Marketing for Customer Retention
If you say the word “marketing” to a small business owner, their thoughts typically jump to ways to generate new customers. What can be done with digital or print advertising to get more foot traffic? How can they attract new website visitors and make more new sales? Who can they network with to get more referrals?
Meanwhile your best marketing strategy might be standing right in front of you.
Yes, I’m talking about your existing customers. While most small business owners would readily acknowledge that their existing customers are the core of their business, most of us don’t act like it when it comes to developing a marketing strategy. Our focus is mainly new customer acquisition, and yet studies have shown that repeat customers account for a much greater percentage of sales across most industries.
Today, existing customers are more important than they have ever been in history. Today, customers are not only valuable for the product they purchase now (and in the future.) They are also valuable for the buzz they create (or don’t create) around your business. The technological advances and proliferation of social media means that this buzz can happen easily, quickly, and be broadcast more widely than ever before.
Step 1: Inspire Customer Loyalty
Loyalty programs are certainly one way to help us along in our mission, but it’s important to recognize that loyalty programs are often passive.
Have you ever made a purchase at a store and been asked if you have a loyalty card? Have you ever replied, “I think so? Let me check”or“I’m not sure.” How much did that reward card have on your purchase? For me, loyalty cards don’t drive me to a store. They are just a thing I happen to get at stores where I shop the most often. Most of the time I forget to bring in the coupon to redeem any “reward” that I’ve “earned” anyway. And I don’t usually share that I’ve earned 100 points with any of my friends on social media.
So how do you go from passive loyalty programs to inspiring true advocacy? What makes a customer return to your business faithfully over and over again and recommend you to others?
The first critical element is whether you have made your customer feel important. This can start as simply as referring to your customer by name or going a little beyond expectations to make your customer’s life a little easier. While I could shop anywhere for birthday presents for my friends, I most always start at a little boutique shop because they offer to wrap my presents and put them in a gift bag. It doesn’t take a lot of time for them, but it saves me from spending time buying a gift bag and wrapping it myself. That’s a big plus for this last-minute shopper!
What is one small, unexpected thing that you can do that will remove a “next step” from your customer’s “to-do” list?
The second thing is acknowledging that your customer matters to you. I’m not one of a hundred people who is buying your service. I’m a unique person with a specific need that you’re answering. One of the reasons I love my dentist is because his office staff greets me by name. That’s not entirely impressive. After all, they know I’m coming. But the fact that they ask about all four of my kids by name is. The fact that they pick up where they left off on my medical records and don’t make me fill out new forms each time is also important. It tells me that they remember me and that they don’t want to waste my time.
How can you collect a “detail” about your customer that will make them feel memorable the next time you interact with them?
How can you avoid having your customer repeat information that they have already provided once?
Third, follow up with unexpected value. Content marketers talk a lot about providing value on the front end of a purchase as a way to attract customers. This often comes in the form of written material (like a blog post). But what about on the back end? It’s likely that your customers can benefit from a new piece of valuable information after their purchase or be made aware of an opportunity that they may not know about as a new customer.
What is the logical next piece of information your customer will need?
What is one thing that you could tell them about that they might not otherwise be aware of?
These three elements combine to transform a purchase from a simple transaction to an experience. Transactions aren’t memorable. Experiences are. Relationships are built on experiences, not transactions.
Step 2: Leverage Digital Technology to Amplify Your Efforts
The technology that makes your customer’s voice so valuable also makes your efforts more effective.
While there is a risk that automated email responses and social media can be used to blast impersonal messages, these tools –when used the right way – provide an unparalleled opportunity to grow your relationship with your customers, even when they are not in your personal presence. You have an opportunity to have a back and forth exchange with your customers through email and social media, and your customers then have the chance to be heard. Dialogue creates trust. Trust inspires loyalty.
Go back and rethink the questions above with these caveats in mind:
How can you discover what the “unexpected, extra step” is that you can take for your customers?
Remember, this step could also be before the purchase. A great way to find out is to ask your customers on social media. Polls are great for engagement and provide invaluable insight. Informational posts are another. One of the things that the boutique where I shop does is post new arrivals on their Facebook page. I don’t even have to walk into the store to see what’s there. It’s all right on my computer screen. In fact, if I really love something, I can comment on Facebook and they’ll put my size aside so I can buy it later. My shopping is done for me before I even walk in the store.
How can you create another touchpoint with your customer using the “detail” that you learned at their initial time of purchase?
Maybe you can send a digital birthday card or acknowledge a work anniversary or promotion? An email is great, but acknowledging these on social media by posting on your account or theirs gives you the advantage of having others see it. [Note: Be wary of displaying info that your customer wants to be kept private.] Use the opportunities that you have to touch base in a personal way and show your customers that they matter.
How can you stay involved after the purchase?
Staying in touch on social media is like giving your customers a virtual tap on the shoulder every time they see your posts. If you’re business to consumer, this can be through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat or many other social media channels. If your clients are other businesses, this can be done through LinkedIn. Every time you post, comment or share, you have an opportunity to be seen in your customer’s news feed. You no longer disappear from the radar until they have an opportunity to seek you out again. You are constantly telling your story in the background. You are constantly connecting with your clients. Remember, the more contacts your customer has with you, the more likely they are to buy from you again.
Active loyalty begins with reliable service, but hinges on your continued relationships with your customers.
Finally, leverage your customer’s loyalty by making it easy for them to tell the world how wonderful you are and refer others. Often a customer will be happy to recommend you on Google, Facebook, Bing or Yelp, but they don’t think about it when they’re sitting at their computer or they don’t know how. Make it simple by sharing the suggestion in an email along with a link. Be blatant when you want your fans to share a post on social media. Asking yields better results than simply suggesting or assuming that they will do what you want. Finally, create share-able moments in your business activities. Nothing is better than user-generated (customer-generated) content for promoting your business.
Some churn is inevitable, but remember that a customer – whether past or current – can always be a referral source and an advocate for your business and possibly the strongest marketing tool you have.