If you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship, you’ve probably heard one person or another throw around the concept of the “seven-year itch.”
(A coin of phrase originating from the 1955 American romantic comedy film of the same name directed by Billy Wilder).
This phrase usually refers to a point in a relationship where one or both partners start to become bored or dissatisfied in the relationship. And whilst there is little to no evidence to support this directly, there is an emerging amount of evidence as to why we should pay more attention to it.
The human body constantly develops and changes throughout the human life cycle. The significant stages of the human lifecycle are:
- The toddler years
- Older adolescence
- Middle age
- The senior years
In the Bible, Psalm 90:10 (King James Version)
“The days of our years are threescore years and ten.
And, if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
In this sense, it was always assumed the average lifespan of humans is around 70 years, and should we survive longer than this, it be a decline in both our ability to function and our desire to do so.
Therefore if we use this as our model, and divide the 9 stages of life across the expected lifespan equally it supports my theory that we actually grow up in years of SEVEN!
For the first 7 years, we have been entirely reliant on others. (Be that parent, Guardian etc)
“Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” ― Aristotle
Between 7 and 14, we are learning to become independent. From 14 to 21 we are demanding our independence. From 21 to 28, understanding where our independence fits inside society and the world at large.
From 28-35 many people settle and become co-dependent, and some between 35-42 choose to have their own dependence (and so it goes on).
Well, knowing this, we can now ‘plot’ what else may be happening in their lives, and where there priorities may lay?
To best give an example of this, I’d like to sell you a washing machine!
You are 25, and you walk into my store advising looking for a washing machine:
“I’ve got just the thing for you. This washing machine comes in 17 different colours, is available on no deposit, with nothing to pay for three months and 0% interest-free finance payable over 4 years. What’s more, we have them all in stock and could have it delivered and fitted for you tomorrow. Would you like to buy a washing machine?”
You are 35, and you walk into my store advising looking for a washing machine:
“I’ve got just the thing for you. This washing machine has won several national and international awards for its eco-credentials, saving both water and electricity. What’s more, with its intelligent programming, App-enabled functionality and 9Kg drum. You can put the whole week’s wash in one load and it will work out what and how to wash effectively. We will also gladly take your old machine away during the installation and recycle it in an ethical manner. Would you like to buy a washing machine?”
You are 45, and you walk into my store advising looking for a washing machine:
“I’ve got just the thing for you. This washing machine is the industry leader and comes with a 10-year guarantee. Not only does it wash, but also has a rapid dry function, a ‘forget-me-not’ draw on the front for those last-minute editions and is the quietest machine on the market. Would you like to buy a washing machine?”
It’s the same washing machine!
Determining what else you’re likely to have in your life will determine which of these features and benefits are more likely to be of importance to you. And tailored my approach to what to share to demonstrate its suitability!
The Cycle of Life x 4
Just as we’ve looked at the 9 periods within a human life cycle, there is also other life cycles to consider:
- Your team
- Your products/services
- The Industry/Profession you operate within
- You: What period of the life cycle are you? And what are your highest priorities right now?
- Team: Do you have a young, middle-aged or ageing workforce? Who are the emerging leaders ready to take this business to the next level?
- Product/Service: How relevant are you? Are you an innovator, or are you becoming a laggard?
- Industry/Profession: Where in the Industry heading, and are you leading the way or struggling to keep up?
Ready to have a discussion?
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I’m reminded of a quote I heard in 2013 whilst attending an Entrepreneurs Conference at the NEC in Birmingham:
“When you sell out for £50M, as the business owner it’s all your fault…….”
There was a long pause whilst he allowed the 700+ audience to soak in exactly what he had just said
“However, until you make that happen, if you end up closing up and working in Tesco’s (other supermarket chains are also available!) that’s your fault as well”
The sway of the audience was palpable, as the eager and excitement just of hearing the words “Selling for £50M” was then SMASHED by the thought of closing the doors on their dream and stacking shelves!
The speaker was pointing out that as a Business Owner its ALL your fault. The Good, the Bad AND the down right UGLY! And today, I wanted to share with you the importance of just that.
I’m sure you have heard expressions such as “The customer is always right” and “Cash is king” many times over. But what does it actually mean, and how can we use this to get ahead in our business?
As some of you may (if you’re a regular follower of my blogs) my fiancé and I flew to Mauritius in September 2019 to get married on the beach and spend time on Honeymoon. Amanda was BORN into a 5* hotel chain (Both her parents had senior positions within the best hotel on the Island of Bermuda) and so she has grown up with not just ‘silver’ service but the highest level of detail to EVERYTHING as a norm.
Since meeting her (ironically at a conference) we immediately recognised we both shared the same preference for the forward-thinking approach which takes customer service, turns it upside down and promotes it to a customer experience.
It was through Amanda I learn the actual hotel definition between a 4-star hotel and a 5 star hotel! Whilst both must have a whole long list of services available to the customer 24/7. Including both within the hotel room and across the hotel complex. The ACTUAL distinction between the two is a 4 Star have “highly trained and attentive staff” whilst a 5 Star have “Highly trained PROACTIVE attentive staff” and in that ONE word, it recognises the difference between 4 star and 5 star – the difference between reactive and proactive; the difference between customer SERVICE and customer EXPERIENCE.
Although we had high hopes to have visited China, Morocco and Cuba this year, owing to the COVID pandemic and a Global ‘lockdown’ ALL our travel plans have been curtailed, adhering strictly to the government guidance on non-essential travel. And, as our first anniversary began to near, it was evident this situation was not going to ease, and so a PLAN B needed to be hatched, that our FIRST anniversary did not pass by un-noticed!
I scoured the internet for something that was both open and suitable, and thankfully found a 4 Star Spa Hotel overlooking Lake Windermere with whom was both open and available. I called ahead to confirm which facilities were and were not available (owing to COVID) and spent time speaking with the SPA team to book treatments for us both throughout our stay.
Closer to the day, I called back to confirm nothing had changed (owing to any localised changes in COVID guidance) and pre-booked dinner reservations (asking for the best table in the restaurant) arranged for a large bouquet of flowers, Chocolates and Sparkle to be delivered to the hotel and placed in the room. EVERYTHING I could to ensure my wife received the anniversary she deserves!
I shall not go into ALL the details, other than to say had it not been for a great spa treatment and a lovely evening meal (even if no attempt had been made to acknowledge I had asked for a ‘top table’ as it was our anniversary) we would have left long before we eventually determined to check out early and come home!
From a receptionist that huffed and puffed as we arrived, told us our booking was not in the system and asked “Are you sure it’s this hotel your due to stay at?” through to returning to reception to ask if the bouquet had arrived the following morning, to have this large well packaged box, clumsily dropped over the reception desk in an attempt to pass it to me, and bar staff that were too busy attending to the marauding crowds of ‘young adults’ non-residents who had no interest in showing any sign of respect for noise, or language or residents, but where clearly there to get drunk!
However, complaining to the General Manager was the last straw, as when I made a comparison to the experience we were having to a scene from Faulty Towers, rather than acknowledge my frustration and disappointment…..laughed in my face!
However, this blog so far, is only setting a scene, and could EASILY be happening (to some extent or another) in your business RIGHT NOW. If you have not already done so, I STRONGLY recommend you read my previous blog: SABOTAGE is rife in YOUR business
You see, on advising him that was the last straw, and immediately ‘checked out’ to return home. I crafted a very well-considered, professional and detailed letter of complaint, to which was sent to the GROUP CEO. After all, you can only ever complain UP, and if your complaint includes that of the appalling attitude to a dis-satisfied customer shown by a General Manager, perhaps the Group CEO ought to know? (In my business, I’d CERTAINLY want to know, if a client is unhappy with ANY level of service).
And although I received a speedy reply, it did not contain the information I’d expected!
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention. However, the hotel is not owned or managed by us. However, I have passed your letter to the relevant Managing Director and asked them to respond to you.”
This immediately raised my curiosity. Had I inadvertently sent a letter of complaint to the wrong person, the wrong company/group? I quickly followed my prior research to determine WHERE I had booked the hotel and how I had gained the contact details of the CEO to send the complaint…
I visited the same website to which I’d booked the break. Clicked on the link OUR Hotels, and there it was the hotel to which I was making the complaint.
Elsewhere in the website is a CONTACT US page, and within the footer of which details of the head office, from which I had found the details of the Group CEO to whom I’d addressed the letter!
With this, and having confirmed I had been correct, replied as such to the Group CEO. However the reply continued:
“Whilst we don’t own or manage this hotel, you were right to send your letter to me. I’ve forwarded to the right person who should now contact you regarding your feedback. – Therefore, we were both right!”
And HERE lies the problem…..
NOBODY likes a finger pointing at them. Even more when its something that they (personally) have had no input or direct control over. I’m sure if a member of your staff has upset a customer, who subsequently blames YOU – you also feel the need to be defensive, objectional, deny it was YOU that caused the problem?
But I remind you of those prior sayings:
“The customer is always right”
“Cash is King”
And another one
“Take one for the team”
In this single sentence reply, he has automatically demonstrated the fundamental problem within the entire Group of companies with which he is the CEO. Mitigation of responsibility in the face of the customer. Automatically taking the defensive “It’s not my fault” stance, and as such determining ANYTHING that now follows will be AT BEST a customer SERVICE. Reactive, as a result of something the customer has had to instigate.
Whilst management at times can be tough, Leadership takes a different level of commitment, service, forethought and consideration. Whilst management can be taught, I truly believe Leadership has to begin from within.
I’m still awaiting that response from whoever he has allocated to respond, but I can almost guarantee the response I’m going to receive will echo my current perception of the brand, and as such FAIL to acknowledge my last thought for the day:
“ANY brand is only ever as good as your last experience of it. And so, in making a complaint, is an exceptional opportunity for you to demonstrate HOW much you value the customer AND their feedback”
What you do now, determines EVERYTHING you will be known for from this point forward!
Whilst so many are keen to share their ‘perfect lives’ on social media, with glamorous photo’s depicting success in its many forms. The simple fact is, life ISN’T all rose petals and sunshine. The reality can often be VERY different to that which is being portrayed.
I take great pleasures in watching as my clients win awards, take on new staff, new offices, new clients. Take luxury holidays, buy their ‘dream home’ and enjoy all that life has to offer.
But life is not always as grand. Yesterday, I had the displeasure of offering a ‘reality check’ to a client on where we are right now. They have been working for almost 2 years now on this project. Applied a large chunk of time, and money and resource to it, with high expectations of this taking them ‘to the next level’.
I was most grateful to be invited to ‘BETA TEST’ the project prior to launch, and on Friday was given ‘behind the scenes’ access, with invitation to offer feedback and comment.
But I don’t simply glance over it and say WOW. That would be both incongruent, unethical and of no real value. I take the time to consider WHO they are targeting with this project. Immerse myself in THAT persona, and by doing so determine if THIS meets THEIR requirements.
My feedback is detailed, measured and well considered. They are not looking for a ‘pat on the back’ and a “Well done” (Anybody can do that for them. No, my role is to break it. Smash it up and destroy it. My role is to be the antagonist, the disruptor, the down-right, damn awkward, belligerent one with whom is never satisfied, who finds fault in everything, and challenges your every action and consideration! (And, after years of ‘practice’ I can play this extremely well).
You see, for the majority of business owners, they miss a vital part in the importance of standing apart. Standing alone from any other business in their sector, in fear of missing out!
I will NEVER forget the words spoken by Warren Buffett, when he declared:
“If you want to reach the very TOP of your profession. You FIRST have to segment yourself in every way, from everybody else at the BOTTOM of the industry. Only once you are different can you begin to ascend”
And yet the majority of business owners are so fearful of ‘going it alone’ that in some way, shape or form. They break, they compromise, they go back to ‘SAFE’ and by doing so also compromise on the chance to be seen AS something different!
We all know the quote:
“If you always do, what you’ve always done. You’ll always have (at best) what you have already”
And yet, there are still far too few business owners truly willing to BREAK THE MOULD and set themselves out as SOMETHING DIFFERENT!
My clients don’t come to me to be there best friend (Although we are friendly to our clients). They don’t come to me to be congratulated or praised or rewarded (Even though we remain both genuine and generous in our recognition of our client’s achievements).
My clients don’t come to me for a shoulder to cry on, a hug or tissues (Even though I have been known to provide all of these things).
What they come for is honest, authentic, customer centric feedback, guidance and accountability as THEY build THEIR successful businesses.
So, on Friday, a client invited me to ‘take a peek’ behind the scenes at the ‘finished project’ prior to their intent to launch this week. They have spent 2 years working on this, and have a significant marketing campaigned planned over the next 2-3 months to really drive this project forward to both their current and future target clients.
But rather than crack open the champagne and deliver a compelling vote of confidence to the team. I’ve put a huge great oily spanner in the works, which has halted proceedings!
Can’t see the wood for the tree’s
You see, like MANY other business owners, who are so busying working IN the business, they fail to allocate sufficient time to STOP, take a birds eye appraisal of the business, who it is serving and the impact is it having. They get so wrapped up internally they simply (and so easily) stray one degree ‘off course’. And whilst this may appear nothing (at the offset) left unattended and this will NEVER enable you to achieve what you SET OUT to achieve!
My role in this regard is to therefore measure your current efforts and actions against the overall business plan, to determine how is THIS contributing to THAT? The easier it is to see the correlation, the more likely it is to achieve it! The more elaborate we have to be to make the correlation for more we have blown off course.
I’ve spent my time, going through line by line of the project to determine what is the intent, and in line with the business plan, the ideal target client avatar, the customer journey where this project has become misaligned with these objectives. We’ve looked at what now is required to bring this project BACK into alignment, and project planned a revised timescale as to the impact this has on the other elements of the business.
I’m deeply sorry, not to have been able to break open a bottle of champagne today and celebrate. But I’m not sorry in the slightest as to the reasons as to WHY this is the case. Knowing full well, if you want to be exceptional, you have to deliver exceptional. If you want to be seen as DIFFERENT to everyone else, you have to BE different to everybody else. If your goals are to achieve more, we first have to BE more!
Kaizen philosophy teaches is the importance of incremental improvements. Not completely changing something, simply perfecting everything we do.
We ALL have systems, processes and people within our business. Things may appear to be ‘running smoothly’ and so, you are busy looking for ways to GROW and SCALE?
What have you FAILED to re-check recently?
What are you overlooking that once you have delved back inside, will find ISN’T exactly as you had thought?
What INCREMENTAL improvements can you make on the fine tuning within every aspect of your business, so go from GOOD to GREAT, and from GREAT to EXCEPTIONAL?
The little things ARE the big things.
And missing these in favour of NEW is costing you greatly!
You might also like:
A little knowledge is dangerous
17 reasons YOU are holding YOU up
Sorry Nan, but your WRONG!
Marketing is all about getting new eyeballs on your site, and new feet in the door, right? New customers are what we’re after!
Except gaining new customers is expensive. Keeping your current customers isn’t.
A mere two percent increase in customer retention, for example, reduces your costs by 10 percent.
You’re better off putting more focus on keeping customers who currently support your business than chasing after those potential ones who don’t.
It’s important that you understand that truth or else you’ll make the mistake far too many business owners do by balking at the effort and apparent cost of retaining your long-term customers. Letting your current customers slip away because you didn’t understand how valuable they are is bad business.
Why Current Customers Are Worth More
It’s easy to get caught up in the fascination with potential customers, those customers you don’t have now but want to attract. Most businesses focus on getting new customers with their advertising and PR unwittingly isolating current customers.
Putting a majority of your focus on customers you don’t yet have is harming your bottom line. Data clearly shows that 70 percent of customer buying experiences are based on how a customer feels they are being treated, with 86 percent willing to pay more for better treatment.
When your focus is solely or mostly on the customers you don’t yet have, your current customers often suffer in how they are treated. And that makes zero sense. You spent so much money to get the customer; why wouldn’t you focus on them know that they are here?
When customers leave, your profits take a hit. Even just a small reduction of 5 percent in customer defection boosts your profits between 25 – 125 percent!
Improve Your Customer Service. Now.
The top reason that customers leave a business is when the service they receive is terrible.
In 2013, a survey discovered that 62 percent of customers left their service providers due to poor service. It wasn’t price. It wasn’t product selection. It wasn’t location. It wasn’t the hours a business was open. It was poor customer service that made more than half of them leave!
By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product selection as a reason to choose one brand over another.
Where are business failing in regard to customer service? According to a Global Consumer Pulse Study by Accenture:
- 91% of customers get frustrated because they have to contact a company repeatedly for the same problem (Problem: poor communication, lack of resolution)
- 90% of customers are frustrated when they are put on hold too long (Problem: understaffed support centre, poorly trained employees)
- 89% of customers are frustrated when they have to repeat their problem over and over to multiple representatives as they move through your support chain (Problem: support chain and system too complex and unwieldy, lack of personal attention to individual customers, customers are seen as their problem that needs solving instead of as people)
Price and selection are not the main goal.
Think of what most businesses focus on. They lay claim to the best prices, the best selection — but they’re missing the point. Customers might arrive because of a price point or because of selection, but they stick around because the service is good. Period.
This is good news for a small business that maybe can’t compete with a Big Box store. Even without the huge selection or rock-bottom prices, they can make up for it in leaps and bounds with service. For small businesses especially, who have managed to gain a customer in spite of an inability to compete on price and huge selection, excellent service can keep them in play.
Good service means surpassing expectations.
Good service means going above and beyond. It isn’t merely meeting the bare minimum of what a customer expects, but involves delighting a customer.
It’s that moment when a customer is in the store and a free surprise is thrown in the bag, or the repairman comes back to fix something a week later free of charge, taking responsibility for missing something on the first repair job.
Good service means:
- Being personal. Personalise your customer’s experience. Keep a file so that you know your customer’s preferences and details from previous encounters. This allows you to offer recommendations that fit them, or to provide service based on what they have and need instead of coldly getting them to fill you in on necessary details each time. Send birthday cards with coupons. Let them know of a new product they would be interested in. Greet them by name when they come in the door. Be personal and show that they matter to you as a person.
- Owning up to mistakes.Whether you didn’t do the repair right the first time or made some kind of mistake, own up to it right away when a customer confronts you on it. Then, offer to make it right at no charge, preferably adding a bonus of some kind to let them know their business matters to you. Good service does not pass the buck or blame the customer.
- Trained employees.Your employees are the face of your customer service. They need to be trained not just in the knowledge of how to do their job, run specialised equipment, or make the sale, but also how to work with customers.
Key skills that your employees need, according to Help Scout, are:
- Customers arrive in front of your employees frustrated, upset, angry, happy, confused, curious — just about any way imaginable. Employees have to be patient as they try to figure out what customers need and want, separating and extracting that from the emotional wrapping it arrives in.
- There is nothing more frustrating than an employee who is distracted and not paying attention to the customer. Your employees must know that when a customer is in front of them, their friends, phone, or coworkers antics don’t exist. Only the customer, and what they need, exists. They must see it through to the end without being distracted. Customers pick up on this right away, and it is a particular challenge with younger workers who want to have fun with coworkers or spend time on their mobile phones more than they want to help customers.
- Customers don’t always speak clearly about what they need or want, and it takes a well-trained employee to be able to communicate with such a person. Communication is both re-wording and summing up what the customer wants as well as explaining the options available. Employees also need to communicate billing and sales clearly so that customers aren’t shocked when a bill arrives. Purposeful tricky communication might make for a one-time larger sale, but that customer will never come back after feeling “cheated.”
- Customers expect you and your team to be the most knowledgeable about what you are selling. If a customer asks your employees a question and can’t receive a direct and helpful answer (or isn’t taken directly to someone who can help in a timely manner), they will go elsewhere. After all, why buy from a business that doesn’t know much about what they are selling? It suggests that any future needs, such as repair or follow-up, might go poorly.
- Positive language. Being able to frame a negative into positive language is a must. Instead of telling customers “we don’t have that in stock”, employees should learn to put a positive spin on it and say “we can order one for you and have it delivered in a week.” Even if the customer doesn’t bite for the offer, they won’t feel like your business responded with a “no!”
- Anyone who has worked with customers knows that some days, you’re just not into dealing with people. That’s where acting ability comes in (and a good policy for giving your team breaks). Employees have to act interested, patient, positive, and helpful, even if they don’t feel it. No customer wants to feel (or hear about) the personal negativity of one of your employees.
- Emotional intelligence. Employees need to learn to read customers. Some customers are having a bad day and need to be handled differently depending on how they feel or their personality (e.g. want help, want to be left alone to decide).
- Customer-focused. In addition to Help Scout’s list, I’d add that employees have to remember it’s not about them. Keep your employees from talking too much about themselves, sharing too much about their personal life, or hogging the conversation. Customers get frustrated when they are merely trying to make a purchase or do business and an employee chats them up or burdens them with their life.
Excellent customer service is one that is painless to customers. The entire process of finding, considering, questioning, and ultimately purchasing is done without hassle or struggle. Anything that creates a snag in the process is a problem point you need to work on with your team.
Too often, in a world where excellent customer service is lacking, good service is seen as meeting the bare minimum. If you can do that, you’re at least not disappointing the customer, the thinking goes. But meeting a customer’s expectations isn’t the customer service level that will set you apart from your competitors; your low level of service can easily be exceeded. Going far beyond the customer’s expectations is good service.
Customer service matters in online reviews.
These stats of customer behaviour based on customer service are growing every year. Angry or annoyed customers in this current age can not only leave your business in the rear-view mirror, but they can write a review of your business online and possibly hurt how many new customers may try you out in the future. Check out those online reviews — not just yours, but any and all and realise that most of them are about customer service, not product or price. Rare is the negative review for a business that complains about a broken product. You’ll usually see such a review that might mention the product didn’t work but how wonderful/terrible the company backed it up in service. Even in restaurant reviews, where the food and the ambience should be the most important, you’ll see reviews based on how a server treated a table.
When word gets out about stellar (or poor) customer service, people can easily read about it on their phone and shift allegiances. Customer service generally trumps product selection and price.
Make it Easy to Buy Again
Making it easy to buy from you again is an obvious way to keep your customers returning. This might include:
- Certain products and services do well with a subscription setup. The selling point is one of low hassle. The customer doesn’t have to remember to buy the next time; you’ll handle it instead and get the product to the customer on a regular basis. The rise of subscription boxes (e.g. Graze, Birch Box, etc.) shows that this is an appealing approach for many customers. Plus, a subscription keeps your brand in front of your customer on a regular basis.
- Bonus or samples. Adding bonus content, free samples, or other extras at no cost is both a surprise for the customer (remember delight the customer) as well as a good way to get customers to try something of yours that they might not otherwise have tried. They may like your sample enough to buy the product the next time around.
- Up-selling and cross selling. Offering related products (cross selling) or higher-end or additional products (up-selling) is a good way to get customers who might not have considered additional purchases to do so. In order for it to work, though, the additional products have to truly add to the value of the original product or have to be shown to be of higher value to the customer.
- Loyalty programs. Loyalty programs reward regular customers. Loyalty programs can go wrong in two ways, though. The first is if you require too high of a purchase amount before getting a measly reward (e.g. “Buy 20 lattes and get 10% of your 21st drink!”). Loyalty must be rewarded sooner, and with something of value. The second problem is the pressure some businesses put on customers to join, confronting them at the point of sale on a regular basis, and gathering personal data. (We’ll talk about that in more detail in a bit.)
- Website recommendations. If much or your sales or customer interaction comes from your website, take a page out of Amazon’s book and go strong with customer recommendations. It is similar to the up-selling and cross selling that you might do in person at the register.
- Referral programs. Reward customers who get their friends and family to become customers. Word-of-mouth recommendation is powerful; these types of recommendations are trusted more than anything you can put out. Create a program that rewards customers by offering discounts, cash back, exclusive savings, and so on.
One word of caution: customers face an onslaught of questions and pressure when at the checkout register or in online shopping carts to get brand credit cards, get additional products, upgrade, and so on. In your efforts to up-sell or get customers to sign up for loyalty cards, you could very easily be harassing them to the point they avoid shopping there. Consider how you feel when you run into a store to purchase an item or two and are asked if you want to save 10 percent by signing up for a credit card. It’s annoying.
Balance is the key. Not every transaction should have other offers bound to it. Rotate so the customer’s experience with that kind of up-sell or loyalty card pressure is periodic at best, but not constant.
What kinds of barriers do you put in front of customers who want to buy again? Do you require them to know the part number they need for their particular product? Do you keep records on what they bought in the past or leave it to them to remember? Do you offer them a deal and reward them for coming back, or do you treat them as if they are always a first-time customer?
Removing the barriers to buying again is crucial to keeping your customers around.
Protect Your Customer’s Privacy
Old-school marketing tactics that infringe on privacy are not appreciated any longer (if they ever were).
Customers are tired of paying for products and services while knowing that their personal information is going to be used as its own product for the business to make money off of. According to studies 82% of customers feel that they cannot trust businesses to wisely use the personal information they provide them.
While marketing playbooks may chide you for not making use of customer data for every and all purpose, people who are experiencing privacy loss on social media and online are weary of it. They are not thrilled to hear that every purchase they make at a store might be data sold elsewhere.
- Only collect information you need. When signing up for a loyalty card program at the register, no customer should be asked extensive questions that clearly reveal an abject database collection process. Any information you collect beyond the bare minimum feels like an invasion of privacy and turns customers off. Do you really need to know their income level in order to offer them coupons? Of course not. That kind of data is clearly needed for some other purpose beyond loyalty rewards.
- Respect a customer’s wish to be anonymous. Asking for a phone number at the register first thing is frustrating to customers who protect privacy. A better question might be “are you a member of our loyalty program?” Forcing a customer to deny the phone number is an opt-out approach (we’ll talk about that next) that can be uncomfortable to customers who simply want to buy without confrontation or the additional weight of decisions at the point of sale.
- Take an opt-in approach. Separate data collection from loyalty programs, or the simple act of making a purchase. If you want to collect data for other purposes (e.g. research, targeted marketing), it needs to be opt in, not opt out. Use surveys and other bonuses to get people who want to participate involved.
- Post a notice that explains how their information is used. Make it clear to customers, both in stores and online, how you will use the information that they give you. Use normal language; obfuscation in language makes you look bad.
- Promise privacy and keep the promise. When customers sign up for mailing lists, let them know you aren’t selling their email or postal address to anyone else. And then don’t sell it. How frustrating it is to subscribe to a magazine, for example, and in the next month be flooded with junk mail related to the topic and realise the magazine took your subscription money and also sold your name to a mailing list.
The problem with collecting so much data, particularly at the point of sale, is that you force customers to make decisions when the only decision they should be making is to buy. With websites, it is easy for customer to walk away from their cart if the pressure is too much. In stores, it is uncomfortable and customers won’t forget that when they consider where to buy next.
Have Great Selection, But Reduce Choices
Too many choices can paralyse customers.
A well-known study involving jam, revealed that people were more attracted to the large selection, but when it came time to actually buying something, a smaller selection fared better. Customers like the idea of having lots of choice, but they don’t do very good with making buying decisions in those settings.
What business doesn’t like to lay claim to having a huge selection, though? That’s likely a huge selling point. You can still have a great selection, and attract customers while making it easy for sales to happen.
- Bundle products together. Which products are related? Which products to customers tend to buy together? Which products go well with others? Creating product bundles reduces the amount of decision making a customer has to do. They don’t have to decide between 12 items, for example, but instead between four sets of three items. Include the incentive to save if customers buy a bundle, and you have a winning combination.
- Feature items regularly. Whether featuring products prominently online or in your store, or highlighting them in an email newsletter, help customers discover great products that they might not otherwise find. Bookstores will often have displays which feature books around a theme; this helps customers find books they might not have found otherwise and encourages sales for those who are overwhelmed by shelf after shelf of books.
Keep your great selection but reduce the weight of decision making for those customers that need a bit of help.
Use Email Marketing
Email marketing is a powerful tool. The Direct Marketing Association discovered that for every £1 you spend on email marketing, you get a return of about £40. That is an excellent ROI!
It’s not just a great ROI that makes email marketing so powerful, though. Much like product subscriptions, a regular email newsletter keeps your brand in front of your customer’s eyes and helps them to remember to buy your products or use your services.
The most successful email marketing approach, though, will be customer-oriented, i.e. helpful. This means you must be thoughtful in how you collect customer information as you create your email list. A mere email address is not enough.
- Segmented lists. Segment your master list into groups of customers based on interests, products they use, and so on. This helps ensure that you send them the most helpful information possible. It feels personalised. You might create these segments by asking what their interest are when they sign up for your email list or sign up in the store.
- Helpful ratio. Most of your email should be helpful, and not just self-promotion. Provide coupons, helpful content, links to your most useful blog posts, or exclusive content or deals only available to your email subscribers. Most of your email should be helpful, and encouraging sales passively rather than aggressively promoting “buy buy buy!” Show customers you care about them as a person.
- Be personal. Use the customer’s first name in the email. Use past purchases to recommend customised future purchases for a segment. Send out coupons or exclusive deals for birthdays or the anniversary of their first purchase from you. Show your customer you’re paying attention to them as an individual
Your emails to customers must be relevant to their individual interests, or your emails will be ignored.
Listen to your Customers
It’s surprising how few businesses bother to ask customers what they think of their experience. Most businesses see customers as data points, particularly larger companies. Surveys that can be measured are all these larger companies can feasibly deal with, even if the customers have something important to say that goes beyond the limitations of a quick and generic survey.
But your customers have valuable things to say.
Gather customer feedback.
Do you have a systemised approach to gathering customer feedback? Most customers won’t offer it to you automatically (though now they will happily leave it in an online review for the world to see). Many customers who are dissatisfied never tell you; they just stop patronising your business. That’s valuable information walking out the door. Don’t you want to know why they are leaving?
What you ask your customers will vary depending on what you are selling, but there are a few general questions you might ask, along with the specifics for your business:
- What did they expect, and what did they actually receive?
- Did they find what they wanted? Was it difficult for them to choose a product?
- Did they feel pressured to do something they didn’t want to do?
- Do they feel confident about their purchase?
- Did they receive the help they needed?
- Was the product/service what they wanted?
- Was the price what they expected?
- Was support or customer service helpful during and after the purchase?
- Will they come back? Why or why not?
How you gather that customer feedback matters, too. Go beyond the rote survey tacked onto the end of a receipt that customers are so used to now (and so wary of; see data collection and privacy section), if you can. You might consider:
- Talking to them in person or directly through a one-on-one email.
- Having a dedicated space on your website that allows them to give you feedback.
- Having customer appreciation nights and give them a chance to let you know how you’re doing.
- Providing a suggestion box in the store.
- Allowing customers to communicate privately or anonymously. Not everyone is comfortable complaining.
- Create a focus or beta testing group before launching a new product and encourage honest feedback.
- Have customers involved in testing out products, store setups, or soft launches and gather their feedback before actually launching.
Gathering customer feedback should not be onerous for the customer. Remember, you’re avoiding barriers to purchase. Even if the feedback request comes after the purchase, they’ll avoid future purchases if they know there will be a burdensome survey every single time.
The Square app that is so popular for credit card payment emails a receipt that lets customers click on a smiley or frowning face so that customers can let them know how they felt that transaction went. A further detailed survey is available, if they want to participate, after selecting one of the faces. This respects your customer’s time, instead of loading them down with a huge survey, and makes it easy to determine the general feelings a customer has toward a business right within their Square dashboard.
Whatever you decide to do, create a system that allows customers to talk to you, rather than forcing them to get necessary satisfaction by venting and talking only online to the public instead of you. You can learn so much, even in the middle of a rant, if you really listen to what set a customer off or what made them happy.
And, of course, reward customers for participating in any kind of feedback program. Their time has value.
Understand the data
Customer feedback, and any other similar customer-related data, are only useful if you understand what it is telling you. Inc.com suggests three key areas where data should be applied when focusing on customer retention:
- Customers with one foot out the door. Some customers are on the verge of leaving. You want to identify who those customers are before they leave. Software apps often use “adoption” as a standard, i.e. if a user hasn’t shown heavy use of the product, they haven’t made it a crucial part of their workflow (adoption), and are likely to not stick around. For other businesses, identify signals of customers who are drifting away. Perhaps the regular orders have decreased in total, or they don’t come in as regularly. Maybe you expected to see the customer a typical time of the year and they didn’t come in. Perhaps the customer’s account shows a lessening in purchases, or an increase in customer support contact. Whatever it is, identify customers who are leaving (or have left). Find a way to sweeten the pot and offer them an enticement to come back.
- Pinpoint where customers struggle. When customers struggle to use your products or services, they just as often leave and find something comparable that doesn’t have the struggle. Any pain point causes them to leave; we all, after all, tend to choose the path of least resistance. Talk to support staff and customers. Find similar complaints. How can you fix that problem? Perhaps you need to offer free classes or training on using your products, or you need to make it easier to book your services. Maybe your website is clunky and getting in the way and you’re losing sales there. Use the data available (or set up a system to begin collecting it if you don’t have any data) to learn where customers give up.
- Find your most loyal customers. Do you have a few customers who absolutely love what you sell or do? Turn them into brand advocates and cheerleaders. Reward them for honestly spreading the word. Have a plan or system in place for these extremely loyal customers so that the moment you identify them, you have an action and a reward ready for them. Many customers are honoured to be asked by a business they love to be part of the success story.
Avoid making assumptions
One of the reasons that listening to your customers and understanding the data is so valuable is that it helps you to avoid making assumptions about them. Content marketers are always stating the need to “know your audience”, but the same can really be said for anyone who is trying to turn leads into conversions (sales).
Where might you be making an assumption?
- Understanding underlying problems. Do you really understand what a customer complains about? They might be telling you it’s because of Problem X, but in reality, they are frustrated with something else. Perhaps they bought a product for you that didn’t really fit their needs or skill level, and they can’t understand it. So they are constantly running to you for support. Perhaps the solution isn’t fixing the problem they bring to you, but fixing the larger underlying problem: bad product-customer fit.
- Poor recommendations. Recommendations necessarily rely on crowdsourced assumptions when using technology, but in a store, your recommendations need to be personalised. Sales staff that are pressured into always pushing an up-sell may be leading customers to products they aren’t going to like (and will be upset about later).
Do you know what kills assumptions?
Listening to your actual customers and understanding the big-picture data.
Have Great Products and Services
Though we’ve highlighted the things that surround the reason customers come to you, the actual product or service you are selling still has to be high-quality. Shoddy products might be forgiven once if repaired and replaced, but a continual experience of poor products and services sends customers packing.
Know your customers
Look at your feedback. What are customers telling you they like? That they don’t like?
Talk to your sales and support staff. What are they hearing from customers? What kinds of questions or problems do customers tend to have? What requires the most support?
If you offer the best Widget A, but your customers want Widget C, Widget A is not going to help your business. You need to always be in a state of fine-tuning what products and services customers are actually looking for, what is or isn’t selling, and where the trends are headed.
This last section almost feels like an afterthought — having a product or service worth the money that customers might buy ought to be a given. Unfortunately, some businesses spend a great deal of money and focus on PR and marketing to make up for a less-than-great product or service, convincing customers to buy in on hype alone. Those businesses, however, will also have shockingly low customer retention numbers, with a heavy focus on getting new customers constantly. Their customer churn is extremely expensive in the long run.
Remember: customer retention saves money and increases profits. If your bottom line is your only motivator, that statement alone should convince you to take customer retention practices seriously. Customer retention isn’t “sexy” or as exciting as the pursuit of brand new customers, but it’s where the money is made.
I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts, so please take a minute to drop a comment below. And, whilst your here, why not SHARE this across your own social media network, that others get the benefit of reading it also. 🙂
If you’d like to read more, you might like to learn How to make busy people say YES and Why saying NO, is good for business
If you’d like to learn HOW we support business owners to significantly and sustainably grow both them and their businesses, simply book a complimentary call
I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly noticed a distinct increase in the amount of confusion, disappointment, anger and frustration these days in the manner and ability of people to effectively communicate!
In an age where there has never been more methods of communication, and people are trying to communicate with you 24/7 why is it that whilst the demand on communication methods and abilities has increased, our ability to do it effectively has decreased!
My quick guide to the 12.5 Different Types of Communication
Communication can be categorised into three basic types:
- verbal communication, in which you listen to a person to understand their meaning
- written communication, in which you read their meaning;
- nonverbal communication, in which you observe a person and infer meaning. Each has its own advantages, disadvantages, and even pitfalls.
Verbal communications in business take place over the phone or in person. The medium of the Message is oral.
Storytelling has been shown to be an effective form of verbal communication; it serves an important organisational function by helping to construct common meanings for individuals within the organisation. Stories can help clarify key values and help demonstrate how things are done within an organisation, and story frequency, strength, and tone are related to higher organisational commitment (McCarthy, 2008).
While the process may be the same, high-stakes communications require more planning, reflection, and skill than normal day-to-day interactions at work. Examples of high-stakes communication events include asking for a raise or presenting a business plan to a venture capitalist. In addition to these events, there are also many times in our professional lives when we have crucial conversations—discussions where not only the stakes are high but also where opinions vary and emotions run strong (Patterson, et. al., 2002).
In contrast to verbal communications, written business communications are printed messages. Examples of written communications include memos, proposals, e-mails, letters, training manuals, and operating policies. They may be printed on paper, handwritten, or appear on the screen. Normally, a verbal communication takes place in real time. Written communication, by contrast, can be constructed over a longer period of time. A written communication can also be read by many people (such as all employees in a department or all customers). It’s a “one-to-many” communication, as opposed to a one-to-one verbal conversation.
What you say is a vital part of any communication. But what you don’t say can be even more important. Research also shows that 55% of in-person communication comes from nonverbal cues like facial expressions, body stance, and tone of voice. According to one study, only 7% of a Receiver’s comprehension of a Message is based on the Sender’s actual words; 38% is based on para-language (the tone, pace, and volume of speech), and 55% is based on nonverbal cues (body language) (Mehrabian, 1981).
To be effective communicators, we need to align our body language, appearance, and tone with the words we’re trying to convey. Failing to do this effectively is both damaging our own and the companies reputation and leading to a glut of badly communicated good intent!
Listen Up and Learn!
Another element of nonverbal communication is tone. A different tone can change the perceived meaning of a message demonstrates how clearly this can be true, whether in verbal or written communication. If we simply read these words without the added emphasis, we would be left to wonder, but the emphasis shows us how the tone conveys a great deal of information.
Here’s one quick example: I’m going to use exactly the same words, but my tone is going to imply something at both ends of the communication spectrum!
I want you to say out loud the words How much?
- In the first instance, I want you to say the words as if you are genuinely interested in making the purchase, but simply need to know HOW MUCH is required to purchase the item? (It may be you want to purchase the magazine, but haven’t seen the price tag, and so simply enquiring as to how much?
- In the second instance, I want you to say the words again, but in absolute astonishment as to exactly how much they have quoted! In the same scenario, you have gone in looking to make purchase of said magazine, found magazine and taken it to the counter ready to make said purchase, but uncertain as to its sales price. However, the store owner advises you the cost is 50 x more than you had expected! They have just stated this one magazine is currently sold for £500 instead of the £10 or so pounds you had expected!
The speaker’s body language must match his or her words. If a Sender’s words and body language don’t match—if a Sender smiles while telling a sad tale, for example—the mismatch between verbal and nonverbal cues can cause a Receiver to actively dislike the Sender.
Here are a few examples of nonverbal cues that can support or detract from a Sender’s Message.
A simple rule of thumb is that simplicity, directness, and warmth convey sincerity. And sincerity is key to effective communication. A firm handshake, given with a warm, dry hand, is a great way to establish trust. A weak, clammy handshake conveys a lack of trustworthiness. Gnawing one’s lip conveys uncertainty. A direct smile conveys confidence.
In business, the style and duration of eye contact considered appropriate vary greatly across cultures. In the United States, looking someone in the eye (for about a second) is considered a sign of trustworthiness.
The human face can produce thousands of different expressions. These expressions have been decoded by experts as corresponding to hundreds of different emotional states (My good friend Adrienne Carter is exceptional at helping people to read and understand this). Our faces convey basic information to the outside world. Happiness is associated with an upturned mouth and slightly closed eyes; fear with an open mouth and wide-eyed stare. Flitting (“shifty”) eyes and pursed lips convey a lack of trustworthiness. The effect of facial expressions in conversation is instantaneous. Our brains may register them as “a feeling” about someone’s character.
The position of our body relative to a chair or another person is another powerful silent messenger that conveys interest, aloofness, professionalism—or lack thereof. Head up, back straight (but not rigid) implies an upright character. In interview situations, experts advise mirroring an interviewer’s tendency to lean in and settle back in her seat. The subtle repetition of the other person’s posture conveys that we are listening and responding.
The meaning of a simple touch differs between individuals, genders, and cultures. In South America for instance, when doing business, men may find themselves being grasped on the arm by another man. To pull away is seen as rude. In Indonesia, to touch anyone on the head or touch anything with one’s foot is considered highly offensive. For a long time in the Far East, it was considered impolite for a woman to shake a man’s hand Americans, and others place great value in a firm handshake. But handshaking as a competitive sport can come off as needlessly aggressive and desperate.
Anthropologist Edward T. Hall coined the term proxemics to denote the different kinds of distance that occur between people. These distances vary between cultures.
- 0-45cm apart – Intimate
- 45-152cm apart – Personal
- 152 – 210cm apart – Social
Standing too far away from a colleague (such as a public speaking distance of more than seven feet) or too close to a colleague (intimate distance for embracing) can ruin an effective verbal communication in business.
Here’s my top 9 tips on how to ensure we communicate effectively:
- Make communication a priority. Don’t be idol when it comes to your own communication. If necessary take classes, read books, magazine articles or learn from successful communicators around you. If necessary seek a mentor or a coach.
- Simplify and stay on message. Use simple, straightforward language. Don’t waste others time for the sake of your own voice, show respect for their time by remaining concise.
- Engage your listeners or readers. Draw your listeners and readers into the conversation. Ask questions and invite opinions. Solicit their feedback. Understand that communication is a TWO way street, not a cul-de-sac of self pontification.
- Take time to respond. Re-tech yourself to LISTEN rather than simply HEARING. After you’ve listened (and understood) take time to “draft” in your head what you want to say.
- Make sure you are understood. Don’t blame the other person for not understanding. Instead, look for ways to clarify or rephrase what you are trying to say so it can be understood.
- Develop your listening skills, too. The best communicators are almost always the best listeners. Listen without judgement and don’t be distracted by thinking about what you want to say next. Then, respond, not react.
- Body language is important. Studies show that 65% of all communication is non-verbal. Watch for visual signs that your listener understands, agrees or disagrees with your message. And be aware that your body is sending signals, too.
- Maintain eye contact. Whether speaking to a crowd or one-on-one, maintaining eye contact builds credibility and demonstrates you care about your listeners.
- Respect your audience. Recognise your message is not just about you or what you want. You should sincerely care about the needs and the unique perspectives of those to whom you are communicating. One of the best ways to show your respect is simply by paying attention to what they say.
And finally, please allow me to dis-spell one of the most over used and incorrectly quoted phrases I’ve ever heard when it comes to communication.
People buy people
I’ve got to admit, it annoys the hell out of me every time I hear someone recite this, because it’s only half the quote, and the worse half to remember if your going to recite it at all! Because it’s simply NOT true. People are just as likely NOT to buy from people if this is all you have to offer!
The full quote is:
People buy PASSION, from PASSIONATE people!
As I’ve depicted in the How much? example within, its not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it!
If you’ve enjoyed this article, please drop a comment below, and feel free to share this communication within your own network.
STOP CHASING COLD TRAFFIC!
Seriously, I’m getting rather peeved at the amount of time and effort people are putting into continually trying to put new prospects into the top of a colander they call a funnel!
OMG he’s mentioned a new kitchen implement!
Is this code, some new algorithm or acronym for a new get rich quick methodology?
No, it’s the truth!
Most businesses are pouring more and more of their effort, time and money into filling a broken funnel! By not accepting the many HOLES in the funnel! EVERY time someone is placed into a funnel and doesn’t come out exactly where you had previously predicted, ITS A COLANDER! Furthermore, rather than seeing this as FAILURE, you should learn to CELEBRATE these people, as they are THE most valuable ones in your prospecting field right now!
You see, whilst they may not have spent any money with you, or at best made a cheap one off purchase never to be seen again, they have helped YOU identify where the hole is! If the exited at anywhere other than where you previously predicted, then its a GOLDEN opportunity to LEARN!
What’s that…..you DON’T Predict where they are going to exit?
Argh! Then why on earth would you expect them to appear where you WANTED them to do so, if you haven’t even properly mapped out where that is!
Again, another GREAT lesson here. MAP the journey before you expect people to follow a journey, and then observe, review, amend and trial again and again and again until they are starting to and continually coming out where you had previously planned!
While bringing in new customers is an important part of business, its a simple FACT that retaining customers is even more valuable to today’s companies. The benefits of going the extra mile for your first-time clients make it well worth the effort, both this and EVERY time.
SMART businesses are focusing on customer retention more than acquisition because it costs five times less to keep current clients than it does to acquire new ones, meaning greater return on your investment.
Your repeat business could be worth ten times more than your first-time clients, so a plan to create loyalty is crucial to your company’s success.
The first time a new customer uses your service, will they leave feeling like while they had a good experience, they could have the same experience with one of your competitors? If so, there is room for improvement. Mediocre service is for mediocre businesses. Show your customers you are not just a cut but the cut above the rest by exceeding their expectations at every turn.
To delight customers (old and new) and keep them coming back for more, put the following four tips into practice right away.
1. Provide an Exceptional Customer Experience
Providing a top-notch customer experience is essential to retention. Business has become increasingly competitive and being average is no longer enough. When you consider that increasing your retention rates by a mere 5% can increase your overall profits by up to 95%, the importance of standing apart from your competitors becomes clear.
Recognize and acknowledge that the client, and make sure your team is on the same page and ready to promote a positive and helpful experience. You only get one shot to nurture and grow the customer relationship, so make it count. Remember this should NOT stop once they are ‘regulars’ surely there is SO MUCH MORE value in repeat business than in first time business, and so your level of customer EXPERIENCE (not service) needs to continually IMPROVE and not slacken off!
2. Be the Solution to Their Problem
Solving your customers’ problems the first time will create a lasting impression. Instill confidence in your first-time clients and they will trust you to make things easier for them again in the future. Show new customers that you are knowledgeable about how their needs and your industry intersect. Ask questions about your first-time customer’s situation that shows them you are knowledgeable about how your products and services can make things easier for them. They will appreciate your insight into your base and come back to you because they know you can be counted on for delivering results.
Simply accept: “It’s not about you!”
It never was, and it never will be. Get out of your own way, and understand that your PRIMARY role and purpose in your customers life is to be a solution to their problem. If you can’t ADD VALUE either directly or indirectly, then stop trying to buy loyalty with nothing more to give than taking up their time and space! You HAVE to get into the habit of understanding your customers wants and needs, and become forward enough thinking to provide solutions to the problems they have and the ones they are YET to have!
3. Give More than What’s Expected
Want to dazzle first-time clients? It’s time to get familiar with the concept of under-promising and over-delivering. Anytime a company does business with you for the first time, consider that they are taking a risk and most likely wondering if it will pay off.
Set reasonable expectations that are clearly laid-out, and then double down on delivering. Promise two-hour turnaround if you know you can do the job in one. Include personal touches like thank you cards and discount codes. This shows your first-time client that returning to you down the line is a risk-free proposition and a gamble worth taking.
You might think this is the same as under promise and over deliver. But it doesn’t end there. When was the last time you said Thank you for your business! And before you tick that off the list and say we print it on every VAT receipt! I mean REALLY go out of your way to demonstrate your gratitude for the money time and effort they are willing to share with you and your business? How do you UPGRADE EVERY SINGLE ASPECT of the experience so much that it is forward thinking and proactive rather than ‘Have a nice day now’ REACTIVE?
4. Embrace the Art of Following Up
Where your first-time clients are concerned, follow-up matters. Strike a delicate balance between showing that your company is worth doing business with again and not coming off as pushy. After an initial sale, delight a new customer with a carefully crafted e-mail. You can increase your click-through and engagement rates by placing your clients into categories based upon their first purchase.
Targeting them with relevant content that specifically meets their needs at this stage of your relationship means better follow-through than you could hope to achieve with a generic welcome e-mail.
If you are the owner of a business and you are making increasing customer retention among your first-time clients a top priority, you are not alone. An increasing number of businesses have implemented loyalty programs because research has consistently shown they work. While there is just a 32% chance first-time customers will purchase from your company again in the future, by the tenth purchase there is an 83% chance they will buy from you again and again and again.
A person’s first visit is an opportunity to grow your business, and smart owners will plan to engage HERE where it matters most, to begin that lifelong customer experience.
PLEASE, drop me a message below and share with me you BEST and WORSE customer service experience? There is no need to name and shame, just point out where people got it RIGHT and where people got it so terrible wrong!…