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.

Do More Than You Think Necessary

With Ruth Sherman at her Charisma Event

Ruth Sherman came to the DC area last week to present her “Cash in on Charisma” program. Here are three points she shared that really resonated with me and could be of value to you.

One of the big reasons why video works so well for disseminating your message and building relationships is that humans are wired to connect face to face. I’ve been saying this for a while. All this electronic technology is great, no question, but at the end of the day, people need to connect on a more human level. They need to see each other, shake hands, reach out on a physical level. That human need is why sending thank you cards and gifts to customers is so powerful. It is a tactile form of communication.

Next, Ruth implored that when preparing for live presentations, YOU’VE GOT TO PRACTICE much more than you think you do. I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of not doing that enough. I know my subject matter and can deliver well, but I know I could do much better if I spent more time practicing. When I took piano lessons as a child, I hated practicing. I must have had some natural talent because I remember playing pieces such as Debussy’s Clair de lune, Beethoven’s Fur Elise and Joplin’s The Entertainer in recitals. But I hated practicing and after a couple of years I convinced my mom to let me quit.

Public speaking ranks at the top of the list of things people are scared to death to do. But I absolutely love it! So here and now, I commit to spending more time practicing my stories and material, because I realize the people in my audience are giving me their time and attention and in return, my goal is to deliver great value for them.

The lesson for you – whether or not we’re talking about practicing presentations – is you need to do and give more than you think necessary. Start thinking what you consider good enough is probably the bare minimum you can get away with. To really build those client relationships, you need to step up the game. Communicate more. Reach out to customers and potential customers more. Engage them in conversation! If they don’t want to hear from you, they’ll tell you. In the meantime, deliver more value more consistently.

Lastly, your communications don’t need to be long. Who has the attention span anymore? While there are still places for sharing in-depth explanations and details, most of your videos (or other regular communiqués) need only be a minute or two. Just pop-in, share quickly, and step out. That means they won’t take you long to put together either. Hmmm. Now you have no excuse to not do more.

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.

Most People Don’t Matter

It’s a funny thing about people. They say they want x, y or z, but are completely unwilling to commit to getting it. You’ve heard the phrase “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Most people pay that lip service. They “believe” it, but when it comes down to brass tacks, it’s easier for them give up than to figure out the way, and so they do.

Seth Godin’s blog post today is titled “Most People.” Read it. Has this been your experience? Maybe it describes people you know. The part I take out of it and find relevant to what we’re doing here in regards to increasing customer retention and loyalty is that “most people aren’t going to buy what you’re selling” but that’s okay because your best customers are not “most people.”

Look around. Most people either do not care about customer service or don’t know how to deliver it – that much is quite evident in many customer experiences you’ll have this week. But the ones who do are the ones whose businesses are thriving, regardless of what’s happening in the economy.* They are not deterred by the idea that most people aren’t their customers. They are driven to find the ones who are and start conversations with them. Realize that it may take some persistence until those best customers recognize how you are not most people. Don’t be discouraged, like most people would be. YOU are okay with staying on track and weeding through most people to get to your best customers.

You are not doing what you’re doing for most people. Whatever your industry or profession, YOU are offering something very special and it’s only for your best customers. Understand your best customers are different from someone else’s best customers. This is why the idea of competition as a market force is on its way out.

Now once you connect with those best customers, it behooves you to continue treating them as valuable. Taking the actions necessary to make sure they know you appreciation their business is imperative. Consistently saying thank you to your loyal clients is an investment of resources most people won’t make. Good thing we’ve already established that you’re not most people.

*If you deliver fantastic customer service and your business is not thriving, it’s simply because not enough people in your target market know about you. That’s easily fixed through better marketing. Need help coming up with creative ideas for getting the attention of your ideal clients? Let’s set up a short, complimentary call to see if you can benefit from a full-out 2-hour strategy session.

Building Better Customer Relationships

There was an article a couple of weeks ago in Forbes.com on “Four Ways Brands Can Build Better Relationships.” The author mentioned that today’s marketer needs to go beyond transactional relationships and expand to interactional relationships. As a business person, selling something is not enough. You have to make a human connection. Even, or maybe especially, if you’re selling online.

Your customers and clients CRAVE personal interaction. Everyone’s spending tons of time online and communicating electronically, but humans are designed for more tactile connections. Remember the old Bell Systems’ tagline “reach out and touch someone”?

Life = Relationships. How you interpret that may vary. Some say their business is their life. Others view work as a means to living a good life. Doesn’t matter; it all comes down to whatever kind of life you choose, the most satisfactory ones are built on a foundation of solid relationships. And it’s not likely you can long maintain bad or weak business relationships and still enjoy a good life.

Phone calls, printed newsletters, handwritten notes, gifts delivered to one’s doorstep are all essential tools that will strengthen your connection to customers and thus increase client loyalty. You’ve heard it before – happier customers send you referrals and the combination of those two elements ultimately equate to more profits.

YES, these things “cost” more than sending an email and may take more than 30 seconds to craft, but the investment pays off in multiples. Stop being cheap and employing the short-term, transaction-based mentality that has derailed so many big company executives in the past several years. Get with the 2012 program and become humanly relevant.

Responsive like a Porsche

Andy’s one of the “new guys” in my leads group so he and I met up in a one-to-one last week. About a year ago, he left his corporate job to start his own company and now he’s serving as the IT department for companies that aren’t big enough to have someone full-time in-house.

Porsche_911I asked why his clients like working with him and to his great credit, he did NOT say, because we provide excellent service. (If you’ve been a long-time Rabbit Rouser reader, you know that response is way too overused, means nothing and completely sets me off. Ha Ha.) He said responsiveness. His newest client signed on with him because her previous vendor wouldn’t respond to requests for days. In contrast, he’s been getting back to this client’s employee’s requests within hours. Even if he can’t fix it right away, he at least lets them know he’s aware and on top of it. Not surprisingly, they are thrilled with him.

In fact, Andy told me one of the criticisms his boss had for him in corporate was that he set client expectations too high. Perfect! Now he’s just set the bar higher and made it more difficult for anyone else who comes along thinking they can poach his clients.

Acknowledgement and attention will win you fans every time. Sure, auto-responder generated emails make it easy for requests to be acknowledged, but everyone knows those aren’t personal responses. Technology is great, to a point. Even in the tech industry, people want personal. Clients want to know their issues are worthy of your attention and you will be providing them the service they want and need, hopefully soon!

Even in today’s mostly service-based economy, many clients feel the need for touch. (Get your mind out of the gutter, you.) I mean, they like the idea of personal communication and seeing something physical. This is why face to face meetings are still important, and why sending thank you notes written on paper or gifts that come in boxes make such a huge impression.

Don’t be afraid to set the bar high and make that mark the new standard in your industry or community. Making the new rules means stronger client relationships, happier customers and better client retention. The only ones who won’t look good are the competitors who can’t keep up.

Increasing client loyalty through love for the pets

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Connect with your target market via their pets

Tomorrow is the day we celebrate Panther’s birthday. Last week, I got an email birthday card from our new vet. Not just a happy birthday email, a link to a cute (of course) online card. I’ve been a cat caretaker (you don’t “own” a cat) for years and never had a vet send an acknowledgement of any of their birthdays.

From a marketing standpoint, this is a genius idea. Taking it a step further, the vet office could have sent me the email card along with an invitation to stop by and pick up a little cat toy. How many people would tell all their friends about that? So it would be a very inexpensive strategy to garner word of mouth advertising, and as we all know, there’s no better new client than one who is referred by a current client.

According to The American Pet Products Association, in 2011 Americans spent nearly $51 billion on food, vet costs, grooming, boarding, pet hotels, pet-sitting, day care, toys and other paraphernalia. Canadians spent $8.9 billion.

The point is, people LOVE their pets, as much or sometimes more than their children! So even if you’re not a veterinarian or in the business of selling anything related to pets, you could communicate with your clients or prospective clients ABOUT their pets and create a strong bond.

Let’s say you’re a financial planner. You could include in the client intake info a question about your new clients’ pets. What kind of animal do you have, what’s its name, what month is its birthday? Now when the dog’s birthday comes around, you send out a card with a dog treat, or a gift card to a local pet store, or a gift certificate for a pet photography session. THAT will get you talked about more than sending a birthday card to the client herself.

No matter what line of business you’re in, if you have a newsletter (what do I mean, IF? Of course you do, right?!), you can invite readers’ interaction by encouraging them to send in pictures or stories about their pets for publication. Guaranteed, that issue will be one they hold on to and pass along, which means longer shelf-life and exposure for your messages.

I know several people who smartly use their own pets in their print, online and video marketing. Doing so allows you to share a more personal aspect of yourself and helps your target market feel like they know you better and cements a bond. Want an example? Check out this episode of Newsletter Guru TV.

In what other brilliant ways can you incorporate pets into your marketing strategy?