I had the honour of being a guest speaker at a webinar earlier this week, sharing my thoughts and experience in helping companies hold on to their customers.
Holding on is not about entrapping customers, but rather about creating value in a way that naturally creates strong positive behavioural responses and emotional bonds from your customers.
After reminding people of the indisputable business case for allocating budget to customer retention, we explored four points of the bigger issue of HOW to hold on to one’s customers, especially during these world-changing times – with COVID-19 and the impact of lockdown on the economy.
To make it easy to remember, the four points are set out as 3R’s and a P (RRRP).
The first R stands for Reach out.
Reach out to your customers. First prize is to call them if you can and depending on how many customers you have. Call them simply to find out, with care and concern, how they are. Surely you want all your customers to be well and succeed through this pandemic, right? Express that care. Ask how their families are. Let them know you are there for them. Don’t try to sell anything in this call. You might find customers a bit dumbfounded that you aren’t trying to sell to them particularly since the only times we hear from some suppliers is when they are trying to sell to us or chase us for payment! Come from a place of genuinely seeking to hear them and listen to any concerns, fears, joys or hopes they may share.
If calling every customer is not feasible, consider sending them handwritten cards. If you haven’t seen the great work that Greg Smith and his team do at Sendhandwritten.com, I encourage you to have a look. They offer a fabulous service in this space – both physically and digitally.
Another way to reach out is by giving customers helpful information relevant to what you can see and hear that many of them are going through. Even if that information isn’t specific to your products and services. If it is what your customers need right now, find a way to give it to them.
The second R is for Respond.
Be as responsive as possible during these challenging times. Amp up the positive energy, respond to every email with enthusiasm, answer every call with eagerness to serve. Let your customers feel you. The more they feel your warmth, your commitment, your vibrancy, the more they will be open to sharing their needs with you and hearing your professional advice or recommendations in solving their needs.
Joseph Michelli shares the story of how Tony Hsieh of Zappos went the extra mile to respond to customers. They introduced a “Customer Service for anything” hotline to help people find answers or solutions to anything at all that they need help with – not restricted to Zappos products. They encourage email too, saying “Email us at email@example.com. Maybe we can brighten your day and you can brighten ours. Sending you a smile and virtual hug! We’re ready to help.” I love it! Read more here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/adrianswinscoe/2020/04/20/you-can-call-zappos-to-ask-for-help-on-anything-one-doctor-did-and-was-able-to-help-300-covid-19-patients/#4ba89bc86d28
A critical way all of us can do under the heading of “Respond” to customers is this: Raise your standards in terms of complaints management. It’s not acceptable to use COVID and lockdown as an excuse any longer when it comes to handling and resolving customer complaints. Be super-responsive in listening to complaints, listening to the customer’s pain, frustration, anger, disillusionment knowing that it comes from a context of hugely challenging circumstances. Now’s the time to step up to the plate and turn complaints into compliments like never before. We’ve worked with some amazing clients in this regard and would love to share some ideas with you on how you can respond to and manage complaints in ways that will yield exceptional returns.
The third R tells us to Review.
Review your business practices with your customers in mind. What does this mean? Take each major business function that touches your customers such as:
- Product design and development
- Marketing and advertising
- Post-sale service including self-service
- Pre- and post-sale communications
- Administration support including financial controls
- Complaints handling
Then, involving all relevant divisional heads (across silo’s), examine each business function one at a time and examine all relevant strategies, HR policies and practices, processes and systems. This review is looking for evidence that customers are consistently, positively experiencing your brand.
This is a time-consuming process but most worthwhile. Having helped numerous firms conduct reviews of this nature, I and my clients can attest to the fact that every time they have yielded results that far outweighed the resource investment. The improvement, and in many cases cost-saving, opportunities the spring forth from this exercise are significant. Brilliance provides a nifty online tool that helps guide all managers within your company to participate, take ownership, set deadlines and monitor progress in this type of customer-centric review.
Finally, we come to the P. The P stands for Proact
Proactively look out for your customers’ best interests. While the average company will do only what they have to do in order to serve their customers, the superior company will be more proactive.
For example, instead of just letting customers know when they have run out of medical aid benefits, a leading health insurer establishes system triggers (based on customer behaviour and predictive algorithms) to timeously and personally notify relevant individual customers that they are running low on a particular benefit. They use the opportunity to proactively guide customers on how to avoid running out, and what to do about it if it is unavoidable. They do this even though it does not generate any additional returns for the medical aid (not directly, at any rate). They do this because it looks after their customers’ best interests.
Customers are far more likely to trust you when you proactively go out of your way, without primary regard for your own profit interests. They recognise when the advice or guidance or information you are giving is more for helpful for them than it is for yourself. Have you ever been in the process of ordering a book from Amazon and received a pop-up message highlighting that you have already purchased this book? When that happened to me, it saved me from ordering the same book twice and so I didn’t proceed with the purchase. Amazon saved me money and/or inconvenience at no profit to themselves. I liked that. It scored big trust “brownie points” with me as I am sure it does with some other Amazon shoppers. Trust earned in this way generates manifold returns.
One’ actions in proactively looking out for customers’ best interests are not always seen by the customer. Many are unknown to them. Afterall, doing what’s best for customers is not about only doing that which is on stage. For example, in a product design meeting at an insurance company, one brave executive raised the concern that a particular product was being sold to customers as part of a package deal, but scarcely used by many customers. Few customers ever claimed the benefits due to them through this product and as a result it was highly profitable for the insurer.
The brave man didn’t believe it was fair of the firm to continue selling the product in this way, knowing that it was poorly utilised by customers and thus not providing the value they were paying for. Other executives aggressively guarded the company’s profit with convincing arguments. Eventually, the board recognised that they should take the pain and do the right thing. They did and I honour them for that. Now, customers who are not being sold that product are unaware of how much the insurer looked out for their best interests. I am convinced, however, that when a company is willing to do the right thing when no one is looking, they are much more likely to be found to do the right thing in their day to day activities. This is ethics true to the company core. More customers want to do business with companies like this.
In summary, our 3R’s and a P: Reach out, Respond, Review and Proact provide some points on how you can take effective steps to hold on to your customers. Do them well and you’ll be well on your way to creating customers for life. Do them very well and you’ll have those customers referring your company or products to others – a highly cost-effective marketing channel. Furthermore, based on PhD research at Goethe University Frankfort, it is found that people who become your customers through referrals are more likely to do a greater volume of business with you with a potential 25% higher profit margin.
If you’d like some ideas on how to more effectively Reach out, Respond, Review and Proact, let’s chat – Samantha@BrillianceCX.com