As we embark on 2003, the New Year’s resolution we suggest, one that always has a lasting impact, is to refocus on satisfying customers…and commit to providing world-class service beyond their expectations.
New Client versus Existing Client
Marketing 101 teaches us that it is significantly easier and certainly less costly to retain an existing customer than to attract a new one. Common sense agrees. After all, a great deal of time and resources must be spent before a prospect becomes a customer. All of us strive to attain a relationship of trust and respect with existing customers. Generating new leads and prospects requires an investment in building name recognition and brand equity. Documented research shows that it takes somewhere between 10 and 16 repeated contacts before a company achieves the “top of mind awareness” that encourages a qualified prospect to act and become a customer.
CEOs, presidents, business owners, and community leaders, know this is true. Yet many times it appears difficult to remember to focus our attention on serving current customers. Instead, we worry about filling the pipeline, attracting new business, and helping our companies grow by consistently increasing new sales opportunities. This reliance on sustained and accelerating growth as a measure of success entraps business owners. As a result they become distracted and fail to concentrate on their business’ most important asset –its current customers.
Client Satisfaction = Client Loyalty
Studies show that there is a direct correlation between the level of satisfaction of customers (or clients) and their level of loyalty. Loyal customers are far more likely to remain with your company, purchase additional services or products, and, in addition, are more likely to recommend new customers. Thus, it is critical to raise their level of satisfaction. How can we do this?
Creating highly satisfied clients is a challenge for your entire company. However as the business leader it is your ultimate responsibility to ensure that this remains everyone’s goal. Talk is cheap; but role models must originate at the top. You must demonstrate your own commitment to building loyal clients, set the example. Become a mentor, encouraging, training, and rewarding your employees for their ability and willingness to raise the bar, delivering the highest level of service possible. Whether you are a manufacturer meeting ISO 9000 standards, a physician reading X-Rays, an accountant advising on an estate plan, or an attorney crafting a court case, you can exceed your clients’ expectations, adding value in unanticipated ways.
Encourage, Train, and Reward
Companies that seek to be world class establish a culture that builds loyal employees who understand their company’s mission statement, core values, and value proposition. It is their actions and passionate commitment that lead to more loyal clients. Step one is to determine what you are best at, what services and products you can deliver to “delight” your customers. Next, identify those employees that support the company’s vision and provide the necessary training and tools. The Ritz Carlton Hotel chain is well respected for its famous “Let me show you” training that all employees receive, just as the Nordstrom and Disney organizations are noted for their unyielding emphasis on superior customer service. Tools such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software help retail companies like Nordstrom keep track of their customers’ favorite products, just as it assists manufacturers, successful professional services firms, distributors, and other companies to better understand their customers. The ability to manage knowledge, gather key data, and perform more proactively provides a competitive edge. Lastly, smart owners find a variety of ways to reward employees who go out of their way to please customers. We all know that our employees work on the “front lines.” Acknowledging their efforts is an integral part of a winning equation.
What Do Clients Want?
The last step in the process is to determine what customers want. When we conducted a customer survey for one of our service business clients, we suggested that they ask their clients what they most valued in their relationship. After collecting and analyzing the data, we were not surprised to find that the clients’ responses did not include any reference to the business’ core services. Technical competency was the minimum requirement for doing business together. What the clients valued most was the company’s commitment to strong client relationships evident in their quickly returned phone calls, proactively scheduled meetings for sharing management advice, and a genuine concern for every client. This survey confirmed that knowledge is key. Knowing why your clients choose to use your products and services, given all the alternatives they have, will enable you to exceed their needs, add value, and raise their satisfaction while increasing their loyalty.
Today many businesses don’t appear to know or care what customer service is truly about. But it is obvious that a business’ success is linked to very satisfied, very loyal customers. I am confident that we can all achieve our goals if we act deliberately to do more than just talk about exceeding expectations and instead spend our time delivering.