Keep Customers Coming Back

How to get your customers to say WOW!

Consumers are more informed than ever before, and acutely aware of their options. An essential ingredient for success in any business is customer service that attracts a “wow” reaction. Successful business people are constantly looking for new ways to delight their clients. They are always on the lookout to discover the response hot buttons that turn people on. As customers, we can all recognize outstanding customer service when we experience it. But there are still many businesses that do not reach minimum standards. Not surprisingly, there are some individual consumers who hanker for a return to the types of service that the typical old-style corner grocer used to offer in the 1940s and 1950s. The trader of yesteryear used to take a personal interest. He would know that your grandma was sick and would inquire about her. He’d put unusual or hard-to-get items aside for particular customers. He’d dole out broken biscuits for the kids. He looked after everyone’s needs and in so doing was an identity in the customer household. He truly did have a relationship with his customers. Today it is all so much more complex. If you sometimes feel that people try to complicate the simple truths of service excellence, then you are probably right. In fact there are just a few key concepts for setting any business on the path to service excellence. “Listening to customers” is probably the first of these. Astute business people recognize that they cannot afford to bury their heads in the sand. If they ignore the changing demands and expectations of customers they are asking for trouble. There is plenty of research indicating that people have significantly higher expectations as customers than they did just five years ago. These rising expectations create additional pressures for team members in service delivery – especially those in front office. While formally commissioned market research is important for getting to know the wants and needs of your customer base, there is no substitute for being at the frontline and listening to the random concerns and the nuances that are expressed by the people who are supporting your business. It is also important to be receptive to suggestions from new team members, who may have a different perspective. Recruits have the advantage that they are seeing the company set-up and procedures with “new eyes” – just as new customers see it. Beyond listening to customers, “keeping promises” is also a critical key element of good customer service. In personal relationships, the surest way to destroy trust is to break promises. Similarly, in business, it is an essential element of basic customer service to always keep promises. It is important to manage customer expectations and much better to under-promise and over-deliver rather than vice-versa. Customers are “big” enough to live with delays or shortages occasionally – it is all a matter of how these things are presented. What they don’t like is being misled or messed around with. When they are told delivery will take place at a particular time on a particular day, they expect that promise to be kept. One definition of service is “to be useful.” This approach fits in very well in the marketplace. Most team members can more readily embrace the service concept if they think of it as being useful. Empowering people in the front office is another key element. When put in place effectively by a manager who has confidence in his people, empowering can have multiple benefits. It is great for customers who get hassles resolved on the spot. It conveys positive vibes to customers who get the...

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Analyzing an Industry’s Trends

To plan the future of your business you need to be aware of where your industry is going and track the trends that are taking place. Industry trends can change quickly and require intensive and ongoing analysis to determine just what’s happening. For instance, a sudden drop in an industry’s sales commission rates combined with a reduction in minimum order size and a big increase in outstanding debtors would indicate a shift of power to consumers and a consequent weakening in prices. All very important if you are in that industry and trying to work out your new price list or produce a catalogue of merchandise for the next season. Trend analysis is conducted on many levels – global, national and local. In today’s business world you need to have an understanding of all three types of trends to position your business for greatest advantage. It’s beyond the ability of most SMEs to conduct their own research for a comprehensive analysis of their industry. Fortunately there are many sources of statistics and data on most industries that are available to tap for the information you need. This article is a brief introduction to the methodologies of DIY industry trend analysis. Define your industry Start by defining your industry in as much detail as possible. Now the research can begin. Trade Journals Every industry has its own trade publications. These can be produced by industry associations or by publishers targeting members of a particular industry. This type of publication is often very restricted in its geographic coverage. There could well be a separate publication for each state or region, and it’s a good idea to get as many different journals as you can to obtain the widest possible picture. Your local library will often be a good place to start searching for a list of available titles. Even the advertisements in a trade journal can be a good guide to an industry’s trends. “New” or “Just Released” can indicate a hot new product or service that will have an industry-wide impact in the near future. Editorials and other ‘comment’ types of content are also likely to give indications of major trends that are just now or will soon be affecting an industry. The Financial World People who invest large sums of money in the financial markets are very big on monitoring industry trends. Analysts pore over data on every industry segment to see what’s successful and what’s on the decline, often to a very high degree of detail. Much of this information is available free or at very low cost in business journals and financial newspapers and is a good source of knowledge about national and international trends. If you’re an active investor and have a stockbroker you can always go to them for industry advice; they have access to analytical reports that often don’t go into print. The Internet Log on to the internet and go to your favorite search engine. Key in the name of your industry and wait for thousands of websites to show up. You will soon find that too much information is the problem. This is why you have to refine the definition of your industry and get down to specifics. Google’s ‘Advanced Search’ lets you stipulate additional words or terms to search for as well as those words you want to leave out of the search. Be sure you only visit sites with information that’s up-to-date. Too many older documents are still alive long past the time they became irrelevant. If a date isn’t there don’t accept it as being current information. Also, be...

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Can you really create customers for life?

Ask most business owners whether they think any of their customers will remain with them for the life of their businesses and they’ll probably admit that it’s unlikely. They’ve seen customers come and go, and they know that their competitors are always trying to lure them away with offers that are sometimes impossible to match. Yet the concept of ‘customers for life’ remains with us as a tantalizing ideal that represents something we’d like to have if only we could. Perhaps then it’s best to view this concept as a target – something to aim for and do all we can to achieve. First, understand that the business creates its customers and in many ways determines how loyal they are. Businesses that are forever chasing new customers and neglect their existing ones are the worst at generating real customer loyalty. Businesses that look after their existing customers, on the other hand, still gain new customers through referrals and word of mouth. If there is a ‘secret’ to any business having customers for life, it’s there in the previous paragraph. Look after your existing customers and the new customers will find their way to your door. Prioritize every customer The proliferation of CRM programs and other customer-retention software makes it fairly easy to keep track of existing customers. For some businesses those customers represent the results of past expenditures that don’t require further investment – “We’ve got them and they’ll stay with us”, is the attitude. But nothing could be worse if you’re trying to create customers for life. These existing customers are the very ones that should be looked after the most and treated better than someone who shows up at your door for the first time. How many businesses put off an existing customer to impress a prospect? Unfortunately, this is precisely how most businesses behave. Make and keep your promises Go out of your way to make promises to your customers. That way you can be seen to be honoring your commitments when your delivery is made on time or your serviceman arrives as promised. Customers really appreciate being given specific times and dates for things to happen, and they appreciate even more having someone who keeps their promises. Always do a bit more Consciously strive to do more than what’s expected of you. When one of your regular customers gives you a big order, surprise them with a free delivery or an extra six months of warranty. Let it become a part of your thinking to always do more than what your customers expect; you’ll surprise them in a way that nobody else can duplicate. Invite your customers into the business There are many ways to get your customers closer to your business, and one of the best is to invite them in for a discussion about how you can serve them even better. This can be a kind of ‘market research’ session that gives them the opportunity to tell you how to become even more valuable to them – and of course, to become even harder to replace. Invite them to come to your office for a working lunch or perhaps for a drink and some nibbles after work. Show them around your office and let them see how many people are there to make sure they get what they want from your business. Introduce them to some of those people they talk to over the phone but would never meet otherwise. Keep in touch with updates Products are constantly improved, with better features and greater utility for purchasers. Whenever someone has bought a product...

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CRM – The Comeback King

Customer relationship management, or CRM was once touted as the way of the future for all businesses. If the customer was truly king, CRM would be the way we courted royalty and retained their support. But when the anticipated gains didn’t materialize many business analysts were willing to dismiss CRM as just another passing fad that failed. Early CRM implementations tried to cover too many aspects of too many businesses. They were oversold and loaded with overpromises about what functions they could handle and were found sorely wanting in the performance area. Most early CRM solutions were primarily sales force automation systems. They had little connection to the company’s marketing requirements and only scratched the surface of what CRM was supposed to do. The result was a disappointing return on investment – a once-promising CRM project that management and investors saw as an expensive failure. However CRM never really went away. It’s such a good idea that its early failures caused many people to suspect that maybe the fault lay in the implementation rather than the concept, so they tried harder to make it work and to a great degree have got it back on the road to success. A CRM system can be a valuable and very powerful tool. It’s often the only practical way of handling a large customer base and being able to give customers the service they want and that the business wants to give them. The majority of SMEs do not have a CRM solution. Because of this, information is not shared; it stays locked up in various departments or even on certain PCs around the office. How much better it would be if their credit control, sales and marketing people and systems across the organisation could act together. CRM is not really a single solution. It is a package of several solutions that aren’t all needed by every enterprise. Particularly at the SME end of the market it needs to be a robust form of managing customer contact that interfaces smoothly with the people in the business. CRM can, if needed, also be applied to such functions as analysis of marketing results, recording sales performance and calculating customer value. It can be a source of customer information that is accessed and used as needed by everybody in the firm. It’s all a matter of how the installation is designed. It begins with the organization deciding just what it is that CRM is needed to do. The CRM system is then built around those needs. Trying to fit a proprietary CRM system to an organization is the wrong way to go about it, which is one reason for the long list of early failures. CRM is a journey, not a destination. When companies begin their CRM journey they want to gain customer loyalty by enhancing their relationship with customers. The end goal is to achieve longer lasting and better quality customer relationships that deliver greater profitability. This means that companies have to be sure they understand their customers before designing their CRM systems. What measurements need to be taken and tracked to determine what those customers want and how they wish to be treated? Another key aspect of CRM is that it is capable of personalizing each customer’s experience with the company at every touchpoint. There’s no value in having a customer treated differently by different departments. There’s even less merit in having a system that lets the account department recognize a repeat customer but leaves the sales team in the dark. A customer’s perceptions of the business should be pleasantly reinforced by each...

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Client complaints – what do they really mean?

Most relationships have their ups and down, including those between a firm and its clients. If a client complains about something the usual reaction is one of hurt or even anger, but the most appropriate reaction could well be to say ‘thanks’. If a client complains it means that they’re concerned about the relationship because they want it to continue. Their loyalty is expressed in their complaint and they’re looking to you to fix the problem. But they’re giving you an opportunity that may only come once. Of course if you don’t respond in a satisfactory way they are likely to express their feelings to someone else and it could cost you business you wouldn’t expect to lose. You can never assume that one client’s dissatisfaction will stay just between you and them. Research into the process of complaints resolution show that a properly-handled complaint can actually increase client loyalty and strengthen the relationship with the firm they’ve complained about. The same research also shows that a badly-handled complaint is the quickest way to end a business relationship. You need to be as ready to handle complaints as you are to accept praise or payment for a job well done. Take a couple of minutes to examine your own client relationship structure and see if these common faults are built into the system: Putting up barriers to complaints – It should be easy for your clients to make a complaint. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they’ll never make one; anticipate complaints and set up an effective system for receiving and resolving them. Be proactive and ask clients whether they have any complaints about your firm and they’ll see the value you place on keeping them satisfied. Being blind to a client’s complaint – Never make the mistake of shrugging off a complaint because you don’t want to see it for what it is. If your client says something like: “It’s not really a serious problem, but…” you’d better not assume it isn’t really a serious problem. Hear them out and get the details, then correct whatever it is they’re telling you about. Failing to see it from the client’s side – Ask questions to find out why the client is upset and don’t assume you have all the answers. Listen to them and work to gain a real understanding of their side of things. And don’t make the mistake of suddenly going into reverse. A client won’t be impressed by a professional services firm that doesn’t have reasons for what it’s done, even if it’s upset them. Failing to deliver that ‘extra’ bit of service – If you’re dedicated to exceptional performance your clients will recognize it. They’ll stay with you because they know they can’t get the same service elsewhere. This provides insurance against complaints that makes it much easier to handle disputes because the clients themselves want to resolve them. Not giving the solution enough consideration – It might be easy to ‘fix’ things simply by issuing a credit to an invoice, but has that really solved the problem? Chances are it’s actually made things worse. Set out to correct the flaw in the system that caused the problem rather than just papering over it. Not fixing the problem – If you identify a problem but fail to correct it you’re just asking for a repeat of the complaint, perhaps from other clients. Make it a priority to rectify whatever it is that’s caused the complaint so it doesn’t create more problems for you. You don’t know who else might have been upset but just hasn’t...

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Audit Your Standards of Customer Service

So much is said in retailing about customer service but not enough is actually done about it. The goal of every retailer should be to deliver truly outstanding customer service but management in most stores – even the major chains, have no idea about the level of service they’re providing to their customers. Customers will only come back to a retail outlet if they get good service. To put it another way, poor service is a guarantee you’ll lose customers. Since it takes about five times as much effort to get a new customer as it does to retain one it’s well worth the investment it takes to raise your standards of customer service to the highest possible level. Giving outstanding customer service has real economic benefits for retailers. It means you don’t have to discount heavily to attract new customers, nor will you have to spend a fortune on advertising. You need to look closely at the level of customer service your retail establishment delivers. Don’t look at it from your point of view but put yourself in the place of customers who don’t know the location of every product in the store, who don’t know all the details – colors, sizes, etc. of products you sell, and who don’t know the sales team on a first name basis. Remember too that customer service is about your whole store. It’s about the people, the premises and the total impression that customers receive. Your people Start by taking a good look at your team members. Do they all have a real customer service focus? If a customer is ignored or treated with indifference, perhaps even rudeness, chances are you’ll never hear about it. They’ll just go away and never come back. Finding the right people for your sales team is the best way to deliver outstanding customer service. It’s up to you to select those with good people skills, and some just don’t have them. No matter how smart or polished a person is, if they can’t instantly relate to your customers they should not be the interface between your store and the public. There is a golden rule about customer service that never changes: The customer comes first. Remember that and make sure everybody on your sales team knows it. That really does mean ‘first’ – not after stocking a shelf or when the phone call’s finished, but absolutely number one first. Are customers recognized and offered assistance immediately? Do they have to come to a counter to get attention or do members of the sales team go out to them? Watch carefully and see what really happens. If customers aren’t being treated like the valuable guests they are your sales will suffer. Anyone on your sales team that won’t accept this principle doesn’t belong there. To some degree a less than perfect attitude can be corrected by training but it’s far better to be selective at the time you’re choosing sales team members than to try to correct a staffing mistake later. It’s worth paying a market research firm to conduct ‘secret shopper’ surveys and get an objective opinion on each key member of the sales team. The returns on this investment come back immediately. Your premises Next, look at the physical attributes of your premises. It’s an important part of the customer experience and is another contributor to customer service. Ask some people who are representative of your typical customers to take you through the store and make comments on everything they see that needs attention. Get their honest opinions of: ▪ Store lighting ▪ Displays...

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