Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Talk To Your Customers...NOW!

In my twenty five years in business I have never seen a greater need for organizations to enhance customer loyalty and satisfaction...and fast. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is it's difficult to turn around sagging loyalty overnight. Building customer loyalty is like fostering relationships. It takes time, care and patience. Nonetheless, there are some things that can be done immediately to BEGIN affecting loyalty--and near-term sales.

LISTEN TO YOUR CUSTOMERS...NOW!

Some of the smarter, more successful companies are those that have protocols in place to ensure that formal reviews are conducted with key customers at least once or twice a year--if not quarterly. This facilitates critical communication so your customer can tell you what is going right...or wrong. When everything is going well, these meetings reinforce the partnership and the value of what you do for them. Even when problems are revealed it's a good thing as it enables you to fix the problem and restore the relationship before it sours permanently. This face-to-face model works particularly well in B2B and professional service companies. If your company does not do this--start now! It takes time and commitment but not much money.

Companies that sell B2C or remotely (via direct-mail, catalog, internet) can talk with their customers also--although it may require a more systematic approach. Recently I helped set up a specialized call center for a Fortune 500 electronics company. The purpose of the call center is to conduct customer satisfaction surveys and in the process--to find opportunities to cement relationships, resolve any problems and ultimately sell more product. You might be surprised how a simple phone call to customers warms them up toward your company and products.

Regardless of what business category you are in, do a quick 80/20 calculation and begin speaking/meeting with the customers that drive the majority of your sales. All the fancy marketing and loyalty programs cannot make up for simply LISTENING to your customers. They will appreciate you taking the time and you will learn how to better serve them. Many companies make the fatal mistake of not initiating a formal feedback system with their customers until it's too late--assuming that no news is good news. Unfortunately it often means just the opposite. The customer doesn't speak up because they have given up...and are already in discussions with a competitor who is positioned to steal your most valuable asset.

In future blogs I'll talk about a number of other ways to Harness Loyalty with your customers. But in the present challenging environment--initiating long overdue dialog is a great way to retain and grow relationships with your most important customers.

4 comments:

JiminJax said...

Excellent commentary and vital discussion in this economic period. Those who prepare now will reap greater benefits in the future.

Stephen Drees Allegiant Group said...

Thanks for chiming in Jim. It's amazing how beneficial it can be for companies to LISTEN to their customers, but unfortunately many don't because they are afraid of what they might here. Actually, it's what they hear from customers that will enable them to win and retain more!

caballo said...

Very important comments and insights. Loyalty will become even more critical in the emerging age of Web 2.0. Conversations among consumers, re: products and services can serve companies well if the discussion is among loyal/satisfied customers. Loyal customers can significantly enhance an organization's "Net Promoter Score". Companies need to build their army of "Promoters:" and minimize "Detractors."

Julian M. Parreno

Stephen Drees Allegiant Group said...

Thanks Julian. What is interesting about the initiative I referenced is the direct connection between Sat/NPS metrics and good old fashioned sales calls. It is the balance between these two that seem to reap fruit for this electronics company. Only doing Sat scoring can get expensive with little direct connectivity to revenue. Turning the call into a sales opportunity helps to "monetize" it more directly which enables them to remain committed to the approach. Very interesting...