Keeping customers for life. . . 29 proven solutions

by Arnold Sanow, MBA, CSP


Are you looking for effective ways to keep those valuable customers you worked so hard to get?


Do you want to become less of a commodity in the eyes of your customers?


Are you looking for ways to attract and retain your internal customers - your most important asset --- your employees?


And do you want to have business come to you?


In today's fast changing and competitive environment customer service is not only nice, but is essential for success. Tom Peters stated, "that if you are customer oriented, you're ahead of 98% of the other businesses because they are not", Time Magazine said, "the #1 marketing strategy for businesses and organizations now and in the future will be directly related to the quality of that organizations customer service." The bottom line for you and your company is that customer service is one of the only ways you can differentiate yourself from the competition.


In this article I want to share with you what the best companies and organizations are doing to increase their bottom line by becoming TOTALLY customer oriented


If you follow these guidelines on a consistent basis you will find that all your meetings and transactions will be positive, memorable and special --- And --- customers will seek you out, stay with you and tell everyone about you.


The first way to be totally customer oriented is to: 


1. Reward your customers - This is one of the biggest secrets and one of the most valuable lessons you can ever learn. Determine how you can reward your customers who use your services. You can either help them increase their business or help them on a more personal level. It can be as simple as sending them a gift, providing them a lead, getting business for them, or helping them find an opportunity to satisfy a personal desire. For example, a few years ago I was the keynote speaker at a major convention. The person who hired me liked the presentation but it was their policy to never have the same person back. In conversations with the person who hired me, I found out that he was a speaker to. He liked to speak but hadn't had much opportunity to do so. In the pursuing weeks, I looked for opportunities for him to speak. I finally found one, made the introductions and got him a speaking assignment. He was so thankful that he not only hired me back but also increased my fee and referred me to four more speaking opportunities. Although being good is important, rewarding your customers can truly differentiate and separate you from the crowd.


2. Use the services and buy the products of your customers - If you want to increase loyalty there is no better way. If you sell services or products to an optometrist, retail store, contractor, consultant, professional service or any business imaginable - make sure you use their products or services. This in turn will make sure that they continue to buy from you.


3. Send Thank you cards --- Although this may sound like commonsense, very few people do this. To make this work make sure your cards are handwritten and sent soon after you have performed the service. In fact, Peter Drucker attributed much of his success to the fact that he sent out 12 thank you cards every day. 


4. Return phone calls promptly - You don't have to do much to look good these days. Since so many people don't return calls you automatically look good when you do. In fact, I recently received a speaking opportunity with one company where I was their 3rd choice. The winning difference was that I returned the phone call. 


5. Do what you say you are going to do - In other words keep your promises no matter what the cost in agony or overtime. Mazda kept its promise with its Mazda Miata. In a recent years model the car's wiring system was not working. And instead of making the owners take their cars to a service center and go through numerous hassles, Mazda kept it's promise of providing a high quality car by sending mechanics to each house to fix it in the owners driveway. In another situation, a colleague of mine who lives in Ohio was supposed to deliver a speech at 8:00 am in the morning in Florida. The only problem was that he forgot he was scheduled to deliver the speech. Around 10:00 on the night prior to the speech he received a call from his brother who reminded him of the presentation. He searched all the flights and there was nothing going out that night or that late. Instead of giving up and reneging on his promise he kept searching until he found out that he could charter a medical transport jet. The fee for the jet was double the fee he was getting for his presentation. He took the flight out around 2:00 am and reached his designation at around 7:00 am. He not only won praise from the people who hired him for his willingness to do whatever it takes to keep his promise- but he also received many referrals. 


6. Do it when you say you're going to do it - If you promise to have something delivered to a customer on a certain date make sure you're on time. Better yet, have it to them earlier than expected. Also, make sure that there are no misunderstandings. If you tell someone on a Friday that you will have something for them next week, for many people next week means Monday. If you get it to them Tuesday or Wednesday you will be perceived as being late. Also watch out for words like often or ASAP these can have totally different meanings to different people. It's very important to be specific when setting times. It was interesting to note that in a recent study 76% of professional purchasing agents stated that the #1 reason why they would not buy a product or a service or deal with a salesperson was because they were late for appointments or meetings. 


7. Under promise and Over deliver. - If you really want to wow your customers, always give more than expected. Merchants' tires in Manassas Virginia increased their business substantially by following this principle. When you went to their garage to get your car fixed - they fixed that and more. In other words, if you came in for an oil change or tune up the mechanics would check out your car to see if anything else was wrong. When you went to pay your bill - they might tell you that a light bulb was not working and they fixed it free of charge. 


8. Be accessible - Make sure you are available and willing to help customers whenever there is a problem. Do you have an after hours phone number where people can get in touch with you or a person in your company? Do you have your home phone number on your business card? Is your business open to meet the convenience of your customers and not only for your convenience? In other words can I get in touch with you when I need to? 


9. Be credible - Do you and your employees express trust and confidence? When customers call into your office or come in person do you and your staff know what you are talking about? If you can't establish that trust right away customers may start to seriously look at your competitors. It's a good idea for you or an associate to call into your office now and then to see what information you are getting and how you are treated. You may want to hire a mystery shopper. This is someone who uses your business and looks at all aspects of the transaction. 


10. Appearance counts --- There's an old saying "Don't Judge a book by its cover. . . the reality is everyone does. Appearance can consist of the words you use --- Isn't it much better to say, "I'd love to find out for you" instead of "I have to find that out" ---- It can consist of your dress - People make impressions about you and your company instantly by the way you dress. For example when I did some consulting for the Marine Corps at one of their bases called 29 Palms many of the Marines thought I was with the FBI because I wore a shirt and tie. In California's Silicon Valley some law firms were losing business because they were dressed in suits and all their high tech clients were casual. In another instance customers thought the baked goods in a bakery were contaminated because all the bakers' smocks were dirty and the kitchen was disorganized. In one medical practice patients were concerned with the quality of the medical care because the waiting room was messy and the receptionists desk and work area were littered with papers. And one accounting practice lost business because they had numerous spelling mistakes on their forms and marketing materials. Remember perceptions are reality and people make inferences about you and your company based on your appearance. 


11. Show empathy - To the extent that you treat someone as special and solve his or her unique needs they will continue to come back. The most abused customers are the ones we already have. In many companies as soon as we get a customer we congratulate ourselves, forget about them and promptly look for new ones. Remember the best customers are our current ones. Instead of forgetting them we need to put ourselves in their shoes, stay in touch and continue to service their wants and needs. 


12. Have a goof kit --- If you make a mistake, it's not enough to say, "I'm sorry". People have many choices for the products and services you offer and they will change. Starbucks has a goof kit. In a recent encounter, I ordered one coffee drink and realized right away that it was the wrong drink. I mentioned this to the barista or employee and immediately they made me the drink I ordered and gave me a coupon for any other drink I wanted in the future. On a recent trip across country the American Airlines plane I was scheduled to go on left 20 minutes late. About a week later I received a letter from the President apologizing for the delay and adding 8,000 miles to my frequent flyer account. The key in both these instances was that they understood the situation and before I could even complain they took care of me. 


13. Get them customers and promote their products and services - Peat- Marwick's main customer service and marketing strategy is to set up 3rd party introductions of their best customers with those who can use their services. By getting business for your clients you insure you will have a customer for life. 


14. Do things for the customers' convenience not yours - Are you making it easy for your customers to do business with you? Are your hours, procedures, rules and policies customer oriented or are they focused on your needs? Are you like the Pest Control Company that sets up appointments for it's customers at 11:11 am or 4:32 pm and keeps them or the service is free? Or are you like the telephone company that mentions that they will send out a repairperson between the hours of 9-5 and the customer must stay home and wait? The easier you can make it for the customer to do business with you, the more business you will have. So, starting today determine what can you do now and in the future to get rid of the "hassle" factor. 


15. Send an invoice now and then with a "no charge" on it. When your loyal customers get an invoice for a service or product and find you are giving it to them free --- you will be remembered. Plus. If they receive this unexpectedly it will have a much larger impact than if it was expected 


16. Have a customer advisory panel - If you are a one-person company or major corporation make sure you get some of your best customers as your advisors. The best advisory panels consist of 6-10 people who are the types of customers who you want to work with in the future. Every 6 months have a meeting to share your ideas, concerns and challenges about your business. Let them know their opinions count and be open to whatever advice they give you. You may also want to have a business consultant, marketing strategist, lawyer and accountant on you board. Only by knowing your customers wants and needs can you successfully grow your business and be totally customer oriented. 


17. Hire mystery shoppers - To really find out how good your customer service is hire someone to go out and use your service from start to finish. For example, one hotel I did some work for hired me to give them an assessment of the customer service of their hotel. To do this I needed to stay at the hotel. I started taking notes from the moment I made reservations on the phone. I looked at everything from the customers' point of view from my arrival through my departure. 


18. Pay for their dinner - One client of mine makes it a policy that when he goes out to dinner and he sees one of his clients and their family eating he goes over says hello and picks up the check. Another client always brings an extra coffee when he meets with a client. And still another client sends a six-pack of ice cream from when something special happens in one of his clients' families. These unexpected extras show appreciation and build relationships. 


19. Be a resource. No matter what your customer needs try to find it for them. Even if it has nothing to do with your business. By being so receptive they will continue to call you about anything they need and every now and then you may be the one who can meet their needs. 


20. Send them to the competition. If you can't provide the service or provide the product when and how they want it recommend your competition. Also, let your competition know that you referred them. They may return the favor in the future. 


21. Kill them with kindness - A recent USA today article stated that "Americans are ruder than ever" Studies showed that simple kindness was the deciding factor in many cases when people decided where and who to purchase a product or service from. . . Success strategy #80 - 10 commandments of human relations 


22. Have a wall of fame and shame- When customers send you letters or e-mails praising employees on the great service they received make sure you post the letter. This will give recognition for the employee and show the other employees what good customer service consists of. On the other hand when you get complaint letters also post those. This will reinforce what poor customer service is all about. I would recommend on the shame letters that you delete the name of the employee who they mentioned as the problem. 


23. Speak their language --- Watch the jargon you use. If they can't understand you they won't use you. For example, if you are a computer consultant don't try to impress your client with all the high tech words to show how smart you are. Once the customer is confused, they will look elsewhere to get the advice they need. 


24. Have a great attitude - Everything begins and ends with your attitude. For example at some Hyatt Hotels if you do not smile at least 5 times in a 5-minute interview your chances of getting a job is almost nonexistent. At a hardware store chain on the east coast if any employee is observed with a poor attitude they are sent home for the day. Poor attitude effects how each and every person communicates with the public. One bad experience with a customer can result in that person never coming back. 


25. Treat your employees' great. Employees are also customers in the true sense of customer service. If they are treated poorly then there is a good chance your customers will also get poor service. 3 key ingredients for providing great customer service to your employees is --- 1. Recognize and appreciate them --- 2. Let them know what is going on and make them feel part of the team and 3. Show sympathy for their personal problems and give them the time and understanding to handle them. 


26. Give your customer what they want, when they want it and how they want it. In other words, determine the wants and needs of your customers first and then work backwards to develop the products and services. For example a few years ago there was an inventor in Europe who developed a mousetrap that was made of steel that would last for 20 years. He spent a million dollars advertising it figuring that everyone would want a mousetrap that would last 20 years. Unfortunately he went out of business. He realized to late that what the customer really wanted was not a mousetrap that would last 20 years but one they could throw out with the mouse. Remember the quality of the feast is determined by consumer not the chef. 


27. Give back to your best customers - If you run a special price or make a special offer make sure your best customers get the opportunity to get the same deal. For example one major cellular phone dealer lowered its price for new customers only. Long-time loyal customers were not allowed to get the same deal. Many of those loyal customers felt left out in the cold. Remember, it's so hard to get customers - let's do everything we can to keep them. 


28. Treat your "champions well" --- People who refer you are also customers. Keep in touch, thank them, provide them with benefits, send them gifts and do whatever you can to let them know you really appreciate their referrals. 


29. Don't show an attitude of indifference to your customers. In a recent study on why people give up on your company it was noted that: 1% die, 3% move away, 5% develop other friendships, 9% leave for competitive reasons, 14% are dissatisfied with the product or service and 68% quit because of an attitude of indifference toward the customer by the owner, manager or employee.


As we've seen customer service is more than just smile training, it's really about treating people the way you want to be treated and knowing how to treat them the way they want to be treated. It's also about giving the client what they want, when they want it and how they want it. And it really comes down to the fact that good communication and human relations skills = good customer relations.