Ramp Up Your Customer Service Protocols

Identifying competitive advantages for your business can be a real challenge. You probably have a fine product and service line, but how can you distinguish your company from the pack and rise to the top in the minds of customers? As product features and price are not necessarily the determining factors that they once were.  In response, business leaders and owns have turned to the customer experience to build competitive advantages and brand loyalty that are the bedrock of sustainable long-term success.

Before we go any further, let’s define the term customer experience.  The customer experience is your customers’ perception of how your company treats them. These perceptions affect their behaviors and build memories and feelings to drive their loyalty. In other words: if they like you and continue to like you, they are going to do business with you and recommend your business to the others.  Why should business owners and leaders invest time to map out the customer experience and improve it at every touch point?

  1.  Improves customer retention (by 42%, according to some reports)
  2. Improves customer satisfaction (by 33%)
  3. Enhances cross-selling and up-selling opportunities (by 32%)

A 2013 Deloitte survey showed that 62% of companies now rank the customer experience as a competitive differentiator. They are coming around to understand that what customers really want from your organization is help solving their problem. They want to hear what other customers were able to achieve by using your solution. They want to understand the value and benefits your products promise to deliver, not just the product itself.  The Temkin Group,  a customer experience research and consulting firm, in 2018 found that:

  • 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience
  • 73% of buyers point to customer experience as an important factor in purchasing decisions
  • 65% of buyers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising

 

Excellent customer service means you fix your problems without the customer knowing the problem.  There is no reason for customers ever to see the back of the house problems. Never put that burden on a customer. Customer service also demands a timely response as well as empathy. Customer service also includes mobile, since 52% of customers will not return if they have a negative mobile experience with your organization.

A Harvard Business Review study found that customers are seven times more likely to buy a product when their calls are returned within one hour. In addition to speed and customization, you must handle comments with empathy. “I’m sorry,” is a powerful phrase that can repair a bad experience. Everyone wants to be heard, appreciated and respected. Empathy is free and should be a minimum requirement for any employee that interfaces with a customer.

Customer journey maps include every touchpoint and examine frustration points and areas that create satisfaction. Using internal and external marketing data you can look for gaps between what the customer expects at each step and what the customer experiences. Establish a voice-of-the-customer program, which is a formal process and procedure to solicit feedback and share it across the entire organization to all relevant employees.

From the top down, your organizational culture should encourage all employees to appreciate and respond to customer feedback. Through sharing and by using reputation management software, you can analyze data and can implement actionable goals. Continually look for ways for your organization to improve and continue to become more customer-focused.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: L’here du The. by Albert Lynch (1851 – 1912)

 

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Combat Customer Churn

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Every business owner works hard to add new customers to the company roster. Customer acquisition is a key component of an owner’s role, but attention must also be  paid to customer retention. It’s critical that business owners/ leaders develop a customer retention strategy for the organization—and implement it!

Depending on which study you believe and the industry you’re in, acquiring a new customer costs anywhere from 5 to 25 times more than the cost of retaining an existing customer.  Consider the time and resources utilized to recruit even one new customer, to say nothing of prospects whom you pursue and do not win.  It’s much more cost-effective and efficient to keep the customers you already have happy.

The phenomenon called churn refers to losing customers and the metric that measures the rate at which customers are lost, as compared to customers on the roster, is known as the customer churn rate. “Customer churn rate is a metric that measures the percentage of customers who end their relationship with a company in a particular period,” explains Jill Avery, senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School. The churn rate is measured during any month, quarter, or year, depending on the industry and the product or service that your company supplies.

In other words, if your business begins the quarter with 400 customers and ends with 380, the customer churn rate is 5%, since 20 of the 400 customers no longer do business with the company.  Avery goes on to say that many business owners/ leaders prefer to monitor and report churn rate’s opposite: customer retention rate, or how many customers remain. Both calculations tell the same story.

Changes in a company’s churn rate could signal that something is working well (if the number goes down) or needs addressing (if the number increases).  When you notice that an unexpected number (or percentage) of customers whom you’d expect to be more than just one-offs instead decline to do business at least intermittently, it’s time to take action and stanch the hemorrhage. The usual culprits are customer service failing,  products/ services that are not fulfilling customer expectations, or the presence of an aggressive competitor.

Churn is more than a metric to occasionally monitor. The future of your business depends on understanding why customers might leave and knowing what you can to do to retain those who may be ready to jump ship.  Avery advises that “Looking at churn rates by customer segment illuminates which types of customers are at risk and which types may need an intervention. It’s a nice simple metric that tells us a lot about when and how to interact with customers.”

Likewise, it’s important to study your customer acquisition channels. They don’t all yield equal results, so examine each to learn if customers coming through a specific channel have a higher churn rate than others.  Acquisition channels failing to deliver the best customers as you and your team define them will be discovered, so you can decide whether or not it’s worth continuing to fund that channel, or instead shift resources to channels that more consistently deliver the premium customers.

According to InsightSquared, a Boston marketing and sales analytics company, reducing customer churn by 5 % can increase profits by 25 % to 125 %. InsightSquared also found that 70 % of customers it polled leave not because of the product/ service purchased, but because of poor customer service. Further, 91 % of unhappy customers will not do business with your company again.

Other common issues to address include a lack of customer engagement or support, poor product-market fit and the user experience. It is essential to identify company weaknesses and shore up any products/ services that need to be better attuned to trends in market preferences, customer service protocols, or customer engagement that builds loyalty.

A mistake that business owners/ leaders make is to look at churn as simply a number, rather than as an indicator of customer behavior.  Questions to ask include:

  1. What is the company doing to cause customer turnover?
  2. What are customers doing or thinking that causes them to leave?
  3. How can we better manage customer relationships and diminish the churn?

That said, a high churn rate can be the result of poor customer acquisition efforts. “Many firms are attracting the wrong kinds of customers. We see this in industries that promote price heavily up front. They attract deal seekers who then leave quickly when they find a better deal with another company,” Avery says.

Finally, there is no standard acceptable churn metric. Avery cautions, “The truth is that what’s acceptable varies widely by business model and is largely dependent on how quickly and efficiently a company can acquire customers and how profitable customers are in the short and long-term. Some business models thrive despite high churn rates and others rely on low.”

Instead of fixating on a certain number, smart managers look at the churn rate of prior years and ask themselves what they might improve. “It’s really a metric that shows how well you’re managing your customer relationships, and you can usually always improve your performance in that area,” Avery says.

Before you assume you have a retention problem, consider whether the problem instead turns on customer acquisition.  Avery concludes, “Think about the customers you want to serve up front and focus on acquiring the right customers. The goal is to bring in and keep customers who you can provide value to and who are valuable to you.”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: 1950s, photographer and location unknown

Trick or Treat! Bring Back Your Lapsed Clients

Halloween will soon arrive and ghosts and goblins are on our minds—and candy, too. All Hallows Eve (October 31), along with the Christian feast days of All Saints (November 1) and All Souls (November 2) have got me thinking about bringing lapsed clients back from the great beyond and gently returning them to active status. While some clients give us only a one-off project, others are worth a steady, even if sometimes modest, stream of billable hours and as such, they are worth the comparatively small effort it takes to try and lure them back. Here are some statistics you’ll find persuasive:

1. It costs 5 times more to acquire a new client than it does to retain an existing one.
2. You have a 60% – 70% chance of selling to an existing client and only a 5% – 20% chance of selling to a prospect who has never done business with you.
3. Existing clients are 50% more likely to try your new product or service.
4. Existing clients on average spend 31% more than your newest clients.

So you see that we save time and money, as well as make more money, when we return to our lapsed clients. Surprisingly, only 18% of businesses have a defined client retention strategy, according to a recent marketing survey, but you now know that means money is being left on the table, something you cannot afford to do. Begin your client retention strategy as soon as you’re hired for a project. Shift your perspective—you haven’t just closed a sale, you’ve opened the door to a relationship.

Because marketing experts report that 89% of companies recognize that the client experience is a key factor in driving loyalty and retention, do your business a favor and devise a quick client satisfaction survey, maybe five or six questions, and get some post-project feedback. Clients always appreciate that you value their insights on how your organization does business. You might receive information that will make your business more competitive and therefore more favorably positioned to both win back and acquire clients.

The December holidays are approaching and that gives you the most golden opportunity for client outreach, the holiday card. Start thinking about your cards NOW. Would you like to have your local Sir Speedy or Kinko design a card for your clients? That will take some time and you want to be ready to mail in the first week of December. Remember that holiday cards intended for clients have a “Happy Holidays” message and not a religious message.

If you publish a newsletter or blog, clients past and present are ideal candidates for your mailing list. Clients have willingly shared their contact information and that gives you permission to send each a courtesy copy. Your content is an effective way to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your business acumen, making it similar to an ongoing audition for future assignments. Your newsletter or blog are effective ways to keep your organization at top of mind. Nevertheless, include an opt-out feature for those who prefer to discontinue.

Finally, you can offer a 20 % discount to any client who has not worked with you for the past three or more years. You might include the notice in two successive issues of your blog or newsletter, or send a separate email announcement, or both. However you get the word out, I suggest that you honor the discount for any client who requests it, even if it’s a year after the announcement appeared and you just competed a project with that client last month.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Jonathan Frid as vampire Barnabas Collins in the ABC-TV gothic horror soap opera “Dark Shadows” (1966-1971)

Client Retention: Surpass the Minimum

In 1990, the consulting group Bain & Company and Earl Sasser of the Harvard Business School analyzed the costs and revenues derived from serving clients over their entire purchasing life cycle and found that regardless of the industry, the high cost of acquiring clients will render many business relationships unprofitable during their early years.

Acquiring a new client can cost up to five times more than it does to retain a current client.  It is only over time, when the cost of serving a long-term client falls as the volume of their purchases rises, that these relationships generate big returns.

The Bain-HBS review found that when the client retention rate increases by 5%, profits increase by 25% – 95%.  Also, long-term clients are more likely to refer new clients to the business and increase sales revenues and profits accordingly.

That said, an ongoing client retention strategy is a must-do for all Freelance consultants and business owners.  Read on and discover how your organization can embed client retention practices in nearly every step of your client interactions.

Context and expectations

When you propose a solution designed to help your client resolve a problem or achieve an objective, include in the conversation your rationale for presenting that particular path rather than another.  Make it possible for the client to better appreciate your decision-making process and divulge how you carefully considered his/her priorities, values, budget, staffing, or other factors that impacted your recommended solution.

We may infrequently discuss the behind-the-scenes thinking that guides the possibilities we envision for a client and his/her organization.  Revealing your big picture thinking demonstrates the depth of the value you attach to the client and his/her unique circumstances and that builds loyalty, trust and a good relationship.

Become an adviser

Don’t shy away from asking questions that will surface your client’s sometimes unexpressed expectations or concerns.  You may discover a solution that is ideally tailored to the clients’ needs when you employ the consultative approach to selling.  You and your client can collaborate on the development of the solution if s/he is comfortable with that process.  Buy-in is a given when the client is a co-author of the process.

Along the way, let your client know what to expect as the solution is implemented; it will also be helpful to review what success looks like.  Communicate often, so that the client understands where you are with the project, especially as regards milestones, Key Performance Indicators, the deadline and other agreed-upon metrics.

Moreover, depending on your product or service line, recommend services to your clients, based on their previous purchases.  According to a 2015 survey of marketers, this personalized touch generates a high ROI.  It shows that you’ve paid attention to client preferences and it is a compliment.

Finally, we are nearing Holiday time.  Make sure that you send cards to clients you’ve interacted with over the past five years.  Who among us does not appreciate a card at this time of year, when we reach out to those who matter?

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Corine Vermuelen (2013)  Alicia and John George, owners of Motor City Java House in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood

 

 

Client Retention Means Exceeding Expectations

Client retention and referrals are the best ways to build a good client list. Earlier in the year,  one of my clients referred to me a colleague who is in a closely related business.  I was so happy!  While working with clients new and long-term,  my mission is to do an excellent job and exceed expectations, so that I will create the conditions for a long relationship and the receipt of referrals.

The two clients are friends,  yet very different in working style.  The first is laid back and easy to deal with.  The new client, to be honest, has not yet developed trust in my abilities. There is a tendency to be more hands-on than I would expect and to assume that things may not have been done correctly on my part.  I’m not sure of the source of the client’s anxiety, but I’ve decided to view the matter as a learning opportunity that will keep me in top form.  I will be pushed to do my best work and have the opportunity to go into trust and credibility building mode.

I started on the client retention path by first learning who had referred me and then sending a thank you email.  Prior to that,  the client had received December holiday cards, as it is my custom is to send holiday cards to all clients I’ve worked with in the previous five years.

Regarding the new client,  my objective is to help that individual relax and know that I’m in control and will make him/her look smart and capable in the eyes of superiors and peers.  I’ve written previously about how to establish a good relationship with difficult and demanding clients. https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/how-to-manage-a-difficult-client/

Other tips include:

Be prepared

If you know that you’ll be asked to address a certain problem that the client must resolve, or you must make make recommendations about how the client might capitalize on an expected opportunity, do your homework and come to the meeting brimming with practical ideas and insightful questions.

Listen to the client

Listen and learn how the client views matters from his/her perspective, whether it’s how to implement the solution for the project you’re working on,  how to resolve a customer service glitch, or any other matter that is presented.  Show that you value the client’s opinions.

Respect the client’s ideas and suggestions

You may not have all the answers. The client’s lived experience matters.  Be open to incorporating the client’s ideas into your proposed solution.  Always agree with the client and validate his/her choices. Subtly adapt his/her suggested strategy into something that you know will be more effective, when necessary.  If the client mentions that another consultant has handled a similar project in a different way,  listen up and learn. You may receive valuable information on how to improve your business practices.

Communicate constantly

Misunderstandings cause relationships to fray and misunderstandings occur when communication is unclear and insufficient.  Meetings may be infrequent, but emails are a way to report on (in writing!) your many successes toward achieving the objectives and goals of the project.  I keep my clients apprised of what I’m doing.  This custom also helps when it’s time to send an invoice and billable hours must be justified.  What I don’t want is a client who questions why I’m claiming so many hours.  Moreover, if the client feels that some aspect of the project scope should be expanded or diminished,  adjustments can be made in a timely fashion.

Get it in writing

Take meeting notes and within 48 hours post-meeting, send an email to confirm what has been discussed and agreed-upon. Include project specs, the fee structure, the payment schedule, project milestones, the deliverables and the due dates.

Client retention is the foundation of every business.  It takes less time and effort to retain a client than to pursue and acquire a new one. Furthermore,  long-term clients are much more likely to bestow on you that ultimate affirmation, a referral.

Thanks for reading,

Kim