You know the statistic: it can be up to 25 times more expensive to get a new customer than retain an existing one. But that’s not the only benefit.
Forecasting your revenue or planning your performance goals gets a whole lot easier when you have a base of renewing customers. A consistent professional relationship can result in free press and makes it easier to sell new services. And you won’t have to spend as much on marketing because quality referrals will do the work for you.
But how does one retain customers as a sales rep? Relationship advice may hold the key.
Although most relationship advice out there is pretty simple stuff, it’s deceptively simple as it usually holds a much deeper meaning than it seems.
There are plenty of tried-and-true principles that we can draw from when retaining customers. Plus, with our professional relationships, we know it’s not personal, it’s business -- which might just make it a lot easier to actually take the advice.
As you reflect on your strategies, think about how the following aphorisms might apply to your current approach to customer retention.
1. Know yourself.
“If you don’t love yourself, how the hell can you love somebody else?”
It’s one of the most common pieces of relationship advice, even though it has nothing to do with anyone else but you. Basically it means that before entering any kind of partnership, you gotta be honest about what you’re prepared to offer. Truly easier said than done.
Thankfully, there is a framework: the value proposition. Although usually a component of a business plan, there’s a lot to learn from when applying it to what you’re trying to sell. When considering your sales pitch, what do you say about the solutions, benefits, and differentiation in the market that your services provide? Are they true? How can you prove them?
Then, apply your pitch to the clients you want to retain. What does the ideal repeat customer look like to you? Get specific and get realistic. If your ideal client has needs you’re not prepared to fill, it’s time to take a look inward to figure out how to make it happen.
Remember: A value proposition is not a slogan. It’s a communication that shows your unique value to your client’s unique needs. Baking in an angle that anticipates the needs of a repeat customer, not just a new one, makes retention a lot easier down the line.
Don’t catfish your customer!
So now that you know who you are and what you want, it’s time to get yourself “out there.”
Just like how relationships that spring from a meet-cute are rare and pretty much only happen in movies, so is true with your client base. A potential customer is going to do their due diligence through internet research. What does a quick Google search reveal about your company or services? Is it accurate? If possible, take a moment to do some online reputation management to make sure the most accurate picture of you is out there.
You may wonder -- what does this have to do with customer retention? Making sure that the very top of the funnel is accurate can lessen complications or misconceptions down the road. If you’re realistic in how you explain what you do well and how your expertise is differentiated in the market, you won’t have to do as much of the work of convincing a potential customer of your value.
Your tone and voice matters, too. A great way to understand this is by recording yourself doing your best sales pitch and then writing it down. It’ll help you not only identify weaknesses in your persuasion but what your brand voice sounds like. Compare your speech and priorities to your ideal customer -- do they match? Are there other customers that might appeal to it that you haven’t been reaching out to?
Being real about who you are will also help you avoid “turnoffs” with clients before they start by weeding out incompatible customers. The more customers you attract that get you for who you actually are, the more likely those relationships will truly stand the test of time.
Conversely, don’t underpromise either. Underpromising and overdelivering may be a tactic for some, but a recent behavioral study shows it can undercut your value in the long run. This is because the generosity the recipient is expected to appreciate is only implied. Better to use your talents to keep your word.
Actions speak louder than words.
Show your appreciation the way they want it.
From a friendship to a family member to a romantic partner, appreciation is often cited as the number one way to keep any relationship fit. And for help, many turn to the “love language” model in terms of identifying ways appreciation can be displayed to their loved one.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, specific ways of showing appreciation to customers also falls nicely in line with this model. Unlike personal relationships, you can benefit from using all five languages simultaneously in order to cater to the varied needs of your customer base. Consider ways to do the following:
Sending personal “thank you notes” is always a great touch, but it’s hard to make it scalable. Shopify suggests grouping your customers into levels of thank yous based on their experience working with you or on events during the year (birthdays, valentines, etc). Another sustainable way to evolve a “thank you note” is by publicly celebrate your clients or writing about your relationship in a blog post -- Hubspot calls this “social proof” that can spur new customers, too. Gifts of words:
- Thank you notes
- Newsletter features and shout-outs
- Blog interviews
Acts of Service:
Or you can just call it “customer service.” It’s about going the extra mile to make their lives easier, or fixing a problem for them. Thinking about where your client will need your support and how easy it is for them to use it will help you select the kind of feedback forum that is right for you. Nothing is perfect, so starting this conversation before problems start can communicate humility and self-awareness that builds a real relationship with your customer.
Gifts of actions:
- Live chat ability
- Follow-ups on purchase satisfaction
When thinking about creating an experience as a way to show your appreciation, quality is definitely better than quantity. After you’ve built up a relationship, one strategy is to ask for some time to swing by so you can watch how their staff is using your product or services. It’s a win-win because you get both facetime and experience some real-time quality assurance.
Another idea: If you have interesting experts on staff, make them available for exclusive learning sessions. A way to spend quality time with many different clients can be through events, like educational conferences or delightful pop-ups -- but they often require a sizable budget to pull off.
Gifts of quality:
- Visits to client offices
- Expert access
- Hosted events
Think about this as “personal touch” -- offering a one-on-one, personalized meeting of the minds. It’s a way to show off your a nuanced understanding of your services and an empathetic spirit that a customer won’t be able to find in a bot interaction, or google search.
Gifts of touch points:
- Allotted hours for 1:1 strategy sessions
- Personalized industry intel
- Individual analytic analysis
Although this is the most literal interpretation, history shows that it’s perhaps the most longest running customer satisfaction strategy out there. Giveaways in particular have a history dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, when a soap-seller promised anyone buying ten bars of soap would receive a “present.” However, just like back then, these kinds of tactics may come across as suspicious if the method of how these gifts are selected isn’t transparent.
Gifts of… well, gifts:
- Branded items
- Rewards & Discounts
Never go to bed angry.
“It's not how we make mistakes, but how we correct them, that defines us.”
Mistakes are inevitable. Such is human nature. But the key to retaining a customer (as much as a personal relationship) is rectifying it quickly and meaningfully. Thankfully, you can plan ahead.
First, think about your communication tools. How easy is it for a client to reach you if something goes wrong? Is it on a platform that is the most convenient for them to use?
If at least some of these tools are automated or digital, you can employ data and analytic strategies to get ahead of problem trends to solve more quickly. Make sure to take note of the most common problems and complaints you’re receiving to continually work on solving more systemic issues while you’re correcting minor or quickly fixable smaller problems.
When the mistake has been made, it’s crucial to apologize. Always prioritize the relationship over your own ego and be as transparent as is possible.
But after you apologize, it’s crucial to make sure “it’ll never happen again” by actually solving it.
If it’s a known problem or common misunderstanding, make sure the solutions are front of mind and the resources are easy to reference. If it’s something new, explain all the steps to resolution and when they can expect to hear from you once it’s investigated. Why? Consider this statistic: 94 percent of customers surveyed by Label Insight said they would be more loyal to a brand that promises transparency. It’s what they expect.
Another strategy is by determining what an “apology credit” looks like in your industry. T-Mobile uses these credits not only as a tool to help mitigate frustration, but as a helpful metric in determining the quality of your service. When you offer less of them, it can be a good sign that you’re meeting your customer’s needs.
Although making mistakes can feel devastating, don’t despair. If you apologize and rectify quickly, it will build customer retention in a way that’s related to the other kinds of relationship advice above -- it shows authenticity.
Keep it spicy.
Variety is the spice of life.
Studies show that boredom can break a marriage more quickly than fighting -- and the same is certainly true for any customer.
One antonym of anything boring is something new. As Don Draper, master salesman, said himself, “the most important idea in advertising is ‘new.’ It creates an itch.”
He may be fictitious, but that advice is pure gold when it comes to both enticing and retaining customers. Have you offered anything new lately? Remember: “new” may not always be a brand new product or service, but perhaps a new way of using a product or service your client didn’t think applied to them.
Even if your product list can’t offer anything particularly new, the use of “surprise” can be another way to combat boredom. Create “a little bit of wow” (we’ll stop with the Mad Men quotes) by finding really extraordinary ways to prioritize the experience of your customers. Perhaps it’s by giving them overnight shipping for free (even though you’ve built that into your plan already, like Zappos) or including a small personalized gift of their favorite candy you noted from an offhand comment they made.
Here’s another idea: If waiting is an inescapable part of your sales process, think about ways to make your customers’ experience less tedious through gamification and rewards. Could the hold music your company uses contain a little comic relief? Do you have an FAQ section of your website that could offer a discount coupon, just for customers who go the extra mile to try and self-serve?
A little can go a long way.
We know that with these customer retention strategies in mind, you’ll soon feel how “when it rains, it pours.”
Because happy clients are top performers when it comes to quality referrals.
Have a successful customer retention strategy that we missed? Let us know in the comments!