There’s a saying in the business world: Customer acquisition is an investment, but profitability is built on customer retention. And with current state of the economy, you really need to hang onto the customers you have.
When we surveyed our user base of engineering, technical, manufacturing and industrial marketers at the beginning of this year, 13% said that customer retention is their primary marketing goal in 2009, up from just 5% last year. This increase can be attributed to the fact that companies cannot afford to lose customers now, and many realize it is easier and more cost effective to retain current customers than it is to find new ones.
So how do you retain your customers and earn their loyalty? It’s like any successful relationship: If you want customers to be loyal to you, you must be loyal to them. For starters, you must have a product or service that delivers as advertised, but that’s just the minimum requirement, kind of like dressing appropriately and smiling on a first date.
Follow these strategies to keep your customers loyal to your company:
Provide stellar customer service
Customer service is the key differentiator for companies that offer similar products and services. Customers have problems; they want them solved. Customers have questions; they want them answered. The winning company makes it easy for customers to speak with a service representative—a real person, not an interactive voice response system—who has the authority to resolve a customer’s issue and make them happy.
The problem with some companies is that they see customer service only as a cost center, which leads to constantly trying to cut customer service costs. Rather, customer service should be considered a customer retention initiative, or in the best of cases a profit center if your customer service team is trained at cross-selling and upselling appropriate products and services to customers. A change in perspective can equal a change in service.
Make your Website a customer self-service center
It’s more cost effective having people answer customer service telephone calls if your Website is set up to answer most customer service questions and easy for customers find those answers. Your call volume will decrease, and customer needs will still be met.
Consider a customer-only area of your Website that provides support information, refund and exchange policies, FAQs, interactive discussions and message boards, or click-to-chat functions. Be sure to have up-to-date and comprehensive product information available and special offers just for customers.
Use e-mail to communicate with customers
It’s hard to foster customer loyalty if your customers forget about you. A great way to stay in touch is through e-mail. Establish a regular customer-only e-newsletter and send customers information that is relevant and helpful to them: white papers, technical articles, invitations to Webinars, and links to industry news stories.
While there’s nothing wrong with promoting new products to customers, your main objective in customer retention e-mail should be educational rather than promotional. If you help them do their job better, they’re more likely to come back to you when they have a need for products or services.
Pick up the phone
Begin an organized effort in your company to call customers at regular intervals, simply to see how they are doing or if they need anything. A courtesy call can go a long way towards establishing customer loyalty.
Sales representatives for each account are ideal, but it doesn’t have to work that way in order to be successful. The caller should know how to route a call to the appropriate person in your organization if a customer needs help.
Establish customer-friendly policies
Have you ever been a customer of a company that retired a product without continuing to support it? Have you ever faced strict return or exchange policies? Poor warranty support? This is a good way to send customers fleeing to competitors.
An organization focused on customer retention and loyalty will always realize the consequences of any policies that are not customer friendly.
To foster a healthy long term relationship with customers, you must do much more than provide a good product or service. You must pay attention to your customer needs and meet them.
There will always be competitors ready to lure your customer away. And there are always customers who will switch given any slight, perceived or real. Following these steps will help minimize the chances of this.
Guy Maser (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior vice president of marketing for GlobalSpec (www.globalspec.com), a specialized vertical search, information services and e-publishing company serving the engineering, technical and industrial communities.