By Lucy Kiruthu
Today’s business environment is highly competitive. Customers have a wide range of service providers to choose from. Switching from one to the other does not cost much. In an instant, one can open a new bank account, get a car insurance cover or switch the internet service provider. The selection continues to grow; restaurants, supermarkets, furniture stores, fruit vendors, petrol stations, electrical shops, boutiques, saloons, car washes and many other businesses are all lined up next to each other. In fact, some customers hold multiple loyalty cards for supermarkets, for airlines and for other businesses. Their loyalty is questionable; they accumulate reward points but this does not mean they are loyal to one service provider. It is expensive to look for new customers to replace customers that come and go. What makes customers stay and possibly stay for life is a combination of factors. I share with you the top five that I believe can help us keep our customers. Retaining customers is a big win for any kind of business.
Know your Customers
It is important to know our customers. Not necessary by name but who they are; their general profile, dislikes and likes. Knowing our customers takes effort and it requires listening to them constantly at every opportunity. By listening to our customers, we get to know more about them, we understand them better. In some businesses where the service is more personalized and the customers are more regular, knowing a little more details about the customers is crucial. Know their names, know what they do, get to know about their family, their background and anything else that would help build a relationship. My philosophy is that customers are people first and they like it when we see them as human and when we aim for friendly interactions.
Make Customers feel wanted
How customers feel is at the centre of customer loyalty. My simple thinking on customer service excellence is that it is about making customers feel great about being your customers− so great that they tell others about you. How customers feel is a culmination of many facets of the interactions they have with our business. Most important is whether these interactions make them feel wanted or unwanted.
In a business, many promises are made. Some of the promises are unspoken while others are made during daily customer interactions. A company’s brand in itself is a promise. A main source of customer dissatisfaction are promises made but not kept. Therefore, every person hoping to survive long enough in business needs to keep promises made. Keeping promises builds trust, which in turn strengthens relationships. Simple promises such as calling back, responding to an email, delivering as per the promise are crucial. Other promises include quality of the product, uptime for a service, turnaround time for a service etc. When promises are consistently kept, a trusting relationship flourishes and the customer is more forgiving when things go wrong.
Keep Customers informed
Customers want to know what is happening directly from you. They like it when you share with them information about what is going on in your business, new products, new services, major changes, new staff etc. In addition, customers do not like it when rules are changed on them and no one alerts them or when they have to dig out for information they should have. I was very impressed the other day as I was getting into a mall through a second floor entrance and the guard was kind enough to alert me that the particular entrance I had used would close at 8 pm and directed me. This was a simple but useful piece of information. The same evening while at the store downstairs, the cashier kept us waiting without informing us that he needed more time to sort out a credit card that had failed to go through. Customers like to be kept informed even on matters that may seem trivial. You may have noticed that some large stores use overhead announcements to share information with their customers. Other businesses send emails or SMS or call the customer with updates. How informed is your customer?
Finally, it is important for a business to be accessible. Accessibility goes beyond location to calls that are picked up, staff that are available and ready to help, managers that can easily reached for assistance, parking spaces that are available or reserved, web enquiries that are responded to, social media interactions that are attended to and to a business that is easy to do business with. Being accessible means that the customer finds it easy and convenient to use our services.
With the above insights in mind, it is important to point out that customer retention will not just happen automatically and none of these tips individually will make customers stay. Every forward-looking business therefore needs to be fully committed to making the end-to-end customer experience painless. The leadership team must lead the effort to make a focus on the customer a top priority and service excellence a way of life. Everyone must be involved and this must be seen in his or her attitude and behaviour towards customer. Collectively an organization can purpose to hold on to its customers from one generation to the next. Unfortunately, many businesses especially the small ones do not hold on to their customers long enough. Let us consider emulating a top barbershop in town that is today serving the three generation – father, son and grandson.
The author is the Lead Management Consultant at Evolve Business Consultants a Nairobi Based Management Consultancy firm on a mission to Inspire Positive Change in Business and Society. The firm focuses on Strategy, Leadership and Service Excellence. Please connect via twitter @EvolveConsults and Facebook @EvolveBusinessConsultants