How well do you keep hold of the customers you have? Here are some customer retention tips worth investing your time in.

Leaky buckets make for bad business; you can’t afford to keep losing customers! We all “know” that it is easier to sell more to an existing customer than to find a new customer to whom you can sell your products – but how well do you actually implement this? Customer retention can grow your business with less distraction and greater profitability – and this is easier than finding new customers because they already know, like and trust you. Look for customers who are more likely to deliver traction in the form of repeat orders, and the scaling opportunity becomes easier.

When we are stuck at an airport because of a flight delay, some of us will quietly accept free meal vouchers and wander off, while others will complain (perhaps loudly; I always hope those people get the worst vouchers). Those who are polite but persistent in their complaining often receive more than the mandatory level of care. In business our instinct is to acknowledge and take care of those who complain – and of course, if someone complains we should always deal with this and do everything we can to make them happy. But what about those who never complain, who are just happy with the service they receive, or simply too busy to engage? Did you know that sixty-four per cent of customers leave their supplier because of neglect and perceived indifference?

The challenge then for all business owners is to make sure we keep hold of our customers. A customer might be happy when they initially buy from you, but how do they feel about you a month or six months later? Do they even remember who you are? Is it worth taking the time to sit down and figure out what your existing customers think of you (if at all), and how you might improve this – and therefore improve customer retention for your business.

Have you studied customer activity, order flow and consistency? Is there a trend you can spot which will tell you more than you currently know? Is there a way you can reactivate previous lost customers that you’ve not even noticed have gone? Can you reactiate or sell more to some of these previous buyers because you’ve developed something new you can share with them?

What do you do to keep the customers you have? Here are eight ideas for customer retention:

  1. The first thing you can aim for here is to deliver outstanding customer service, every single time. We called this the “perfect order process” in my previous company and I am sure that this alone helped us in understanding that a customer is not for a one time deal but that the order process is a continuous cycle and brings only better growth when completed and repeated.
  2. Follow up. Do you follow up with your customers periodically? I don’t mean that you should send out one of those automated surveys after every single purchase; those can be a nuisance. What can you do to make sure your customers feel genuinely valued? Are you able to personally contact a few customers every month or quarter, and ask them how things are going? Whatever you do, it should be as personal as possible, and show your customers that you are genuinely interested in their experience and care about what they have to say. If they make comments, show that you have taken them on board and you’re working to improve your service. If you’re not sure what to do, take a look at what other companies are doing. Pay attention to the emails that come into your inbox, and how they make you feel about sending them: do you want to do the same, or something different?
  3. Freebies, even samples of new ideas and innovations in the post. When these are unexpected, but fitting with a customer’s previous purchases, they can trigger new business conversations. Proactive, front-foot selling may even avoid the need for later discount offers for customers because the kind of companies that practise innovative, forward thinking are the ones buyers stay in touch with. It makes them look good and helps them to do their jobs. Many of the larger companies these days offer loyalty points which customers can save up and use to purchase products or other things. Smaller companies may not have the infrastructure or ability to do this, but what can we do instead? You could aim to always surprise and delight your customer by including a free gift with their purchases – but it must be relevant. When I received a free plastic pen with an order of multivitamins recently I was decidedly perplexed: how are the two items even related?
  4. Discounts: I do not encourage any sales effort on a discounted basis, but that does not mean it doesn’t suit some connectivity. Indeed, sometimes just having the excuse to keep customers informed is enough to stay in the sales communication game. Could you create an added value incentive for existing customers which will engage them and their teams in a deeper way? Could you offer a discount for those signing up for a subscription to a particular product rather than a one-off purchase? Think of how you can offer your customers a little more than they might expect each time they return to you.
  5. Personalise it. By all means use technology and group mail shots, but for those customers you really value, who have produced real profit in past business, it is miles cheaper and more effective to invest in small custom touch points that make people feel positive about your activities. A fun card, a packet of sweets, a PR piece about their business, a picture of their product (if they have one) in a relatively interesting situation can help to spark the next conversation. Find excuses to stay in touch with the people whose custom you value. In the past a quick “happy birthday to our relationship” has been a great opportunity to stay in touch.
  6. Create add-on products. You might be reading this and thinking that your particular business does not lend itself to repeat customers. I would disagree with that; I believe that whatever your business, you can find a way to get people to come back to you. Worst case, you can at least get themt o recommend another customer. If you are a wedding photographer you might think that people only have one wedding (or at least, that is the aim!) but what often comes after a wedding? Start offering pregnancy and newborn photography, and you’re encouraging those happy brides and grooms to come back to you. Whatever you’re selling, make sure there is a reason for your customers to come back to you as much as possible. I recently saw Interflora offering a boquet, encouraging people to thank someone for their hospitality – timely in the post-Christmas likelihood that many people will have stayed with friends and relatives.
  7. Produce regular content. This might seem like too much work, but regular updates on social media and a blog, even a newsletter going out to your list, all help to remind your customers that you are there, and that they liked you enough to buy from you the first time. Today a much appreciated, low-hanging way to get reengaged with a customer is to share a great white paper of added value content. You needn’t write War and Peace for a blog and a newsletter; just a few words once a month and regular social media updates can be of great help. Of course, this content must provide value to your audience so that you can retain that positive association for them. If you’re writing for the saek of it, and filling inboxes with newsletters of no substance, people will soon begin to unsubscribe and dislike you.
  8. See a complaint as a gift. You might think a complaining customer is someone who will never return – but actually a complaint can be incredibly useful, and a chance to surprise and delight all over again – you just have to be brave enough, reactive and apologetic enough, and sort the problem. When someone complains they give you a chance to identify and rectify a problem, and hopefully prevent the same thing happening with other customers. Deal with a complaint quickly and efficiently, and you may well find that you are able to keep that customer. Think about how you would like to be treated if the same had happened to you. What would make you return to a company after you had complained?
Written by Vicky Charles

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