Customer retention relies heavily on customer experience, which is why it’s so important for business owners to really hone in on what will make their customers have a positive experience when interacting with their business.
Regardless of the size of your business, you can all take steps to ensure our number one asset – our customers – are happy. Here are a few key tips to help you improve that experience for your customers:
One of the most important ways to keep your customers is to keep in touch with them on a regular basis, whether that is through daily/weekly/bi-weekly calls, meetings, or emails, you need to make an effort to touch base with your clients. These are not sales calls, but rather opportunities to hear more about recent triumphs or challenges they are having in their business. The more you know about their business, the better able you are to serve them. When you listen, a customer feels heard.
Good As Your Word
A common complaint of customers is that business staff do not follow through on promises they make. When you tell a customer that you will email them a document by noon, for example, and they have not heard from you by the next day, they might feel that they are not a priority. Every customer wants to feel as if they are the only ones you take care of, so when you say that you will meet a deadline or deliver a report and not do so, nor call to explain why, they are left in the dark and this is when they are telling others about the poor service they are receiving from your business.
Thanking Them Differently
When a customer has purchased your product or service, particularly an expensive one, be sure to thank them in appreciation, ultimately for their choosing to work with you and not your competition. A phone call or handwritten card with the express purpose of saying thanks will be appreciated, but think of taking it to another level through a congratulatory lunch or a basket of sweets delivered to their home or business. You will be remembered, talked about favourably to your customer’s contacts, and will likely receive repeat business.
Access and Availability
If the main contact number to your company goes straight to voicemail or is automated, this could result in an unfavourable experience for your customer. You want to always make sure they feel that their business is important. You might want to consider:
- Forwarding the main line to one of your customer service reps or an executive assistant
- Make sure your automated system provides a directory with your employees’ names and extensions
- Create a company-wide policy on returning voicemails in a timely manner e.g. calls are to be returned within 24 hours
With so much business happening online today, it is important to set out clear expectations for your customers in terms of how to reach you and when. You might want to consider:
- Making sure your website clearly states your hours of operation
- Adding a simple contact form on your site with a specified time that a company rep will respond, or adding an online chat for immediate answers to any customer questions
- Adding a cell number to your email signature for any immediate calls
- Creating an email policy for your staff to ensure emails are returned to customers in a timely manner e.g. within 30 minutes
The key to customer retention is to strengthen your relationships at every contact point and to be mindful of not alienating them along the way.
As a business advisor, one of the top issues business owners ask for advice on is how to increase sales. My response is always the same: sales is at the heart of every company, and every employee is responsible for it, but in different ways.
No matter what size your business is, there are several touch points in a sales process, whether that is expanding your services with an existing customer or sales to a new customer.
When you are looking at your company’s sales, don’t just look at the person or people with “sales” in their titles; there is a role for everyone. Here is my checklist for sales accountability, that once checked off, will help you get a clear picture of where your sales infrastructure might need some help, and if everyone in place will help you increase sales.
- Owner sets the sales strategy
A sales strategy is usually written to cover a year and might include outlining the focus of what services/products target which customer, acquisition vs. sales growth with an existing customer, and long and short-term sales goals for each, as well as determining the sales cycle and which markets you will go after. A sales strategy lays out the steps and methods necessary for customers in different stages of the sales cycle.
- Marketing supports that strategy
Your marketing team or agency needs to create a plan to support this with marketing activities, including promoting your website, creating digital promotions, trade show collateral, social media, phone scripts, presentations, campaigns, sell sheets, banner ads or online advertising as well as list acquisition and management.
- Execution by the sales team
Although each sales person has to take responsibility for the execution of the strategy, they need to first understand the strategy and their role in executing it. You’ll need to work with your sales team or with your Director of Sales to ensure they understand your strategy, and to explain which marketing tools they have to support their efforts. They need to know techniques to handle both customer acquisition as well as customer retention opportunities. For example, if they are to execute a call-out campaign to new customers, make sure they understand the value proposition and have support materials at hand to provide to the client.
- Walk the Walk
From the person who answers the phone and your customer service staff to your technicians and any front line staff, every touch point with a customer or potential customer must be positive and genuine. Each interaction with a customer is an opportunity to make a lasting impression of the value your company brings to the table. If they are spoken to in a valued and respectful manner, it could make the difference between investing further with your current services or allowing you to speak with them about your new services/products.
Share your sales strategy with your entire team as all your employees contribute, even in a small way, to helping your business grow. Never underestimate the power of a warm greeting – it can lead to more sales than you might think.
It’s the end of the first quarter and many of you are looking at your sales results compared to your sales goals and if the results are poor, blaming your sales strategy. Well, the sales strategy may not be to blame.
Sometimes it’s obvious what went wrong, but sometimes it can be a few factors that contribute to the overall poor results — market predictions, understanding the skill set of your sales team, and understanding the sales cycle of your customer. I have found that the following 3 reasons are why sales strategies sometimes don’t lead to the desired results:
I have seen it time and time again, sales strategies failing at the execution level. The best-laid plans are just that – plans. The real results happen in the execution of those plans. Part of reviewing your execution includes:
Were your expectations too high?
Was your plan too ambitious? If you are ending your first quarter not having met your sales results, your plans could have been too grand. Was what you planned realistic? For example, if you planned for weekly call-out campaigns, your sales team needs to understand if they are to secure an actual sale over the phone or just generate a lead for future sales nurturing. Had you hoped that your sales team would deliver sales, or your marketing team’s campaigns would drive more leads? Adjust your expectations to a realistic level.
Did you have the right resources?
Consider the skill set of your sales team and whether they had the right training to execute the sales strategy. Providing them with a formal onboarding program for each service or product is essential to help them be successful. What about your support team – are there enough order takers or shipper-receivers in place to handle new orders, and what resources are in place to handle from lead to delivery? Every person in the sales cycle is important, but perhaps there was an area that was not covered. If so, adjust the plan to reflect that. You can’t expect great results if you don’t have the infrastructure in place to support the growth.
Who was accountable?
When you created the sales strategy did you share it with your team and hand off tasks to each of them to be accountable for? Did you hold regular meetings with your team to hear of any hurdles and get status updates? Did you hold yourself accountable for ensuring the plan was executed properly? Someone has to take responsibility for ensuring all goes according to plan.
After you’ve conducted a full review of the execution of your plan, you’ll easily see what areas and factors contributed to the failure of your sales strategy. In all likelihood, your plan was good and just needed some adjustments based around its execution. Once the adjustments are made, your sales strategy will help to grow your business.
LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network, with over 300 million registered users in over 200 countries and territories, so it should come as no surprise that LinkedIn is one of the most powerful business development tools available today. Business owners and key sale leaders can leverage the power of LinkedIn for forging strong connections and finding new business.
LinkedIn has become the new “Rolodex”, the go-to place for finding colleagues, current clients, potential clients and vendors. With a professional profile, image and regular participation in groups, your network will increase, which in turn increases your reach and exposure and potential business opportunities. Many business owners would agree that LinkedIn has great potential, but are either concerned about the time commitment or are unsure how to go about getting started.
Here are a few simple steps to get you started in engaging in business development activities on LinkedIn:
- Step 1 – Look Professional: Just like a face-to-face introduction, your profile page is your first chance to make a good impression. Users with complete profiles are 40 times more likely to receive opportunities through LinkedIn. This means:
- Invest some time in writing a professional summary
- Add your skills
- Have a professional picture taken (do not take a selfie)
- Add volunteer experience and any awards you have won
They have recently added a recommendation feature on LinkedIn, which is like having an endorsement for your services. Try to have at least 4 recommendations on your profile page.
- Step 2 – Make Connections: Having a long list of connections is essential for increasing exposure and the likelihood of others finding you, but make sure they are the “right” type of connections.
- Decide if there is an industry you want to target or a type of job title e.g. accountant – simply search for exactly what you are looking for
- Once you have a few potential connections, find out more about them by visiting their profiles, seeing if you have connections in common, where they are located, etc.
- Send them a connection request by introducing who you are and the reason for contacting them
- If they accept your invitation, be active and take the initiative by arranging a phone call or a face-to-face meeting
- Step 3 – Join Groups: Think of these as a local Chamber of Commerce. There are groups for every industry, and they function as a place to ask questions, perform research, make new connections, and get noticed.
- Search groups that you think your target audience will visit
- Join ONLY as many groups as you can manage. Groups tend to send notifications, which is good if you plan to keep up with them, but annoying if you don’t
- Participate in the groups on a regular basis if you can. Your audience needs to hear from you and see you being active and offering expert advice
- Comment on other people’s posts, “like” them, and most importantly see who the regular contributors are and see if there is opportunity to work together or connect in some way
- To connect with them, follow Step 2
In addition to using LinkedIn as a business development and marketing tool, the platform can also be used for recruitment. Whether it’s sharing a job posting on your company profile, or paying for a job posting or sponsored job ad, LI allows you to see in a click of a button a more complete look at your candidates.
As you can see, LinkedIn has a lot to offer but the biggest step is making the decision to give it the time it deserves to foster and manage potential leads. From personal experience, investing time in LI as a business development tool will yield results that far outweigh that time investment.
Do you use LI for business development now? How much time do you dedicate to it and are there other features of LI that you have found helpful for business development?
Have customers stopped caring or is there little for them to care about? How can your business continue to thrive in this increasingly confused marketplace?
As business owners, we all ask ourselves these questions, so to kick off the new 2015 business year, we invited a business speaker, Curt Skene, to present to over 100 business owners across Ontario and try to provide some concrete answers to these key questions.
The actual presentation was called Insights for Attracting and Sustaining Profitable Business, and I’d like to share with you my learnings and top five tips on how to make 2015 your best year ever:
- Know Everything About Your Customer: Sometimes we don’t ask our customers questions, and sometimes we don’t ask them the right questions. We all know customers are 100% of our business, so make sure you understand them better by asking them thoughtful questions about their business and then turning that into an opportunity to align yourself with their business.
- Provide a Solution Not a Service: Think about what problem your business solves for your customer. If you are an RMT, are you trying to reduce stress or relax muscles…or both? What exactly is the solution you offer and start thinking in those terms when describing your business. It needs to be a value-based solution.
- Create a WOW in Your Business: Do you know what creates a WOW for your customer? If you don’t, find out by asking them. Your customers chose you when there are so many other companies bidding for their attention. Why? Find out and then leverage it in your marketing strategy.
- Have a Hero: It may seem trite, but these days more than ever, we all need to have a hero, a mentor, someone alive or not, to whom we can align our own thoughts and values. A good example was Mayor Rudy Giuliani who when faced with the atrocities of September 11th, recalled his hero Sir Winston Churchill for guidance and strength to help him manage this crisis.
- Leverage Your Network Better: We all know hundreds of people and thanks to social media networks, we all know far more than we think we know. Take the time to tap in to your networks, family, friends and social media, to see who you know and how you can “connect”.
While growing your business is important, it will never grow if we don’t take the time to focus on who you are and who your customers are. Sometimes this means conducting market research, but the more you know, the more you can grow!
How well do you think you know your customers? When was that last time you surveyed your customers (and not with a printed or electronic survey)? Do you think of your business as helping your customers? If not, then why not? Let me know in the comment section below.
We’ve all heard the expression “the customer is always right”. For SMB owners, I’d modify this to read, “give customers what they want on their own terms.” In other words, focus your business on satisfying customer needs.
One of the best examples of customer service can be found on the retail level, a restaurant for example. Imagine you owned and operated a local coffee shop. Which feature do you think would give you the best advantage in the competition for customers?
- The best prices?
- The best location?
- The best coffee?
The answer is simple; none of the above matters if you don’t have any customers. Sure you’ll always have the regulars, but after time even they will leave when they realize they can get what you are offering down the street at another café where they offer free Wi-Fi and have a loyalty program, for example.
Do your policies serve only your interests or those of your customers? In the case of the coffee shop, do the costs of not offering free Wi-Fi outweigh the actual cost of paying for it? When it comes to satisfying your customer – absolutely! What about your policies on business hours or additional fees? Are your solutions based on ways to boost margins or on offering a competitive advantage?
Many small businesses are not focused on what’s most important to the customer. They sell what they have, rather than what the customer is buying.
To help grow your business, you’ll need to ask your current customers several questions to find out what’s important to them, why they keep coming back, and how you can improve your service. When you complete a project, ask your customer for immediate feedback. Ask them if you did a good job and what one thing could you improve on to make it a better experience.
When you directly engage your customer in your process improvement, not only does it leave your customer with a positive feeling, but it also helps you improve your service offering to meet the needs of your customer. The result is a win-win for you both.
Many successful business owners know that the best salesman is their customer. If you treat them right, they’ll walk out the door and sell for you.
Do you feel good customer service is over rated or is it a key to your success? Do you have good customer service policies at your office? Please let me know what you think in your comments below.