Your competition wants your customers. So if you’re spending most of your time trying to gain new customers, step back and take a look at what you’re doing to hold onto the ones you already have.
It costs far more to attract new customers than to keep the existing ones. Marketing and advertising expenses alone exceed anything you might do to reward loyal customers. More importantly, it costs nothing to avoid the kind of mistakes that would cause a customer to leave you.
Most good business practices are common sense. So why is it that business owners often lose their focus and start taking their customers for granted? Maybe it’s human nature, or burnout, or a combination of factors that have robbed them of the enthusiasm they had when they first started out. Here are some things you don’t want to do.
When a customer calls you, do they usually get voicemail? Do you respond to emails in a reasonable amount of time? If the shoe is on the other foot and you feel ignored, what’s your reaction?
People don’t like to be ignored. They want to be noticed in a way that demonstrates that you sincerely care about them. Even if you can’t solve their issue right away, not responding is tantamount to doing nothing. Providing prompt feedback is critical, even if that means telling your customer that it may take a few days to offer a solution. Honest communication goes a long way toward building long-term loyalty and your customers will appreciate it.
Insist you’re right
When there’s a dispute or problem with a customer, you have a decision to make. The decision you make today is probably far different than one you might have made a hundred years ago. Merchants of that era commonly used deception and misrepresentation to sell their products. The theory was that the doctrine of “caveat emptor” or “let the buyer beware” would shield them from consumer complaints. The burden was on the customer to determine that what they were buying would actually work and was free from defects.
The tide turned through the efforts of retailers such as H. Gordon Selfridge and Marshall Field. They coined slogans such as “the customer is always right” and “give the lady what she wants.” They were among the first large retailers to elevate customer satisfaction as one of their top priorities. The obvious flaw in acknowledging the customer is right is that they could be lying, misusing the product or have unreasonable expectations that could never be met.
Most businesses today routinely give customers the benefit of the doubt and do their best to maximize the customer experience. Even when you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re right, sometimes it is better to suffer a short-term loss in order to realize a long-term gain.
In today’s high-tech world, customer feedback can make or break your business. The advent of online reviews, mobile shopping apps, and social media have completely changed the dynamic of how people shop. It’s relatively easy to obtain reviews from tens or hundreds of people who bought a product from a specific store. You want to know what they’re saying and you want to thoroughly evaluate and understand their input.
Unlike years ago when word-of-mouth took weeks or months to spread, the feedback loop today is instantaneous and travels at the speed of light. This means you have to react quickly and decisively whenever faced with negative feedback of any kind. Treat all feedback seriously, and make sure the customer knows that you appreciate their constructive criticism.
Sell inferior products
If you’re looking for a ticket to disaster, this is it. Customers will tolerate a lot, but if what they buy doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do and doesn’t give them the value they expected for the dollars spent, you’ve lost them. It doesn’t matter if it’s discounted or last year’s model. You have to be prepared to stand behind what you sell no matter what. If you can’t do that, it’s time to close up shop and try something else.
Even if you don’t offer specific guarantees, there may be implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose that attach to your products. While it may be possible to disclaim such warranties, savvy buyers will avoid your products if you do so. The limited scope of this article prevents a full discussion of this subject which is covered by Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code.
Today’s consumers want guaranteed products and they want to be able to return them if they aren’t satisfied. This has been the trend for a long time, but it’s no longer a trend. It’s reality. Your return policy should be easy to understand and effectively communicated prior to every sale. Do whatever it takes to ensure this happens, and you’ll go a long way toward keeping customers happy and coming back for more. If you don’t, your customers will find another business that does.
Oversell your products
No one wants to be pressured with hard-sell tactics. While this was common practice back when “pre-owned” cars were “used” cars, the vast majority of sales people have adopted softer techniques that scale back that approach. Consumers are also on the lookout for “up-selling” and “bait-and-switch” techniques designed to get them to part with more of their money. Using such tactics is a certain turnoff to most people and a surefire way to lose them as a potential customer. Don’t mistake their request for assistance or advice as an invitation to trick them into making a purchase they never intended.
Providing a good customer experience is a goal that’s easily achieved, but it takes time and effort. Customers want to be loyal because dealing with a business they can trust makes their lives much easier. They know they can keep going back and not have to worry, and that feeling is worth money in your pocket.
“Service with a smile” may sound like an outdated promotional gimmick, but the fact is that it works. If people believe you’ll treat them fairly and with respect and integrity, you’re already more than halfway to making the sale. Just remember to serve them well before you sell.