Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Pardon Me, but "Your Competitive Edge is Becoming Dull"

Keeping customers is one of the most effective and yet neglected ways to control marketing costs. There are always new and inspirational tactics for holding onto those customers you've spent so much to acquire.

1. Offer Personalized Picks and Services: We all know Amazon.com does this to perfection. So, let's look instead at Netflix, the online movie rental service. The various tools available at Netflix enable you to pick movies that you want to watch and put them in the order you want to receive them.

2. Ask for Opinions: Both your satisfied and not-so-satisfied customers have lots of valuable information to share with you. Begin to regularly send surveys to customers who have returned items and find out why they did so. Offer a dollar incentive, such as $25 off the next purchase, to those customers who respond to the survey.

3. Research Before You React: Do you have any idea how much an individual customer is worth to you at the point when he or she is ripping your head off for a customer service issue? Even though I don't have the world's most integrated systems, I always train our customer service staff to check how much a customer has spent with us over the years (and how often) before making any kind of service decision. Yes, I'm stating the obvious no matter how un-PC it might be... some customers are more valuable than others.

4. Create a Client Portal: Service and software businesses are more and more frequently creating useful client portals in which customers gain access to exclusive information about the service, the industry or both. One approach is to enable customers to share information with one another in terms of experiences, tips and tricks. Create a place where they can blog to each other about you... Wow! What amazing feedback you'll receive!

5. Reward Loyal Customers, Part 1: This may seem like a no-brainer, but how often have you seen ads or commercials for a service you already use wherein new customers are offered great deals while you just sit there feeling neglected because you're paying more for the same product or service? This is maddening to existing customers. Your conundrum is figuring out how to lure in new customers with a good teaser rate without alienating your existing customer base. How about a reward program based on how long they've been a customer?

6. Reward Loyal Customers, Part 2: Another way to reward customers is with one of those ubiquitous "membership" cards or programs that accrue points or whatnot the more you spend with the company. In some cases these types of programs have revolutionized industries - for example, frequent flyer miles.

And, finally (and most importantly!)
7. Under Promise and Over Deliver: Give existing and prospective customers lower predictions of solutions/satisfaction rates/completed sales/etc. than is typical. Spell out that you are looking to manage their expectations by quoting figures that are lower than average in terms of solutions and goals met. Your clients and prospects will appreciate the candor and realize they're not getting a typical "sales job" filled with a bunch of happy talk and bombast. It has the effect of increasing the comfort level and trust in the deal.

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