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Monday
Jan312011

Secrets to a long and happy customer life

This past December, I celebrated my 22nd year in Richmond. It dawned on me that, -a- I still consider myself a New Yorker and, -b- I had used the same realtor, bank, dentist, doctor and bar for those 22 years. To me, that's a long time. I wondered what kept me going back year after year.

I researched articles on "life-long customers" on the Internet and the first one was by Jeff Wuorio on the Microsoft website. It seemed to fit the bill and provided very concise ways companies can work to keep customers for life. The first rule provided was that a company should deliver what they say they're going to deliver. Simple enough! Have you ever been let down by a company's product or service? We've all read advertising copy that promises the sun, moon, and stars. We've had experiences in stores or with products that have had us wishing for at least one of the three!

The article continued by exhorting companies to "expect the best" from their customers, that is, not to adopt a mindset that customers must somehow earn the right to do business with the company. In a word, respect the customer! Think of a time when you entered a restaurant and you felt respect. Nice feeling, wasn't it? In reverse, think about a time when you felt you weren't respected. Are you still doing business with that company?  I'd venture to say: no!

The author advises companies to "go beyond the usual", or to conduct business by providing a level of service beyond what a customer might expect. I had one of these experiences years ago when I missed a connection in the Bahamas. The airline's counter agent not only secured a seat on another flight -- on another carrier, but took the time to walk me to that gate! This service level was so unexpected that I immediately forgot that the delay was in fact caused by that airline and my anger and impatience evaporated!

Additional advise provided in the article centers around "watching the customer - not the bottom line". Said differently, if you attend to your customers' needs and wants, you will be rewarded with continued business, those ultra-important referrals, and general goodwill that will help your company succeed. Some of the most successful companies conduct consumer research on an ongoing basis or have a system of "listening posts" to monitor what their customers are thinking and saying. This input is critical to delivering the products customers will want and purchase. And, another tip related to this one is "giving your customers a reason to stay with your company. A simple example of this is offering repeat customers a discount. Here's an example: I was in my favorite bakery/restaurant in New York when my waitress dropped off a small box of cookies at no charge asking me to enjoy them. With just a few dollars of cookies, that restaurant earned about a hundred hours of me telling anyone who would listen what a great place it was and it also cemented what I thought of the place! I will continue to patronize the place - it's just that good, and sadly, yes, I learned that I can be had with the price of some cookies!

Lastly, another way to encourage long-term customers is to ensure long-term employees. Treat employees the way you wish them to treat customers. Employees working in a positive, supportive environment will in turn treat customers accordingly.

Finally, Wuorio encourages businesses to "be picky" about lifelong customers. Businesses are there to make a profit and there may be customers who are just too demanding to be profitable. Businesses must determine the point at which a customer costs too much to service. Someone who spends an hour or two arguing about a bill each month will drive manpower costs up. If your service reps earn $15 per hour that customer could cost an additional $30 in staff time each month. Is he a profitable one?

Everyone knows that it costs much more to garner a new customer than to keep one you've got already. These tips could help companies keep customers longer and more profitably for the company. Why don't all companies follow the tips?  Drop me a line and tell me!

(c) Alder & Associates - Marketing, Advertising, Public Relations

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