The Power of Following Up with Customers

As a successful business person, you probably have an effective system for staying in touch with your prospects throughout the sales process. But do you have an equally effective system for staying in touch with those same people once they’ve become clients? Or after their project has been completed?

If not, you could be missing out on significant opportunities.

I was talking with a neighbor the other day who was having issues with her hot water heater. She’d had someone repair it in the past, and was perfectly happy with their work, but she couldn’t remember the name of the company she had called then. If the company had the foresight to stay in touch with her, they could have gotten even more business from her, as well as from referrals she might send their way.

Think about how busy you are and how much information you’re required to retain every day. Your customers are experiencing the same overload, so it’s highly unlikely they’re remembering you and your company unless you are reminding them you exist.

Sure you can over do it and become a pest. I’m not suggesting you use the Popcorn Factory method of emailing customers every other day with a new promo. Depending on your business model, you could send out a weeklUse special days like Pecan Day, to stay in touch with clientsy, bi-weekly or monthly newsletter with useful, inspiring information. Or cards to celebrate random “holidays” (did you know that the first week in March is National Write a Letter of Appreciation Week? Or that the 25th is Pecan Day? International Customer Loyalty Month is coming up in April.)

How about implementing a strategy that gives your clients more personal attention, something most all humans crave. Last year I experimented with calling my clients just to see how I could help them, in a way not necessarily related to my business’ product. I had gotten the idea from a vendor who had called me to ask what she could do to help my business – was there anyone she could introduce me to. It felt so good to know that person wanted to help me, I was eager to see how it worked from the other side. I was surprised at how caught off guard they all were, as if no one had ever called with such a question unless they had an ulterior motive. Most of them didn’t even have an answer. But it gave me an opportunity to reconnect with them.

You might not get more business from them immediately, but this is about strengthening the relationship. Over time, those who consistently check in with their clients are the ones who create a better customer experience, have higher customer loyalty and more referral business.

Advertisements

The Humanization of Business

Years ago, back in the days of our grandparents, most people conducted business with people they knew. Business was local and you would recognize your vendors and suppliers if you ran into them at the grocery store. Some deals were done with contracts, but all agreements involved a handshake. There was a human element to every transaction.

Today, we can pretty much run our business and personal lives without having to interact with other humans. Everything can be bought and sold online, Writing emailconversations conducted via email or text. We can, however that doesn’t mean we should. For all the technology that’s been developed, humans are still wired to need physical contact and interaction with other humans. Perhaps ironically, the ability and expectation to be constantly available via electronic communications has actually created a greater importance for physically reaching out and touching someone.

How many of your clients do you know personally? Depending on your industry, you may have met with every one of them at some point in the relationship. Or you may have never even had a one-on-one conversation with them. The more of your business is conducted electronically, the higher the risk you have of customers leaving without saying goodbye. Why? Because it’s easy to walk away from someone you don’t really know, a business with which you have no real connection, even if they are providing you with a valuable service.

It’s much more difficult to change suppliers when you’ve had tangible interactions with someone. And this is why it’s so critical to take communications with your customers beyond the Internet! It’s especially important when you can’t physically meet face to face to send notes, gifts, tangible representations, because those things act as your surrogate. They are material stand-ins that aren’t likely to be ignored and can’t be deleted with a keystroke.

When you send a tangible gift, you’re telling your customer that he is important to you. He’s not getting the message that he’s just one of 1,000 people on a mass email list. He’s getting the message that he’s special, even if, in reality, you sent the same thing to 1,000 other people too.

Just last week, I received a bookmark and a note in the mail from a colleague. Her note Heart Bookmarksaid, “I am grateful to be connected to you,” and included a short list of her favorite books. Wow, very cool and unexpected (which is part of what makes it so cool!). Now I know I’m not the only person to whom she sent that gift, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she cares enough about our relationship to reach out and touch me in that way. We’ve never met in person, but she just strengthened our bond.

You can bury your head in the sand and say it’s not true, or choose to believe you and your customers are more evolved than to need such physical connections. The bottom line is humans are still wired to desire tactile interaction with other humans. Recognize and provide it to your customers and you will see the benefits in the success of your business.

Getting Customers, Keeping Customers

One of the top challenges for many business people these days is getting new customers. Finding new clients takes a significant amount Finding new customers takes time and energyof time and energy, not to mention monetary investment. And to keep that pipeline full, you’ve got to be consistent and creative in your efforts.

There’s certainly no shortage of information out there on how to attract new business. Some sources make it sound like getting more new customers is as easy as turning on the water faucet. That’s not exactly been my experience. Has it been yours?

You might be interested to know there is an easier and more cost-effective way to build your business. It’s called customer appreciation. Focusing on keeping the customers you have is a far better investment of your limited resources.

How does it work? Good question.

When you put your efforts into building stronger relationships with current clients, they stay with you longer, they buy more from you, and they recommend you to more of their friends and colleagues. Those factors stronger relationships with clients means more businessequal more money in your pocket.

Think about it. Someone who is already a customer is already sold on your product or service. She already likes and trusts you. He already knows you’re reputable and deliver value. You’ve got an established relationship going, so it’s a good bet she will take or return your call. Someone you’ve never done business with before is going to be harder to reach and more skeptical of your pitch when you do get through. The sales cycle is naturally going to be longer because you have to lay the groundwork and establish the rapport.

What happens when you’re the consumer? How do you make your buying decisions? You probably turn to friends or colleagues who’ve bought a similar product or service for recommendations and advice. You likely search online for reviews and comparisons. Your prospective clients are no different. They want to make sure they’re making the right decision and will take their time to do so.

Just yesterday I needed to replenish a product I use in the business frequently. There’s no reason for me to spend time going online to search for another vendor and seeing if I can find a better price. I’m comfortable with the supplier I’ve been using recently. Even if I could save a few cents somewhere else, I’d rather buy from a reliable place where I know the guy and already have an account. In fact, I used to buy this product from someone else, but she was hard to get hold of and wasn’t very good at returning calls or emails, which made it difficult to order. She was probably always out chasing after new customers instead of taking care of the ones she currently had.

No matter what your business, look to your existing customers as one of your best sources of new revenue. The longer they stay with you, the more they spend and the higher the likelihood they will refer you new business. Sounds like a good investment to me.

Saying Thank You to Clients on Valentine’s Day

ValenValentine's is a great time to show appreciation for customerstine’s Day is right around the corner. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of what I consider a “Hallmark Holiday.” However, I do see this holiday as an opportunity for savvy business people to tell customers how much they love doing business with them. Reaching out on Valentine’s Day and saying thank you to clients works for a few reasons.

    1. Hardly anyone else is doing it. I’m a strong advocate for going against the grain when it comes to marketing. If everyone is sending client appreciation gifts at Christmastime, then I recommend NOT doing that. The whole point of marketing is to stand out so you can catch your audience’s attention and get them to take action. So, first you have to do something noteworthy and showing up at their doorstep with Valentine’s cards or gifts is memorable.

 

    1. You can have fun with this. It’s Valentine’s Day, no reason to be all serious or traditional. Remember we’re talking clients here, not romance, so use some humor. If you’re feeling creative, you can take a stab at writing some poetry. I actually stopped as I was writing this post and made my attempt at this genre. Um, it’s not exactly Emily DickinsonWrite a poem to clients for Valentine's Day or Maya Angelou, but if you are one of my clients, you may have the good fortune to see it when you open your mail in a few days. I’ll share this; it starts out “Valentine’s Day is here…”

      You can certainly go with candy, nothing wrong with chocolate M&Ms, but chocolate kisses might send the wrong message. Go with a message like, “Valentine’s Day means chocolate. It’s also a great time for us to share with you how much we value you as a client.” Or how about a book – “I loved this book and thought you would too. Letting you know how much we appreciate your business.”

 

  1. Some people don’t have a Valentine. Okay, I said it’s not a time to be serious, but in reality this day can be hard for people who don’t have someone significant in their lives right now. Some of your customers may not get any kind of acknowledgement of their specialness today and that could leave them feeling lonely. You can remedy that by letting them know they are important to you and they will remember you kindly for doing so.

This Valentine’s Day, make the most of the chance to strengthen relationships with your clients. Let me know what creative ideas you come up with, or what you are lucky enough to receive from one of your vendors. Share in the comments section here or on our Facebook page.

Strengthening Existing Client Relationships

Looking to improve your revenue this year and build a bigger business? That’s fantastic. How are you going to do it? What’s your plan? Most people answer that question with “get more customers.” And typically “get more customers” means do more marketing.

You could certainly spend time and money on chasing down new clients. OR, you could invest in the relationships you have with your current customers and strengthen them. When you do that, you’ll see existing clients buying more from you, maybe more frequently. You’ll also see an increase in referrals coming from those current clients. Business grows and you don’t have to work as hard. How great is that?

Here are a few ideas you can use to fortify those bonds.

Call them on their birthday. Everyone likes to receive happy birthday wishes on THEIR day. With the advent of Facebook, you’re probably getting a lot more than you used to, but most of them are not all that sincere. How many phone calls did you get on your birthday? Mine was last week, so I can tell you it was exactly seven – four family members, two friends and my financial adviser. Since only one was from someone with whom I do business, it stands out in my mind. I’m guessing he has a list he prints out every week and he sets aside 10 minutes a day to do those calls. Doesn’t take long and makes people happy.

Send a handwritten card or small gift on their birthday. Depending on the value of a client to you, you may choose to do something more than a phone call. One of Zen Rabbit’s clients sends a small package of Gratitude Cookies to each of his clients on their birthdays. Small gesture makes a big impression. If you are going to send a card, for gosh sakes, make it personal and don’t send something printed and signed by a computer!

Surprise them with random gifts of appreciation. These gifts don’t need to be expensive or extravagant. If you have products that are physical delivered to your customers, or you’re on site with them frequently, you can include surprises in what you send out or bring with you. One vendorGlass Teapot I know included a few lolly pops in each shipment. Otherwise you can do a special mailing. January is Hot Tea Month, so you could share your favorite tea. It’s also International Creativity Month, which begs for sharing a box of crayons or colored pens. Or how about sharing a delicious recipe or even an entire little cookbook of soup recipes for National Soup Month.

Print out or clip articles you see about your clients’ or their children’s achievements and mail them in an envelope with a note. Are you getting the drift here about delivering items in physical form via mail or other delivery service? It makes a difference! Electronic communications are fine and useful. But connecting on a more personal, tactile level is essential to human connectivity.

Going about business as usual, counting on clients to “know” you value their business is much like not changing the oil in your car when it’s time. The performance of your car isn’t affected right away. You may be able to drive for quite a while without issue. But sooner or later, that kind of neglect is going to cause major problems and will be pretty costly to fix.

Take care of your existing business connections, sincerely say thank you to customers for business, add the elements of fun and spontaneity to your client relationships and see how your business is rewarded with more.

What creative ideas have you used? Share here or come over to Zen Rabbit’s Facebook page to tell us about it.

The Cyclical Nature of Life, the Economy & Customer Retention

As Election Day in the U.S. draws closer, I feel the need to address a perspective that I’ve not seen anywhere. People in this country, and indeed the world, have been conditioned to 1. Want everything to be “good” all the time and 2. Delivered quickly. Thanks a lot Apple and Amazon and Zappos. (Hey, I enjoy next day delivery as much as the next person, but not everything in life can be delivered that quickly!)

Unfortunately for those who expect that kind of life experience, frustration and disappointment are inevitable. Let’s take the economy. Yes, let’s delicately go there without getting into which party or candidate has the best plan. The expectation that the economy should always be growing, the stock market always going up and wealth always increasing is absurd.

OceanWavesOnBeachIn nature, everything is cyclical. Ocean waves come in AND go out. While breathing, you must inhale AND exhale. Trees grow leaves in the spring and shed them in the fall. These are not things that need thought or study, they just happen. This is how nature works. Everything is cyclical. Furthermore, everything has a gestation period. On average, human babies take nine months to develop before they are born. Carrots take approximately 12 weeks for full maturity. The Grand Canyon formed over a period of 18 million years. Development takes as long as it takes!

So it seems odd that everyone is freaking out about the down cycle of the economy, its length and severity. I am not insensitive to the people who’ve been affected; I get it, it’s very uncomfortable and a lot of people are in a lot of pain. What I’m saying though, is this experience is part of nature’s cyclical system. Humans have attempted to change and manipulate nature to better suit their needs for thousands of years. Sure, we can make vegetables and animals grow faster (hormone injected and genetically modified foods anyone?). It seems to work out much better when we work WITH the environment instead of fighting against.

Of course in many cases nature can be helped along by such things as pesticides, technology, the Federal Reserve System or such. Again, these aides (experiments?) work better when helping the organism or system do what it does naturally as opposed to working against the “evil” that threatens it.

Customer acquisition and retention are cyclical too. Clients will always be signing on for your service or leaving your practice. It’s part of the natural Cycle Imagecycle of business. Recognize and accept that and then take the measures that you can, use the tools available to you, to extend that cycle by saying thank you to clients for business.

Although it would never happen, what if a candidate came out and said, hey, this uncomfortable downturn we’ve been experiencing is natural. Life and the economy are not always going to be happy, pain-free and comfortable. Real growth and innovation are what happen when things are UNcomfortable. Some cycles in life take more than a few minutes or even a few years to turn around. Situations are not resolved as quickly as they are in a two-hour movie. Know for sure though that they absolutely WILL turn around. And they will, no matter who is in office because nature has laws that are not breakable.

I welcome your thoughts and commentary on this concept, but I absolutely will not tolerate any political rants or accusations.

Properly Setting Customer Expectations

Last weekend I spent two and half days at Sandi Krakowski’s Social Media Smartphone GPS event at the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort. I love hotel experiences because they offer so many opportunities to observe customer service practices. This one was no exception.

Upon arrival, the lobby smelled inviting and pretty. I know, those aren’t actual fragrances, but it’s the best way to describe it. It just smelled GOOD. Staff was friendly and accommodating at check-in. Since I was a speaker at the event, my room had been upgraded to Executive Level. These occurrences, along with the architecture, set my expectations fairly high and I looked forward to a great stay.

It’s interesting how just one or two employees can taint a guest’s, or client’s, overall experience. Boxes I had shipped ahead to the hotel were to be delivered to my room and when I inquired about them, I was assured they were in my room. But I’d just come from my room and unless they’d been stored under the bed, the boxes were not there. Oops, they’d put them in the wrong room. Mistakes happen. I get it. No worries.

Later I asked the concierge for a recommendation of an off-property place to eat. He insisted that the kind of place I was looking for was no less than 20 minutes away. But after getting our bearings (we’d both been to the area before, but not recently) my friend and I found several such places much closer. Seems like someone in that position should know the area better.

And now to the one experience that never ceases to amaze me. At hotels and conference centers that host events all the time, it astounds me that so many of them are so ill-prepared to efficiently serve the attendees lunch and/or dinner in their restaurants.  This hotel is not alone in its struggle to manage such a task. But when you have a facility regularly holding events that give attendees an hour for meals, one would expect you have the experience, staff and systems to handle it well.

In our particular case, we weren’t served any water or other beverages until we’d asked at least five times and were just about finished with our meals. I saw a manager and mentioned our frustration. To his credit, he comped lunch for everyone at my table, but giving away meals doesn’t make up for decent service.

I’m just finishing up the book “Setting the Table,” by restaurateur Danny Meyer. In it, he talks about all the components that must be in place to provide what he calls “enlightened hospitality.” The takeaway I’m getting is that it all comes down to people (employees), systems and your sense of purpose. The lessons are not just applicable to restaurants; they apply to every business. Look for my full review of this book within the next week or so. Right now, suffice it to say that you are in control of setting a customer’s expectations. Once you do that, you are then obligated to fulfill them or you risk losing that customer as well as any referrals that person may have sent your way.

Understandably, not all hotels can provide the level of service you find at a Ritz-Carlton. But I would argue that each does need to live up to the expectation it puts out there at the outset. In order to thrive, your business, regardless of industry, needs to do the same. Take an honest look at the experience you’re providing your clients to make sure it’s consistent with the bar you’ve set.