7 Tips on Keeping
Customers For Life
By Jeff Wuorio, veteran freelance
writer & author
It's the frozen heart of winter and the pipes in
your home are as icy as the arctic air outside.
Trying to find a plumber seems less likely than
arranging an on-the-fly papal audience.
But not if you're a regular customer of Benjamin
Franklin Plumbing, based in Rogersville, Mo. You may
be part of the company's "front of the line"
program, which means the plumbing shop gives you
priority status. You will be the first one called
and, if need be, will be serviced the next morning —
no waiting in line not knowing when the call will
Sound cool? Even cooler than your pipes in winter?
Sound like the kind of perk that could make you a
lifelong customer? Indeed.
Programs and strategies akin to Franklin's "front of
the line" program can be just the thing to transform
a one-shot sale into a lifelong customer. Granted,
there are scads of ways to do that, but here are
seven that may be just the wrinkle that fits your
1. Deliver what you say you're going to do. "If the
business can't deliver on basics, then any other
steps will be wasted effort," says Ruth Stevens of eMarketing Strategy, a New York consulting company.
In other words, don't swing for the fences when you
can't even lay down a bunt. It may seem ludicrous,
but far too many businesses focus on ways to keep
customers, only to lose sight of the fact that their
product or service simply isn't what it should be.
Make certain that the core of what you do is
deserving of long-term customer loyalty, and then
look for ways to nurture it.
2. Expect the best. Another stumbling block to
establishing customers for life is turning the
tables. Many businesses wait for customers to
"prove" their worth before they start to take steps
to cement the relationship. Instead, approach
everyone as a potential lifer: "Don't adopt the
mindset that a customer must 'earn' their way into
your good graces as a business," says Erin Duckhorn
of Crucial Technology, an online memory upgrade
provider. "Instead, we assume from the very
beginning that this new customer is going to be a
long-term loyal customer and treat them as such." By
treating your customers respectfully from the start
and expecting that they will pay on time — rather
than prodding them about payment deadlines before it
ever becomes an issue — can engender long-term
customer loyalty, Duckhorn says.
3. From there, go beyond the usual. Once the basics
are clicking, one way to win a customer for life is
to consistently exceed the expected. Establish a
baseline of good, and make it policy to climb to
better and beyond. For instance, E.D. Foods, an
online provider of soups and other food products,
wins plaudits for placing orders for items that
customers want but can't find in its online catalog.
"It's really simple," says co-owner Leslie Eiser.
"Have great products and provide customers with
service beyond what they were expecting."
4. Watch your customer, not your bottom line. A
continuing element of lifelong customer loyalty is
more attention to the needs and preferences of your
clientele and less on your earnings growth. Of
course, profits are crucial. But long-term solvency
derives from customers who are also there for the
long haul. And that stems from a business which
listens in any number of ways. "I've always asked my
customers' opinions of new product ideas," says
Ellen Cagnassola of MaryEllen's Sweet Soaps, an
online soap retailer. "Keeping them a part of the
process can inspire them in more ways than one."
5. Nurture lifelong employees. An effective strategy
to win long-term clientele doesn't exist in a
vacuum. Treat your employees as you would a customer
who you want to see year after year. Not only does
that encourage staff to also do their bit to entice
customer loyalty, it's simply a good idea to
maintain a consistent emphasis on a supportive,
responsive environment. "Southwest Airlines insists
on capitalizing both customer and employee in all of
its correspondence," says consultant Rich Gallagher.
"As a result, they're a top-rated service quality
leader as well as an employer."
6. Make customers want to stick around. Great
service or products are terrific, but it never hurts
to stack the deck to lure customers into the
long-term fold. In Franklin Plumbing's case, that
means discounts for repeat customers. For Fern Reiss
of PublishingGame.Com, an independent resource for
readers, authors and book publishers, it's a 25%
discount on updated titles if customers send in the
cover of an old title. "Because my books are updated
every three to six months, and because the
publishing industry changes so quickly, many people
who like the book end up re-ordering it on a regular
basis," she says. "They get the latest information,
for sale — and I get the repeat business."
7. Be picky about your lifelong customers. Saying
some people aren't cut out to be lifelong customers
seems akin to saying you despise Bambi. But the fact
is that some customers are more trouble than they're
worth. Monitor what goes into keeping a customer
satisfied; if it's too costly or simply too much
work, it's probably better to put your
lifelong-customer building muscle elsewhere. "Look
at your service costs. Some clients mandate
expensive sales coverage and some always insist on
face-to-face meetings with a sales rep," Stevens
says. "If they're a problem, give them a
competitor's number or manage the relationship more
carefully. But it's a myth to say that everyone
should be a lifelong customer."
---Source: MSN Business on main (www.businessonmain.msn.com).
Jeff Wuorio is a veteran freelance writer and author
based in southern Maine. He writes about
small-business management, marketing, and technology
issues. Reach him at
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