Thursday, July 24, 2008

Customer retention as artful science....

Some great practical advice has found its way to me through a fairly complicated business-publication grapevine. Originally a column entitled "Stay in the Game: How to Retain Your Most Loyal Customers" written by featured author Joe Mullich for the fuelNet Monthly marketing newsletter, I found it in the Kiplinger Business Resource Center via an item in the June 20 edition of the SmartBrief on Leadership newsletter. Early on, the original story points out that the cost of landing a new customer can be ten times higher than the cost of keeping one you already have. In my own business experiences prior to starting my own firm, I was often surprised to see how new clients were prized over existing ones. Below, I'm presenting slight variations on Mr. Mullich's very wise tips -- in the order I feel makes the most sense -- and I highly recommend you visit the full articles linked above to see how he qualifies his expert advice.

. "Think long term." This is Mr. Mullich's #9 item verbatim -- I rank it at the top. When you approach your customers this way, chances are you will effectively address all the points to follow.

. Ensure you keep in regular, direct contact with your best customers. If it has been awhile, as Mr. Mullich suggests, handwritten notes are an especially nice touch.

. Invite feedback regularly -- and attend to problems immediately. Failing to keep an active dialogue often means that by the time a real problem comes to the surface, the relationship may already be sunk. But either way, resolving known problems quickly and to the best of your abilities is critical in the short and long runs.

. Ensure your employees and representatives reflect your values. One instance of poor customer service is all it takes to lose a customer for life.

. Personally: Consider doing for your customers what you would do for your best friends. Offering to do personal favors or otherwise apply your talents and resources to their personal challenges can cement your relationship.

. Professionally: Where feasible, help your customers solve their problems. Mr. Mullich suggests "going the extra mile," and sending your customers referrals as standalone points. Here again, empathizing and problem-solving efforts on your part are bound to convey the depth of your commitment.

. Give gifts with extreme care. I have given lavish client gifts in the past, which seemed to only generate a form of appreciation that was awkward at best. My focus in the past several years on giving charitable gifts has produced far better results....