By Kate Zabriskie
Does this sound familiar?
"We lost him after 20 years. At the time, I could only describe myself as stunned. I didn’t see it coming. In hindsight, I guess I should have. He’s now with a new adviser who is no better than we are at advising, but she lured him away by making him feel important. We blew it. Simple as that."
Those who are responsible for providing customer service understand that great customers are not a dime a dozen. Yet, every single day businesses lose people they’d like to keep. What’s going on? A specific root cause could be anything, but, generally, these defections stem from a few key mistakes.
Longevity Doesn’t Equal Happiness
Businesses often assume longevity equals happiness in the client relationship. The truth is more complicated, however. There are a lot of “blah” service marriages out there. Just because someone has stuck around that does not mean he or she is committed to the service or the service provider. If another business says it can do better, a break may be imminent.
Mitigation – Do you have an annual check-in meeting with your customers? If not, consider piloting this process with a select group. The purpose of the meeting isn’t to sell. Rather, it’s to say thank you, ask questions, and, more importantly, to listen. Smart businesses find creative ways to make check-in meetings work: maybe an energy company offers an annual energy audit to homeowners at no cost, or a bank branch schedules time to go over a customer’s accounts and listen to financial goals. No matter what business you’re in, you can probably find a meaningful way to connect. How about a thank-you card at the end of the year:
"Mr. Jones, we thank you and look forward to serving you in the coming year. Enclosed, please find ___. It’s our way of saying thanks for choosing us as your partner."
Sometimes a business loses its way and no longer thinks like its customers or loses sight of their interests. Anyone who has ever left a business relationship and then received email invitations to come back at a better rate understands this error:
"If you could have given me phone service at $14.99 a month, why didn’t you say so when I was at $34.99? Go away!"
Mitigation – Give your existing customers your best service, your best advice, and your best deals. Doing so may ding your wallet in the short term, but in the long run it is the right thing to do. This strategy will build trust and loyalty.
Client First – Always!
Nobody wants to pay a service provider who hires people who focus on themselves. Here is an example: say your regular server in your favorite restaurant has a habit of telling you too much about her life and her problems. At first, maybe you were glad she made conversation; now you dread hearing about the train wreck that is her life – especially when you don’t ask.
Mitigation – Live by a customer-first philosophy. Your client is the most important person in the room, not you. No matter how friendly customers are, avoid mistaking conviviality for a desire to focus on you. To put it in math terms, try to do no more than 30% of the talking: instead, spend your time asking good questions and listening to the answers.
Stay in Touch
Don’t be a business that follows a fair weather contact model. Let’s say a real estate agent sold a customer a house five years ago, but only gets in touch with them again now that he’s learned the customer might be moving. He calls, he texts, he emails, but it’s too late. The customer signed on with a new agent she met at her book club.
Mitigation – Create a contact schedule that makes sense for the kind of business you’re in. Also, look at many industries as you create your plan. For example, your hairdresser may have a technique or two you can borrow in your sales role. You don’t want to be a pest, but, at the same time, you don’t want to be passed over the next time someone needs the services you provide.
With a little effort, you can avoid mistakes, and over time you can mitigate bad choices you’ve made previously. Great customers are great for a reason, and they’re going to be somebody’s customers. Make decisions that will ensure you remain their provider of choice.
Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.
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