Lately, I’ve been thinking about a Sprint commercial from a few years ago. It starts out with a scene in a kindergarten where the new boy is given a giant pack of fresh new markers while everyone else has to make do with some broken old crayons.
When the other kids look at their teacher and act as if it’s not fair, she says, “but he’s new so he gets the best.” The commercial went on to explain that existing customers were just as important to the people at Sprint as new customers.
The fact is that most of us spend entirely too much time focused on trying to impress new people but we take our existing customers for granted and just assume that they’re always going to be there. The fact is though that the person who makes this assumption will endlessly need to build new e-mail lists while the person who treats existing customers right will find that their business only keeps growing.
Here are seven proven strategies for retaining your customers and making sure that they’ll continue to come back for years and years to come.
Make Your Customers Feel Important
Everyone wants to get their 15 minutes of fame. It’s one of those things that we all dream of even if we won’t admit it to everyone else. So why not do your part for your customers by letting them appear in your material? Just include them in your advertising and let the people that love you the most show their love.
You can use quotes from your customers or even have them do a video testimonial which can be published on your website or elsewhere. Do make sure that you get permission to use their images though and make it clear that you will be using the material without paying anything other than the chance to be seen publicly.
Send Random Discounts and Congratulations
I mentioned this in the past but it’s worth bringing up again. First of all, consider just sending out a random coupon which grants people a percentage off from their future purchase. This kind of thing both stimulates some sales from your customers and makes them feel like they’re actually important to you rather than simply another number.
You can also send out some random congratulations cards to your customers. This is a technique I picked up years ago and I love it. In essence, you just send our random personalized cards to your clients or even to their e-mail addresses and wish them congratulations in as generic a way as possible. They’ll be wondering how you knew about whatever good news just came their way, be it in business or in their personal lives.
Of course, this should be done sparingly as you do run the risk of timing it wrong if you happen to send out congratulations when something bad just happened to them but you can always smooth that over. If they call and say that something bad just happened and you’re wondering why you’re congratulating them, you can always say that you’re sorry for whatever it was that happened but the congratulations are because they just won a discount coupon for being a loyal customer.
Do the Knickknack Thing
You know how pretty much everyone seems to give out some kind of knickknack, be it a pen or a tote bag? There’s a reason for that – it works and it works really well. People tend to like these things and they’ll remember you for giving them something of value. The more unique and useful the item is, the more likely you are to actually get some benefit from it.
Actually, I recently ran across a really cool article where there were some pretty unique looking business cards. Some of them were kind of silly, like a card that turns into a pico-size shipping box, however there were others that were incredibly clever, like the cheese grater card. I also recall seeing a card for a funeral home which had the Lord’s Prayer on it. A tad macabre I suppose but it was also clever.
Listen to What Your Customers Have to Say
I’ve mentioned this in the past as well and even though I have, it’s vitally important to mention it again and again and again. Probably the single most important thing that you can do in order to ensure that your customers will keep coming back for more of whatever it is that you have to offer is to offer real customer service.
This means that if they have a problem with your product, you don’t just ignore what they tell you. You actually take the time to pay attention and listen to what they have to say so that you can get them whatever they need. In other words, listen to your customers and show them that their opinions matter. In a world dominated by impersonal voice mail and call centers in third world countries, nothing works better.
By the way, if you do take the time to add a feature that a customer of yours requested, why not actually mention them in your advertising? Say that this idea was submitted by such and such customer and maybe even offer them a free upgrade as a thank you for the winning suggestion. This will encourage other customers to share their ideas and will make people feel as if your company is one of the few that actually cares about customers and doesn’t just take them for granted.
Offer Loyalty Services
I had a really sweet offer made to me a while back by PayPal where they gave me priority service and a expedited customer service, getting me straight to their most senior agents if I ever had a problem. The reason was that I’d done a certain amount of business with them within the course of a year and this made me qualify for a premier program.
You can adopt something similar in your own efforts by simply making your most loyal customers into VIPs. Give them early access to the latest software that your company puts out or let them know that if they ever need help, they have a personal account representative to talk to. In other words, make them feel like they’re more than just another number and they’ll love you for it.
Speaking of Customer Service…
I cannot stress this enough. One of the best ways to keep customers loyal to you is to have great customer service which is available and which follows through for them. Sure you could hire some call center in Bangladesh to handle all of your phone calls and give them a canned script to read whenever a customer calls with a complaint. However, the companies that really succeed actually take the time to offer customers personal service.
Empower whomever it is that you have working your help desk to help customers and not be obnoxious to them. I remember one person in particular whom I used to be a big fan of. The guy sent me a special offer on a product which was supposed to be for a limited time only. Then after the time expired, virtually the same product appeared on the page for a cheaper price. I complained and got a nasty response from the customer service person there.
In the end, it turned out that they guy just completely misunderstood and did half-heartedly apologize, telling me how they sometimes “fire” customers for being difficult. However, this should have come from the owner of the company and should have included more than a half-baked apology to me. I have never even bothered to open another e-mail from this guy since then.
Shoddy customer service is more likely than anything else to make your customers run away in droves so don’t skimp on this. Do it right.
Make Yourself Unique
Finally, if you are truly intent on holding onto your customers, you need to offer them a really good reason to stick with you as opposed to the competition. This should include great customer service and personalized efforts on their behalf however, there should also be that one thing that you offer which the competition doesn’t have to offer.
What that one thing would be is something that you have to figure out for yourself of course. However, ultimately, if you can find a way to make your own offerings unique and desirable, you are more likely to hold onto your customers rather than constantly needing to develop new ones. Be it different features or a different structure for upgrades or anything else, that one thing that makes your company unique needs to be your signature offering, the reason why people will stay with you.
Oh and as I’ve said in this space many times in the past, whatever you do, don’t try to compete exclusively on price. You will lose every time because your price inevitably be beat. There has to be something else that you can offer which is unique if you want to succeed. Here’s to your success!