of social media that ensures that not just current customers but prospective ones know about you without any added effort or expense. Loyal customers are convinced that only your company can manage their needs and keep them successful and even show their conviction to others.
Customer satisfaction would probably keep you in the competitive race albeit with some struggle. Loyal customers will help you be increasingly successful and profitable through repeated business. As the loyal customer base increases, customer attrition drops and attracting new customers becomes easier. However, it must be remembered that customers are a demanding set and not every customer will be as easily pleased or turn loyal despite the same amount of effort. A company would need to monitor and decide on the strategies and methods required for each individual customer. Loyal customers enhance a company’s reputation, draw in more customers and dramatically increase sales and profits.
How do companies build a base of loyal customers? If a company has a product or service that has clear benefits or functions that are missing in a competitor’s, customers will prefer and remain loyal to these products or services. However, if the current or new competition serves up better products or upgraded services that outrun yours, customers are sure to be attracted to them. Product or service loyalty, therefore, is short lived and not sustainable in the long run. Customer loyalty is built on a number of other factors and these are what companies must focus on.
– Everyone in the company and especially the front ending customer service staff needs to show customers that they are interested in them for the long term. This must show through every interaction and the members must be geared up to solve the problems a customer faces. They must exhibit their understanding of the fact that their jobs exist to serve customers and meet every one of their demand. Customers must be able to see the company as the go-to company whether it is a simple query or a major troubleshooting problem via decision trees.
– Aside from having a strong vendor and customer relationship, companies must look at developing a rapport and a personal connection with the customer. This means developing many relationships with the customer – right from the top level down to the customer agent level. Some people differ on this saying that personal relationships could compromise on the professional relationship especially if the line gets blurred. However, it must be remembered that human nature dictates that we work and connect better with people whom we like and consider friends. Loyal customers are the ones that can ‘trust’ the company and trust cannot be built without reaching out to people.
– The people in the company are vital to make the above happen. The quality of people in a company in terms of knowledge, attitude and skills is what will differentiate between them and their competition. Nothing short of stellar customer service each time, without exceptions will get you loyal customers. Keep your workforce strong by keeping them happy through training, rewards and competitive salaries and salary increases.
– Constantly upgrade and add value to the product and or service you promote. Stay ahead and prominent so that customers can clearly see that the product or service you offer is certainly the best in the market.
– Thinking long term will benefit a company. To just build sales and make the numbers without knowing or anticipating customer behavior is a short term strategy. Build your reputation, upgrade your offerings and people skills to get the attention of customers and build relationships with them and sales and profits will follow.
– Ask customers directly what they feel. Make it easier for your customers to contact you with suggestions, ideas, problems or even just to say you did a great job. When customers are able to speak their mind without difficulty, it gives them a feeling of being in control and having ownership. This feeling instils trust and loyalty.
– Not all your customers will be loyal but having a small but unshakeable loyal customer base is critical. Have reward and loyalty programs for such customers. This stolid customer base will have their own set of associates, friends and followers. They will in turn spread the word about you to their contacts and so on.
– Use the power of social media to your advantage. Do not spam them but engage with them through this platform. Keep updated about the latest happenings in your customer’s business and monitor the discussions and trends. It is also easier for you to track customer mindset when it comes to your company.
Invest in your customers before they will invest in you. Turning satisfied customers to loyal customers, works on the premise of reciprocity. If you give your customers what they want and do it consistently, they will reciprocate will business and purchases and over time become loyal customers. Customer loyalty is easily accomplished but takes consistent hard work and attention. Every member in the company must work towards providing customer service excellence to reap long term benefits for themselves and the company.
“An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.” – Elbert Hubbard