‘Customer retention’ – two magic words that in business somehow become a struggle for many, often just simply down to the old adage – ‘too much work, so little time’; in this case, so little time for managing and strengthening customer relationships. It’s so easy to think, “client X has had great results this month so they’re fine”, and forget that actually, results are just one piece of the overall picture and the client will be joining the dots and be deciding if they wish to continue using your services.
At VST, our services have all been designed with customer retention in mind (and we do offer specific customer retention calling and research surveys to target this need specifically), as we firmly believe that excellent customer relations are the foundations on which the rest of the campaign stands. We see ourselves as partners to our clients and as such feel the highs and lows of business with them, which is why we know the key to customer retention is to build a robust strategy around not only growth but relationship management of existing clients at the same time.
In our experience, the best way to focus on customer relationships is to keep communication channels open at all times, but there are other techniques that work alongside good communication to form a strong strategy for retention.
It sounds obvious but ensuring your staff keep an updated calendar of when they need to get in touch with a current client, and that they stick to it as closely as possible. This could be in any number of ways; weekly emails, calls, a monthly report followed with a call, quarterly meetings, newsletters….it’s vitally important the client feels they are still at the forefront of focus and hasn’t fallen by the wayside. Something as simple as a diary reminder for each planned communication can be the making or breaking of whether your staff remember and actually follow through.
Everyone is susceptible to ‘buyer’s remorse’, so you need to ensure your follow up on a successful sale is on point. The worst way to do business is to make a sale then ignore the buyer afterwards, with no clear handover or deliverables. Whilst this sounds like common sense (and it is), it’s surprising how often a sale can fall through after a supposedly successful completion due to poor internal communication or radio silence. Your sales team need to hand over properly and coherently to your ops team, who then need to contact the client within 24 hours to introduce themselves and set the customer’s expectations for deliverables and, in essence, resell the whole agreement and company to the customer.
Speaking of setting expectations, it’s important that these are clearly outlined from the start of the sales process down to the deal completion and handover to ops – whilst it’s easy to agree to a customer’s demands if it means a sale, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do if you can’t then deliver, which in turn will lead to a drop-in retention when they are left unsatisfied. The best way to tackle this is to set realistic expectations from the start and enforce them with substantiated data wherever possible. This, in turn, needs to filter down to those actually running the campaign.
It’s important to assess the potential lifetime value of a client rather than just the immediate sale, as a longer-term contract is more valuable than a shorter one. If you turn a customer away because they don’t feel they can afford a large monthly sum with their current situation, it may be that you are also turning away long-term revenue that could grow in the future. Obviously, don’t work for free or at a loss, but it’s worth allowing for some negotiation if you feel the sale could be a longer-term profit. Also, a supportive approach is going to be more amenable to the customer and may, in turn, keep them working with you for longer.
If a complaint is made, handle it properly and quickly – don’t leave things until the last minute or fail to respond. If you get on top of a situation and handle it effectively, this will reflect better on the company and may save the relationship.
Also, take complaints on board for internal improvement – are there are processes which can be improved or gaps that need to be plugged? If one customer is complaining it’s likely there are others thinking the same but haven’t (yet) raised it to the next level; nip the issues in the bud before things get that far!