Sunday, April 5, 2009

Can Your Customers Be As Loyal As A Big Brown Dog?

First, I must start by defining the word "customer". A customer is that person or business who has already purchased from you or your business at least one time. Money has exchanged hands. Now, I know in many industries, your Sales Manager is likely to tell you to consider everyone you meet "a customer"... but reality is, if they haven't bought from you or your business, ever, then they are NOT a customer. The blogs that I write discuss ways to retain those customers you've already won and should not be confused with strategies to acquire new customers.

Why is it important to delineate between a Prospect and a Customer? Because the model you will follow to win business the first time has different tasks associated than the model you will use to retain the business you've already won. Just as you follow a Sales Cycle Model, you should create and follow a Customer Retention Model. A model is a series of steps executed the same way every time to arrive at the same result.

One statement that I hear over and over that I know is not true... "Customers are not loyal anymore". The truth is this... businesses have gotten lazy. Business owners, both large and small, often EXPECT their customer to be loyal, "just because". "If we sell them right, they will stay forever." There is value in this statement and it certainly helps if your salesforce is selling the customer correctly, but even if they don't, a customer can develop loyalty through effort on the part of the business. Creating loyalty takes effort on the part of the one expecting loyalty - take for instance, the loyalty of a big brown dog...

When I brought my chocolate lab home (he was already 4.5 years old), he was quite the independent mug. I did everything I could think of to make him like me and want to stay. The most critical period I was told by the Rescue Group was the first 30 days. If he didn't run away in the first 30 days, he would bond and become my best friend, and most loyal friend.

So... for the first week, I hugged on him, kissed his nose, took him for walks, fed him, gave him treats, bought him toys, played with him, I made funny faces, we played fetch, we danced, we snuggled, and I talked to him, constantly, like he could understand what I was saying... are you starting to see a pattern here? It took effort on my part to foster loyalty from him. But, once I got it - it was mine for life. He lived with me for nearly 6 years before he passed away... and, at the end, his eyes told me "I want to be with you even if it means living in pain". That's some pretty amazing loyalty! Cute story you say, but really Carol, how does this relate to my customers?

It's easy. Research shows that if you can build a bond and create a connection with your customer within the first 30 days, they are 78% more likely to stay your customer for life. But, it takes effort on your part... You have to "hug" them, "kiss" them, take them for walks, feed them, reward them with toys, treats and playtime and you have to talk to them! If you don't, they will find someone else who does...

Enter the Customer Relationship Management Strategy, often referred to as simply, Customer Retention. It is more than smiling pretty and calling your customers "darlin". Customer Retention is a strategy, an over-arching philosophy, that can be executed through individual contact as well as through automated means (technology).

Just like fostering the loyalty of your dog, you must foster loyalty with your customers. One thing is for certain, when it comes to whether or not your customers are loyal - YOU are in control. If you are reaching out to each and every one, and letting them know that they are important to your business and that you appreciate the money they spend with you - they will respond with loyalty, and quite possibly... a big slobbery puppy kiss! 8-)

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