Creating a Customer Relationship!

14 Mar

You are a brand new business and you want to attract and retain customers.  What is the first thing you do to find customers?  Maybe you advertise in a local paper or on television; or maybe a walking poster (you know where you hire someone to walk around outside of your business with a giant poster on advertising your business); or maybe a mass mailing.  Whatever it is, you do something to reach some unknown customers in hopes they will come to your store and shop.  There will be the curious who will come in for a look see.  But the mainstay customers are not so easy to lure in.  But if you have done your homework (great visuals, great staff, a marketing plan, a great product and a little luck), you will attract those customers too!  Once they are in the door, how do you partner with them?  How do get them to see that you have a mutual interest?  You have something they want (your product) and they have something you want (their money and loyalty). 

Start out by creating a relationship with your customer.  Get to know them as intimately as you can.  Know their name.  When they come in the door, have a raffle, a guest book, a customer savings program or anything that will allow you collect customer data.  Once you have that information, take the time to acknowledge the customer…thank them for visiting your business.  When they complete their transaction, make sure you thank them and invite them to come back.  Make sure you have eye contact. 

Next, make sure the experience the customer will have in your business is the best it can be.  The business should be clean and clear.  Your staff should be friendly and helpful.  If you do not have the product or service, help your customer find it elsewhere.  They will come back to you.  You are not losing but gaining a customer by this experience.  Your product or service should be as described.  If it does not work, make every effort to replace the product or refund any monies and do so with a smile.  This experience needs to be as positive as possible for the customer.  This can break a customer relationship.  Establish trust as a foundation of your relationship with your customer and you will find you will have an outstanding relationship with your customer. 

If you are an existing business and want to make sure you retain your existing customers and attract new customers, never treat your existing customers as if they do not matter. I see incentive programs where they offer new customers great benefits for becoming a customer and they ignore the existing customers.  This is a no-no!  Remember the reason why you have the success you have now is because of the existing customers.  And if I were a new customer, my first thought would be how long before they were going to treat me like that.  If you want to incentivize new customers, great but also incentivize old customers.  If you have had a customer since you started your business, offer that customer the best deal you have.  That is a loyal customer.  If you want to attract and incentivize a new customer offer bring a friend deal or a get know us deal.  This gives you a chance to learn about the customer and the customer a chance to get to know you.  Remember always collect data and then use that data. 

My last tip, for both old and new business, is to consider non-traditional sources for customers.  If you advertise on television on the sports channel, consider the travel channel or the Lifetime Channel.  If you advertise in USA Today, consider the Financial Times because you are the customer. 

You are the Customer

13 Mar


Every experience your customer has in your business, you will have or have had as a customer in another place of business.   So you are always the customer.  As you evaluate your experiences with other business try to imagine this is your customer in your business.  What happen when you entered the business?  Were you greeted?  How did you feel about the environment?  Was is pleasant and inviting? Did you find what you were looking?  Were the prices hard to find?  What you experience during your visit is your customer experience.  And if it has been awhile since you have had an experience like this, try it.  Go to a business, a restaurant if you are in the restaurant business. Whatever your business is visits a competitor and learns what a customer experience is there.  Then have a friend spy shop at your business and compare.  See if your customer experiences are any different from your competitors.  Take what you learn from these two experiences and improve your customer experiences because you are always the customer. 

How do you Define Customer Service?

9 Mar


Regardless to what business you are in, you have a definition of customers and customer service.  So let’s pull these words apart and see what shakes out. 

We will begin with customer service.  According to Dictionary.Com, customer service is a noun and is define as “assistance and other resources that a company provides to the people who buy or use its products or services.”  But is it more?  If all a business did was provide assistance and resources to people who bought or used their services, most business would probably lose customers using this process.  Customer service for most business is an array of services from the sale of a product or service to a concierge of information.  As you define customer service, you may find this will change as your business evolves.  This is a good thing.  The definition should evolve and it may need to be specific to individual customers.  As you look as historical growth of successful companies, you will see the evolution of customer service as their success grew.  A lot of emphasis is made of business plans in the beginning of a new company.  This is important but rarely included in the business plan is there a section that defines the customer service.  And since the customer is such a key component of your business, it seems to customer service/customer retention should be included in such a plan.   Finally, as you grow and redefine what customer service means to your success, include all areas of your staffing in the definition of customer service.  Regardless of your business, every member of your staff has some input that could be valuable to your success.  Seek their opinions out as you define customer service because any member of your staff that interacts with the customer has a take away from that interaction that can be valuable feedback to the definition of customer service, because you are the customer. 

 

Our next definition is the customer.  So what is a customer?  Yes, we all have definitions.  Customer is also a noun.  We will go back to Dictionary.Com for their definition first.  Dictionary.Com says a customer is “a person who purchases goods or services from another; buyer.”  That is easy right.  I don’t think so.  But the key here is the ‘person who purchases.’  For those who are in business, you have two key tasks, repeat business and new customers.  Someone who has never used your service or product is a non-customer.  So let’s define the non-customer and what must be done to attract that person.    So if a customer is someone who purchases a service or product, then a non-customer must be someone who has never purchased a service or product.  What businesses must do is converted the non-customer into a customer.  So how is that done?  I blogged about data collection and referrals but my next topic will talk about customer attraction.  But for now, let’s consider the customer definition from the perspective of how a customer finds a business.  Some of the answer is perchance.  The business is next to someplace else the customer is going or it is in the mall.  Yesterday, while at practice with my son, a parent comes in and says she was looking for a birthday present for her spouse and she found a great sports store next door to another chain store she was shopping.  She said it was a brand new store.  She said she found some great deals.  So all of the parents at practice too the name and promised to visit soon.  Not only did this new business make a sale with this parent, they have a new customer, they have some referrals and will probably have some additional sales.  Opportunities to gain customers are plentiful but you must be ready.   You need clean crisp signage and displays.  Your food presentations must be appealing.  Defining the customer requires knowing when they might appear at your business; what they may be seeking (having it is stock or having a raincheck); pleasant and helpful staff; and a concerted effort to attract and retain the customer because you are the customer.

Customer Service – Referrals!

7 Mar

It is a Tuesday afternoon and your place of business is slow. In walks Jane Customer.  Your helpful sales person walks over to Jane, “May I help you?”  “No,” replies Jane, “I am just looking.”    But what is she looking for?  When a customer walks into a business, with the exception of a restaurant where there is almost guaranteed a sale, there is the potential for a sale.  But what does it take to close the deal.

Well, there is aesthetics.  How does your business look?  Is it appealing to the eye?  Can multiple customers access the product at the same time?  Is it placed so if the customer selects one, it will tumble over?  Clean, crisp lines and displays make it easy for the customer to see your products.  If you have a promotion or item you want to push, it should be in displayed in a manner that makes it appealing to the eye. Before launching your promotion, run a few pre-market demos.  Have testers come in your business and rate the display.  This will provide some feedback as to its placement, attractiveness and accessibility.  With this data, you can better market the promotion.

There is always the issue of pricing.  Price your items competitively.  Do some market research. What are similar products selling for?  Is there a demand for the item?  Can the customer find the product online or at a competitor?  All of the factors need to be considered when you price your product.  You should also consider price matching if you can.  If you place all of interests in profits and lose your customer, you failed in the end.  If your customer returns for repeat business, you will make your profits over the long run.

Store personnel are a key component.  How friendly and helpful is your staff?  Do they make the customer feel at ease while in your store?  Do they answer questions and do they answer them correctly?  Do they go the extra mile for the customer?  This can be a make or break for customers.  I refuse to visit of my favorite Chinese restaurants, because the service was horrible.  The prices were good.  The food was amazing.  But the personnel were rude and insolent.  I gave up the restaurant because of the staff.  And I was not alone.  I found many others had done this.  Make every effort to take care of your customers.  They are the life blood of your business.

Where you are located can sometimes be a factor but there are remedies for that.  Is your business strapped for parking?  Is located in an area where the meter maid is circling the street looking for a car to ticket?  Or maybe the locale is not ideal?   Online shopping can be just as rewarding.  Just remember, you can collect data here and reward repeat business.  When you put your web site up, make sure you secure purchasing with a vendor like VeriSign or offer PayPal.  Reply to an online transaction with a thank you.  You may consider an incentive to have the customer come back to your site again.  Always look for methods to contact the customer again.  Ask the customer about his or her experience with your site or shopping with you!

If you have done all of these things right, your customer will return and that is a good thing.   But the best thing, is for the customer to tell a friend.  A referral is the highest compliment a business can have.  And this should be the goal of every business.  Some business offer rewards for these referrals.  If the customer does this voluntarily, you have hit the ball out of the park.  Think of your experience with a business, sometimes the product or service necessitates the visit (grocery store) but there is nothing that makes you choose one over another.  You can choose one closest to your home or one closer to work, or any number of circumstances.  But if you go the store farthest away from you, there is something about that store.  Maybe they have the lowest prices; or your favorite cheese; or a nice cashier but there is some reason why you chose this store over all the others.  And we all have such an experience.  This is the outlier.  And we all need to strive to the outlier.  We have told our friends about this experience.  Apple is an outlier.  And it is not because of their prices.  It is because of many things.  They do a lot of things right.  Their stores are located in great areas.  Their website is user friendly.  Their staff is knowledgeable and they work to get the answer.  Their stores and website are clean and crisp.  Their products meet a need.  And we all tell our friends about Siri!  As you look at ways to improve your business, look at ways to improve your relationship with your customer.  This is your business because you are the customer!

Customer Service – Data Collection

6 Mar

So you are in the business of serving customers!  Great! Keeping customers can be difficult if customer priority is not high in your mission or goals.  But how do you keep customers?  Some companies use gimmicks, while other others have incentives.  But the key factor to customer retention is service.  How good is your service?  Remember why the customer came to you in the first place.  They came because you had a product or service that was better than someone else…your competition.  Now that you have them in your grasp, do not lose them with poor customer service.

 

If you are restaurant, it is not enough that your food is great; there is great food in lots of places.  The service needs to be great as well.  Make sure the food is well prepared when it is delivered. In the restaurant business, presentation is everything.  If the meal is supposed to be hot, make sure it is hot.  Keep the cups or glasses filled.  Check on the patrons throughout the meal.  Offer other services…appetizers, after dinner beverage, and/or desserts.  Not only do these things help your bottom line, they show the customer that you are paying attention to them.  Have the manager; check on the guest, if not at the table, at least at check out.  For customers that patronize your business frequently, offer them an incentive, such a good table or a free beverage on a certain visit.

 

If you sell a product, make a reliable product.  If for any reason the product fails, immediately contact your customers with a replacement or upgrade.  Trust is an important component of customer relationships.  If your customer trusts you, you will have a customer for life.  When new products are introduced, tell your existing customers about it first.  Create and use a database of customers.  Collect useful data.  Demographics, frequency of contact with you, products purchased and time of purchase are all important data to collect.  With the data, you can know when, how and what your customers buy.  You can offer incentive programs when business is slow to get customers in. Or you can reward local customers.  Or you can create pricing points.  But at the very least, you should stay in touch with your custom quarterly.  Much can be done with this data.

 

In customer call center services, including remote services call centers, statistics (data collection) are critical to understanding customer retention.  How many hang ups are there in a twenty-four period?  And while I am not a big fan of recorded conversations, especially if they are used to review internal procedures, this tool can offer huge dividends in customer service.  Collecting the customer’s phone experience can provide loads of information that can be used to value your customer.  Another important statistics from call centers is the types of calls/inquiries you receive.   If you receive a common inquiry, this is an opportunity to address this issue, whether positive or negative.   Another important consideration for call centers, if you have long wait times, consider your customers.  Offer to call them back or give them real options while they are on hold.

 

Data collections are good sources of customer retention and feedback.  Many businesses give customers badges or key swipes that offer the current discounts when they shop.  But what happens with the data collected by the business?  With the swipe, you know the customer shopping patterns.  You know what they buy; how often they visit your business; what promotions they respond to; and much more.   Most times, this process becomes unruly because it too costly to manage.  But it is an amazing data storehouse.  Here is a perfect opportunity to suggest products to your customers, offer incentives or reward loyalty.

If you want your customers, consider your bottom line for you are the customer!

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