Tag Archives: Business Retention

Are you trying to get more business the hard way?

Getting more business the hard wayLast weekend we took a break to Istanbul. If you’ve ever been there you’ll know that like so many tourist areas you have to run the gauntlet to get through the mass of eager restaurateurs, carpet sellers and ceramics stallholders.

The trouble is they’re all just trying too hard to get our attention without even considering that we’re simply not interested.

And even if we were there’s no knowing what they supply will meet our needs. And so far there’s simply no relationship, no trust and no reason to choose them in preference to all the competition.

As it happened we weren’t in the least interested in looking at or buying carpets. However I do love ceramics and would have been tempted to look at some of the beautiful pieces on offer, but I was too scared of getting pressured …so I simply steered clear.

We were of course interested in eating! But rather than taking a gamble on our first night we asked our hotel for a recommendation. Interestingly when we approached the recommended restaurant it was the only one on that street where we didn’t get the sales spiel from the pavement.

On our second night we went to a restaurant in another part of the city which we would never have found had our hosts not been there before. It was tucked away in the most unlikely of buildings, on the top floor with fantastic views across the city, and food to match. We got the impression it was one of those places to be seen, but it certainly didn’t achieve such a following by accident.

On our final night we took the easy option and returned to the restaurant we’d been to on our first evening. The food had been good, there was a great atmosphere and they’d looked after us well. There’s no reason to suggest we wouldn’t have had just as good an experience in any of the others, but we knew we could trust this one, and as we had our hosts with us we didn’t want to take a chance. So that one simple recommendation had earned that particular restaurant two visits and introduced 4 new customers in the space of 3 days.

If we think about it, it’s a similar story whenever we are touting for new business. If we approach a prospective customer we’ve no way of knowing they have a need for what we sell right now, and even if they do they don’t know that what we have to offer is a good match, there is no relationship, no trust and no particular reason to choose us in preference to any of our competitors.

Compare this with asking for additional business with our existing customers. They already know us, and we know that they’ve had a need for what we sell and may well have further needs in the future. They’ve already had experience of our product or service, and hopefully they like what we offer and if we’ve done a good job they’ll trust us too. Just like the two restaurants in Istanbul.

So how about devoting some of the energy we put into creating new business into fostering a longer term relationship with our existing (and past) customers? Keeping the relationship going, keeping contact, reminding them of what we have to offer and why they chose us in the first place, introducing them to what else we have available, asking them to share in our successes, taking every opportunity to stay on their radar so it’s us they think of first when they’re ready to buy again or asked for a recommendation.

It might take a bit of effort, but it certainly beats pouncing on every passer by just on the off chance!

For more articles and resources www.naturallyloyal.com

Why are we waiting?

Let’s face it; none of us like to be kept waiting.

We always think of the 101 things we could be doing instead. Whether it’s waiting in a queue, being put on hold, waiting for a slow internet connection or waiting for a meeting or delivery, any of these situations can try our patience.

So why do businesses think it’s acceptable to keep their customers waiting?

We’ve all experienced being put on hold and told how “your call is important to us”. Unfortunately it doesn’t make us feel any better! Queues and being kept waiting are never going to be popular with your customers. But do what you can to minimise the impact.


Give customers a choice

If there is a delay, does the customer wait, or do they opt for something that doesn’t involve waiting? That might of course depend on just how long they have to wait. When we are put on hold if we’re told we are 2nd in the queue we are far more likely to hang on than if we’re told we are 10th.

So let you customers know – is it expected to be a 2 minutes wait or half an hour? Being honest (and not making false promises and under estimating) allows to customer to make an informed decision. If you need to put someone on hold, ask them first if this is OK; don’t just assume they’re happy to hang on.

How many times have you waited in for a service engineer or delivery that then doesn’t materialise? If you say a parcel will be delivered or the engineer will call between 12 and 3 make darn sure they do!  Better still, narrow that window down to an hour, or less.

At the very least give notice if you can’t deliver your promise.

Being kept informed is not about making excuses!  It’s about keeping the customer informed of the situation and giving them options…


Prevention is better than cure

Start by monitoring your busy times. If you know when your peak times are adjust your staffing accordingly (ensuring appropriate training is given to anyone who is redeployed to ‘help out’).  I’m still amazed when I go into places that are inevitably busy at lunchtime only to see staff going for lunch at their peak times. Crazy! You wouldn’t expect restaurant staff to have their break at lunch time so why would any other business dependent on lunch time trade do so?

If you know you experience peaks and troughs of activity triggered by events such as the weather, road conditions, publicity, news coverage – whatever it might be – monitor it and prepare for it.  Even if you don’t have enough space, equipment or outlets to serve more customers at any one time, but you can at least have people on hand to deal with any queries, printing out bills or acting as ‘runners’ for those dealing with customers.

If you have self-service areas, or payment machines, help speed up the process by helping customers; you can avoid the time it takes them to read instructions, which might reduce your transaction time by half, thus reducing queues.

Do customers ever have to repeat information they’ve already given, double back to access things they need, or duplicate processes, which not only wastes their valuable time, but takes more effort on their part?

Just because this is how it’s always been done, isn’t a good enough reason to do it that way!

Do you give customers accurate information so they can get to speak to the right person first time around? Or do you have some generic phone number that takes customers through 5 (or even more) options before they can even get to speak to a human being? Give them a direct number next time so as a valued customer they can jump the ‘queue’ to go directly to the right person.

And it should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway…) stick to agreed times for meetings. Whether this is a one to one meeting or an event involving many people, if you’ve agreed a meeting time or kick off time, stick to it.


Make use of waiting time to save time elsewhere

If people do have to wait, make this as painless as possible. Can you divert people from queues to other options to achieve the same result? Cut red tape and open up alternative channels where you can.

Can customers be doing other things whilst queuing which will save time once they get served – filling out forms, reading information that might help with their buying decision, processing payment? At the very least being kept informed of progress and seeing the queue moving.

I’ve just heard about our local county show. It’s a highlight for our local town and as the weather was good families turned out for a fun day out. And although this should have been a bonus for the organisers it backfired. Why? Because of the way they failed to manage the queues.

A ‘jobsworth’ security guard with no empathy for the waiting visitors. Who took no responsibility for action, just blaming the organisers (indirectly his employer). No suggestion of diverting to another entrance with shorter queues. No one taking cash payments from people in the queue to speed things up. No coordination, so visitors had to join another queue to pay their admission.

Net result? Visitors giving up and going home. Or at best fed up and disgruntled once inside. Hmm, and I can bet those people would have spent a whole lot less once inside, will be reluctant to go next year, and have probably told all their friends and family. (How do you think I got to hear about it?)

Such as shame as I know how much heard work went on behind the scenes to make this event a success.


Alleviate the pain

You can even use the time to entertain, so customers don’t feel put out at all. I’m not suggesting anything like the awful music we often get subjected to when we are put on hold, TV screens in every corner or worse still the sales pitch we get. No, I’m talking about genuine entertainment! Something that appeals to your customers’ tastes, even if this isn’t your first choice!

Make waiting time a pleasurable experience by offering your customers something to distract from and compensate for their wait. The least you can do is offer refreshments.

For example, my husband was kept waiting over 20 minutes the other evening when he checked into his hotel room. All this time he stood at the reception desk, while they sorted out their system (a system incidentally that wasn’t very efficient as they’d already lost his booking, despite having an emailed confirmation…. But that’s another story!) Couldn’t they have offered him a seat as a minimum whilst they sorted it out? Better still a drink after his 4 hour drive to get there. Not a good start to the customer relationship.

If refreshments aren’t a practical option, what can you do to that is relevant to your business? A small token gift, just to say we appreciate your patience.

And if you’re now subconsciously thinking you couldn’t afford to do this every time someone has to wait; it’s time you reviewed your customer experience. Waiting should be the exception, not the norm. (And compare this investment to the cost of losing the customer altogether.)

Review all the touch points on the customers’ journey – where can time be saved; waiting for web pages or images to load, phones being answered more quickly, keeping on top of orders so purchases can be dispatched quickly.  And if people have been kept patiently waiting for even a few moments, at the very least acknowledge this and thank them for their patience.


Save your customers time and effort

In the same way that anything that wastes time for your customers can be an irritation, anything that saves your customer time will add value.

Why not have an express service, line, process, phone number, etc. for your existing loyal customers. Make them feel special and valued. Even for new customers who are time poor, introduce a quick option that saves time – at a premium price if you need to – you may be surprised how many take you up on that.

A minute here, and a second there may not seem much individually, but add them all together and you might save your customers considerably time.

Even if the way you do things in your business are “industry norms” can you be the first to break the mould and do things differently. Look at what Metro Bank are doing to change the norms in banking, for example.

However, remember you don’t want customers to feel rushed, so apply time savings sensibly and appropriately.

Never compromise quality for speed.

And don’t use it as an excuse for staff members to cut corners or make mistakes.

It’s a fine balance. Test and review and tweak accordingly.





Have you written all your thank you letters yet?

As many parents know at this time of year you often have to nag relentlessly to get your children to write their Christmas thank you letters.

But have you been setting the right example? Have you written to everyone who’s given up their time and money to do business with you either over Christmas or over the past year?

I have to confess I’m not a great one for sending Christmas cards to business contacts. Let’s face it, your Christmas card probably gets lost in a sea of other cards leading up to Christmas.

But sending something after Christmas; after the turkey’s being eaten, the tree’s come down and the cards have been binned, sending something of value to your customers is more likely to get to your customers attention and have longevity.

And I’m not talking here about bombarding people purely with a multitude of offers and promotions showing how desperate you are for business during the quieter months of the year. This doesn’t mean to say you can’t tell them about what’s coming up but do it in such a way that makes them feel appreciated.

Say thank you

Send something that shows you appreciate their custom. As a minimum this might be a simple as a broadcast e-mail to everybody on your mailing list, or homing in on those who have booked Christmas or seasonal events with you. Particularly think about those people who have been guests of your existing customers, maybe as part of a party and who have visited you for the first time.

But maybe you want to do a little bit more for your special customers; those that have been your perfect customers and you’d like to see a lot more of (and the chances are they’ll know lots of other people just like themselves, who they might be inclined to tell about you), the organisers of events, anyone who has made referrals that’s brought you extra business over the year, for giving you a glowing testimonial or review, or simply because they put their trust and faith in you to deliver something extraordinary for a special occasion.

A simple personalised thank you note will not only show your appreciation, but it will give them something to remember you by – especially if it is handwritten and tailored to them. There’s nothing quite like something sent by good old-fashioned snail mail with a handwritten signature (and not on stuffy, formal business stationery) to get someone’s attention.  Even better, if the whole message is handwritten on a hand-picked greetings card. Try to find a card that reflects something about that particular customer.

Some think in this web based age this is out dated; how would your customers react to receiving something in the post, rather than clogging up their email inbox?

Ask for feedback

A follow up thank you is also a great opportunity to get feedback too. Ask them about their experience and whether they’d do business with you again. Did it meet or exceed their expectations? Ask for specifics such as what they enjoyed most and any ideas, comments or suggestions they have to make the experience even better. If they’ve had a good experience prompt them to post feedback on review sites appropriate for your business such as TripAdvisor.  Make it easy for them by providing a link to the review site too. And don’t forget to thank them again when they give you feedback. Even if it’s not all glowing and what you want to hear, wouldn’t you rather know about it so you can put it right?

Rewarding loyalty

You might choose to show your appreciation with something more tangible such as a small gift, an exclusive offer for themselves or a friend, or maybe even relevant and useful information or tips that’s relevant to your business and customers’ interests.

The law or reciprocity means that if you give something to your loyal customers you are setting the stage for them to do something for you in return. Whether this is repeat business, a referral or maybe a testimonial, any one of these will add benefit to your business.  So the more you can do to show your appreciation the greater the chance of staying on their radar and of them remaining loyal to you.

Mark key milestones in your relationship: thank them when they’ve been with you for a year, and on each subsequent anniversary, when they’ve concluded a big event, when you’ve worked with them on a big project or programme or when they’ve just upgraded to a particular level of service.

When enough is enough

One of the things I get asked about most with e-mail marketing is how often can you contact customers without annoying them. Well you certainly don’t want to be branded as a spammer.

I read this comment on TripAdvisor for a hotel only yesterday

“A nice hotel, friendly staff, breakfast ok, ……..  BUT: since I spent 2 days there I get mails and mails and mails about everything and nothing. I asked them twice to delete my data but nothing happened and they lavish me with newsletters.”

Not really the sort of thing that you want to get.

So three lessons here:

  1. Give your customers something of value; something that they really want to read or receive (and if you don’t know what this might be, try asking them)
  2. If you’re going to be sending a series of messages (supposed to a one-off thank you or confirmation) always seek permission and include a way to opt out if they choose
  3. Have a full proof system in place to ensure people are taken off your mailing list the moment they ask you to

Remember, a customer is special and the aim is to build a loyal relationship.

And of course thank yous don’t just happen at Christmas, but whenever a customer has had a choice, but chose to do business with you.

All glitz and no substance

Last night we were watching Michael McIntyre’s Christmas Comedy Roadshow with Rhod Gilbert telling the story of his toothbrush. (It’s very funny and if you’ve never seen it you can watch it here. Whether it’s a toothbrush, socks or earmuffs, I’m sure we’ve all had similar disappointments; you receive the most amazing looking gift, beautifully wrapped, posh ribbon and fancy packaging. Then you reveal the contents…. And it’s a real let down. It’s all glitz and no substance.

So why would I be talking about disappointing gifts?

Do we ever leave our customers with the same let down experience?

What promises might we make either intentionally or unintentionally, on which we then fail to deliver.

We’ve had that experience just this week. We came home on Tuesday night to find a card saying “we tried to deliver your parcel, but you were out.”  (I’m sure with today’s technology it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep the customer informed, and in this case notify expected delivery date, but maybe that’s an article for another day…) To cut a long and very frustrating story short despite rearranging the delivery for Wednesday, the parcel still hasn’t arrived. Needless to say our expectations have been far from met and that courier company certainly won’t be getting any recommendations from us.  Yes, I appreciate it’s Christmas and it’s a busy period, but please don’t make promises that you then can’t deliver. Not a good recipe for customer loyalty.

It’s easy when you’re busy to let things slip, but this should be the very time to wow your customers So here are my top 10 things you might want to check so you feel confident you’ll never be falling short with your customers, so they remain naturally loyal to you and your business.

  1. Is everything you display on your website and in your marketing representative of what people get when they arrive. Not only your offers and prices, but are your photographs representative, is everything available as implied or, are directions accurate, etc. Yes, I get that you need to make your offers enticing, but they certainly shouldn’t be misleading if you don’t want to lose your customers’ trust.
  2. Is it made clear at the time of enquiry or booking if anything won’t be available on the day or time in question? There may be times when you’re hosting big events that are bound to have a knock-on effect on other customers. Be upfront about these and the impact it might have to avoid disappointment.
  3. Are customers forewarned of any potential problems? For example peak periods when there might be a need to wait. Or when the only option you can offer your customer is not what they would normally book. OK, they may not decide to book as a result, but better that and they come back another day, than they come to you, have a disappointing experience, and never return.
  4. Does the customer’s first impression live up to what’s in store? Disappointment at this stage can have a knock-on effect on the whole experience, leaving your customer nit picking by looking for every opportunity to support their initial assessment.
  5. Will the last customers of the day get the same choices and level of service is the first customers of the day. Your team might be tired and want to go home, but is that really your customer’s problem? Having systems in place and training your team will help you maintain consistency.
  6. Can your regular customers be reassured that there will always get the same level of service, irrespective of the time of day, week or year. Or better still, aim to raise the level of service even if just by 1% on each and every visit, so there’s always something new and you’re never seen to be complacent.
  7. Do you do anything to add value and wow your customer? What are the additional little touches that you can add with minimal effort or at little cost and to you, but are appreciated your customers that will give them the perception of you going the extra mile.  Lots of little thoughtful touches throughout the customer journey all add up to a great experience.
  8. Is the level of service and attention to detail in line with your offer/product(s). You can have the most amazing product in the world, but unless its delivery matches up to this it will fail to impress.
  9. If and when things go wrong (and even in the most well oiled business mishaps still happen) be bold enough to admit your mistakes, apologise, rectify and move on. How you recover the situation will be what the customer remembers.
  10. Don’t leave that last impression to chance; make sure everything delivers right to the very end and follow-up with your customers after their visit to show your appreciation of their custom.

So remember, you’re only as good as your customer’s last experience so make sure it’s a good one, even when you are busy.

Whatever you promise you need to be able to deliver, and better still, deliver +1%. Every time!

You’ll not only keep your customers happy and get fewer complaints, but make it easier on your team, they’ll give better service and you set the stage for repeat business and a naturally loyal customer.

Are your team ruining all your marketing efforts?

It doesn’t matter how much you spend on your marketing strategy, how great your SEO, how complimentary your online reviews or how many thousands of pounds you spend on your refurbishment. At the end of the day if your customers get anything less than great service you won’t retain them and you’re back to square one.

The customer experience that you create is your single most valuable competitive advantage.

So who is responsible for ensuring your customers get a fantastic experience? We all know it’s everyone, not just front of house, but does every position get the same focus when it comes to the impact they have on customer care.

Here’s my 10 point plan to get your team fully contributing to your marketing efforts

1. Values

Define your values. What is important to you and what is important to your ideal customers (and ensure these two are in alignment or you’ll have a tough time being authentic). Then put systems and resources in place to enable everyone to live by these values.

2. Recruit

I know it’s a bit of a cliché to say recruit on attitude, but I do believe it’s key. Only recruit people who can live by your values; if what’s important to you isn’t important to your team members you will be fighting a losing battle to get them to live up to them.

3. Share

Your team need to understand your values and what these mean in practical terms – not just a list of words. Discuss your expectations; what will your team be doing as a matter of course to achieve these; what are your non-negotiables. And then ensure there are no mixed messages; you set the example.

4. Train

Train your team in the systems and framework, but leave them the freedom to work within this to show their own personality. This will not only mean they will appear more natural with your customers (we can all spot the scripted lines a mile off), but helps to build their confidence and encourages them to make decisions. If they know the result you are aiming for it allows scope for creativity too.

5. Feedback

Give regular feedback and recognition when someone has shown excellent or even good examples customer service, to encourage more of the same. Encourage your team to evaluate their own performance too, so they get into the habit of learning from their experiences – successes and mistakes – and ensure your management team give the appropriate support when needed.

6. Involve

Involve all your team in all stages of the customer journey and to look for areas to improve. It will be easier for people from a different department to look at things from a customers’ perspective, so for example if you are a hotel,  enable the kitchen team to see bedrooms and for reception to experience the restaurant (at breakfast as well as lunch and dinner) for the conferencing team the spa, housekeeping to review the website or test how easy it is to make a booking – either on or offline.

7. Strengths

Identify and capitalise on your teams’ strengths. Look for talent or skills in particular activities where individuals might have an opportunity to really shine. This builds pride in the job and a sense of responsibility. This might be something you don’t do already but that offers an opportunity to do something different or special for your customers, giving you a USP, and the team member something that helps keep them motivated.

8. Authority

Give your team the authority they need to make decisions based on their role and individual strengths. Nothing frustrates a customer more than being told by a member of staff that they don’t have the authority to make a decision or approve a simple request. Even more so when the only person who can make the decision is nowhere to be found.

9. Reward

Give your team incentives to go the extra mile with your customers and build loyalty. I’m not talk there about monetary rewards that are forgotten five minutes after they’ve been given, but things that show you really appreciate the efforts people have gone to. Sometimes a simple handwritten note from the manager or owner can make someone feel valued. Time off might be the most valuable reward you can give someone as a thank you. Or do something that’s a win win such as a visit to a sister (or competitor) site and share their observations with the rest of their team when they return. Find out what’s of value to them; not everyone will be motivated by the same incentives.

10. Inform

Keep your team informed of anything that might impact your customers in any way. What’s happening where – both within the business and locally. Knowing what’s on in your town, or traffic conditions that might affect your customer’s onward journey can make all the difference to an OK experience, and one that becomes memorable. Ask your team for their feedback too – capture customers’ feedback, any customers’ preferences to keep for future visits, suggestions on how service can be improved. Your team are much closer to your customers than you are and will see opportunities to enhance the customer experience so ask for their ideas and be prepared to act on the.


All these activities will certainly have a knock on effect on your customers’ experience, and greatly contribute to your marketing efforts.




Creating Loyalty with Exclusive Offers

Don’t you just hate it when you see that a company where you’ve been a loyal customer offers exclusive deals that are available to ‘new’ customers only? What happened to rewarding loyalty?!

I’ve had two just this week, and although I can see the reason they do it, all it does it makes me want to look at their competition to see who can match their offer. This is not the answer to business retention.

There’s always a cost to the acquisition of new customers and not just from the loss of income from the special introductory prices.

Make your loyal customers feel special by putting together bonuses, deals or events which are exclusive to them. This demonstrates your appreciation of their custom, as well as potentially prompting additional business.

Add value to attract attention, set you apart from the competition, and stimulate further sales.  Give people an incentive to try something new, buy something different, or make a return visit.

Allow existing customers to ‘Try Before You Buy’ to encourage them to try something new or entice them away from a competitor for a product they don’t normally buy from you, with no risk to them.  Hold taster events for your new offer or service, and invite existing customers to try out your latest facilities and experience what you offer first-hand, or invite them to bring a friend or customer with them for free next time.

By the way, this is a great way to get feedback too before you take a new product or service to market.