By Sandra L. Wiley, Boomer Consulting, Inc.
Congratulations! You accomplished the first step towards success in your company, you have clients! So… now what?
Everyone knows that retaining current clients is MUCH easier than finding new ones, or is it? Have you put some serious thought into how you are going to keep those clients you worked so hard to get? Retention requires attention! You will only keep clients if you continually provide them with ongoing value that not only satisfies them, but bonds them to your company!
Take note, it is all about finding ways to provide valuable products and/or services to your current clients. Since you are the expert in your area and the one who knows your product/service the best, only you can provide the information they need. There are thousands of ways to communicate with your clients and let them know that they are important to you; and unfortunately, that is what keeps some companies from being successful. There are so many choices. Some companies simply do not put any time or effort into retaining current clients and they don’t notice that they are slipping out the back door and heading for the competitor down the street.
There are some tangible strategies that you can implement immediately that will assist you in connecting with your current clients.
Use the Golden Rule: That very basic rule we all learned in kindergarten is the core of customer service. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated, with dignity, respect and courtesy. If you can follow this rule consistently, you will be well on your way to becoming a customer service pro. It’s easy in principle, but often gets overlooked when problems arise. Treat your clients as intelligent people worthy of respect, entitled to information!
Attitude Rules: It does not matter if you are on the phone, standing face to face or corresponding in writing. Attitude Rules! At Southwest Airlines, a company known for their exceptional hiring practices, the motto is “hire the smile and train for skills”. It reflects their belief that a new hire with a positive attitude can be trained for new skills, whereas a skilled hire with a bad attitude is far more toxic to clients and other employees alike. Whatever your skill level, your attitude can enhance it. Stay positive and endeavor to make a difference and you will. Remember, your attitude is contagious. If yours is positive, its effects will be too. Keep in mind, you can’t train nice! If you are nice and up front about problems, you can build a solid customer relationship.
Keep them Informed: Clients want to know that they are important. One way to show them this is by keeping them informed about EVERYTHING going on in your company. Product specials, recommendations for new uses of products, changes in technology, and new product/service offerings. You can do this in many ways and some of the best tools are most likely at your disposal today. Direct mail pieces, flyers, company newsletters, e-mail messages, press releases, thank you cards, welcome to our team letters, postcards with a note or product special, websites, and phone calls are just a few examples. The important note here is that you need to know how the customer wants to receive information and then comply. If you have a customer that hates e-mail and that is how you are sending them everything, don’t be surprised when they are not a “raving fan”. Be flexible and find ways to inform the customer as it best suits them.
KNOW the Customer Personally: Ok, you are probably saying to yourself… that is silly, of course I know my customer! Well, knowing their name is one step, but knowing what is important to them, what dangers they are facing, what opportunities they need to take advantage of and what strengths they can capitalize on is a completely different level that you must rise to. You need to build rapport with your clients. This is a matter of caring enough to talk to them about more than the business, but also about their life. This requires your time and genuine interest in the customer as a person. If it is not genuine… you might as well not try.
Be Accessible: How hard do you make it for clients to reach you? Is there a toll-free number that is easy to remember? Is the URL for your website intuitive? Have you added a conspicuous place to bookmark it for customer’s ease in returning? If visiting you in person, are directions and parking easily negotiated? Do as much as you can to make it as easy as possible to come back for more.
Above all - Empathy: Remember as a kid when you scraped your knee and ran home crying to mom. She consoled you, kissed it and made it better. Empathy is when someone “feels your pain, hurt, frustration or other emotion”. In customer retention, it is not enough to fix problems and replace defective equipment. It is important to clients that you feel their pain and appreciate their suffering. The more empathetic you are, the more soothed the customer feels.
Listen Listen Listen: We are all blessed with two ears and one mouth. This suggests we should listen twice as much as we speak. In customer service situations, listening skills hold the key to satisfying clients. Before you can solve clients’ problems, you must understand them. You do this by listening. Really listening. Listen for words and concepts; listen for facts and emotion; listen for problems and solutions which are often embedded in the information clients give you. Don’t assume that better communication skills mean you have to speak like John F. Kennedy or orate like Jesse Jackson. Listening skills are the most ignored aspect of good communication skills. More misunderstandings occur due to poor listening than to misstatements. To be a good listener, suspend that urge to speak while others are speaking. Don’t begin to prepare what you’ll say next. Listen intently, with ears, eyes, mind and body
Another way to connect with the customer is to provide some “in-tangible” strategies for the customer that they may not readily notice – but are just as important as the strategies mentioned above.
A sense of security: Did you know you give clients that “warm happy feeling” they seek when they call you? When they engage your professional services, they are relying on the fact that you know the in’s and out’s of your industry. They derive confidence from knowing that you will care for them and guide them through the sometimes hazardous journey to a successful event.
Experience: Over 30 years ago Jimi Hendrix asked, “Are you experienced?” Your answer is a resounding YES! In fact, your experience can save clients money and lead to more fulfilling events. Don’t sell yourself short! Pablo Picasso, when asked for an autograph, affixed a price tag equivalent to $15,000. The fan gasped, “But that only took you ten seconds to write.” He was dumbfounded. “On the contrary, “countered Picasso, “that took me a lifetime to write!” You are the sum total of your experiences as a professional. When people hire you, they are hiring the experience you bring with you.
Resources: You are also the sum of the resources you bring to bear on any event. You know the other vendors to recommend or subcontract with for success. You know the venues, the key players and others, whose reputation has been proven over time. You know your NACE colleagues who are capable of combining with you for success. In short, you know the lay of the land.
Vision: As an experienced professional you can actually see their event clearer that they can sometimes. As you listen and ask questions to understand their aims, you can then envision what they can’t, how to apply your expertise to make their event “all that and more!” You’ll have suggestions that never occurred to your clients. You’ll creatively combine floral arrangements, menus, invitations, music and entertainment in ways they never would have known about because you are visionary in your work.
Confidence: Ultimately you are giving customer’s confidence. With you on the job, they can relax and enjoy the events they are staging. You offload their headaches so they can do what they do best. The peace of mind you give them is priceless. Your savior faire carries the day. So remember all that you bring to the proverbial table as a professional. It is just part of the “value added” you offer.
Use Clarity - Always: Clear writing is writing that cannot be misunderstood. Clarity means there can be no ambiguity in your writing. When writing is clear, your words can have only one meaning. Remember to use this rule in everything you do: letters, brochures, web site content, e-mails and everything else that will be seen by the customer.
Keep it Short!: Informing them of everything is very important. Keeping your message clear is imperative, but brevity is the next key to connecting with the customer. Mark Twain, the famous American writer, wrote to a friend, "Sorry for the long letter. I didn't have time to write a short one." Brevity doesn't mean writing the perfect first draft; it means editing to cut repetitious and unnecessary information and ten-dollar words that might alienate your reader.
Say it with a KISS: Don’t panic, KISS is “Keep it Simple Silly”! Use easy words and short sentences to convey your meaning. When possible, use one- and two-syllable words. Many times, when you use words with three syllables or more, you force your reader to work too hard. It's far better to write, "Grandmother, what big eyes you have," than to tell granny that her ocular implements are of an extraordinary order of magnitude. Don't worry. You won't sound like a simpleton. The fact is: simple writing is a sign of clear thinking and hard work. Writing that is wordy and rambling is a sign of a writer who doesn't care or doesn't know any better. Using simple words does not mean you should limit your vocabulary. On the contrary, with a large vocabulary you can express yourself clearly and precisely-in as few words as possible. A good vocabulary lets you use one word to convey your meaning rather than several words to define what you're saying. With a strong vocabulary, you can say "tolerate" instead of "put up with" and "imminent" rather than "likely to occur at any moment."
Think like the Customer: It is important to assess your own company and find ways to build in powerful communications. Try thinking like the Customer. We spend so much time thinking like sales and marketing experts we sometimes forget to think like our clients. Like the ballot designers in Florida who forgot to test their designs with users, we must not forget to poll our clients periodically to remind ourselves of how they think and what they value, so we can best tailor our deliverables to their needs. One of the best ways of staying cognizant of our customer’s experience is to be our own clients periodically. What happens when you call your company? Have you placed an order through your website? What happens when you become a customer of your own sales organization? How easy is it to place an order? How easily can you glean information? Can you easily compare and contract products or services among those you offer? If it isn’t easy for you, an insider, then you can be sure it’s tougher for your clients.
Once again, congratulations on your first step towards success in your company, that new customer we discussed at the very beginning of the article! Now, you have the strategies you need to move to the next level in communications and keep your current customer by continually providing them with ongoing value that not only satisfies them, but bonds them to your company!
Guest Author Profile:
Sandra L. Wiley
Boomer Consulting, Inc.
610 Humboldt, Manhattan, KS 66502
Phone: 785-537-2358, 888-266-6375
Sandra Wiley is the Director of Marketing with the organization of Boomer Consulting, Inc. Sandra’s focus is in the area of marketing, training and sales. Prior to joining Boomer Consulting, she was the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at FirstBank in Manhattan, Kansas.