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How to Romance and Retain Your Best Customers

Sunday, October 1, 2006

The Society for the Advancement of Consulting® (SAC®) has canvassed its worldwide membership to determine how organizations secure the loyalty of their best customers. "The cost of losing an excellent customer," says SAC CEO Alan Weiss, Ph.D., "is far more expensive than failing to secure that customer to begin with, yet not enough organizations focus on customer retention strategies."

Tom Huberty, Principal of Huberty Performance Learning in Minneapolis, reports that an unexpected article or web site reference relevant to the customer's business can reap huge rewards. "You can become an extension of the customer's 'business intelligence' division," he notes.

A partnership perception is a key tool. Alan Fortier, Principal of Fortier & Associates in Fort Lee, NJ observes, "At it's core, customer retention stems from building value over time by continuously performing more key functions for your customer. When these can be performed better and at less cost by the supplier, the result is a partnership versus a transaction relationship."

"Pick up on it immediately when you read about a preferred client in the media, and send them a short positive note commenting on their acclaim," adds Dr. Maynard Brusman, Principal of Working Resources in San Francisco. Weiss agrees: "My coffee shop owner posts anything he sees about me in the newspapers on his bulletin board, along with information about his other top customers. It's brilliant."

"A big part of retaining your best customers is to be crystal clear on who your top customers are and how you expect them to be treated," according to Linda Popky, President of L2M Associates, a strategic marketing firm located in Redwood City, CA. "Specify the values and standards your customer-facing personnel are expected to maintain, then ensure compensation, rewards and disciplinary programs enforce the correct behavior. Your customer-facing employees are your face to the customer. Their interactions can make or break your business. When they go 'above and beyond,' your customers notice and react accordingly."

Cory Van Buskirk, President of CVB Consulting Group in Loveland, OH has observed his clients over the years seeing their customers as individuals. "Even if you think of it from a purely economic perspective, customer retention is a must. Every dollar invested in a current client is far more likely to provide a return than that same dollar invested in new client acquisition. The key to effective client retention is creativity, and it starts with your relationship. By knowing your clients as people and not just business contacts the options for incentives will be clear. What are their interests and passions? What causes and outside pursuits do you have in common that you can leverage? What other business needs do you know of that remain unfulfilled for your client? It may even be something as simple as a referral or recommendation. Regardless, the attention to detail and personal service sends the key message…'You are valued and deserve my very best!' "

Professional practices are no different. Ed Poll of Venice, CA, recipient of Board Approval from SAC as coach to the legal profession, points out: "Lawyers don't practice law, they serve clients who have challenges they can't solve on their own. Without clients, there is no reason to be a lawyer. We should appreciate and cherish clients, and treat them accordingly, for providing our livelihood and an interesting and challenging way to spend our time. Do you use your clients' products or services and tout their benefits to others, or ever call them just to say 'thank you?' If not, you don't truly care about your clients, and they will soon look for another lawyer who does."

Dedie Leahy, a marketing strategist (Dedie Leahy & Co., Dallas, TX) tells her clients this: "Think from the other side of the fence -- in other words, mentally walk in the shoes of your client/customer. When you do, you can better anticipate their needs and respond to them proactively. Check in, be present, inquire--frequently. Keep their businesses top of mind to recognize synergistic opportunities. And, care. Really care."

And sometimes, it's this simple: "Do what you say you will do when you say you will do it. They will love you for always and tell others as well!" (Debbie Mrazek, The Sales Company, Plano, TX).

"If you and your employees are not actively trying to romance and retain your best customers every day," concludes Weiss, "I can guarantee that someone else will succeed in trying to romance them away from you."

 
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