The Challenges of Customer Retention
About eight years ago I noticed our kitchen sink was leaking. This paved the way to the discovery that our garbage disposal had broken and water was leaching down into the cabinet space below every time we ran the faucet or dishwasher.
Of course, I spent the requisite two to three hours valiantly searching for ways that I could DIY this home repair myself. I watched countless minutes of YouTube videos explaining how to remove old disposals and install new ones. I Googled images of tools I would need and hadn’t yet heard of, much less owned. I became exceptionally skilled at decoding wet and blurry model numbers that looked like they belonged in a Salvador Dali painting. Finally, I browsed Amazon, The Home Depot, and Lowes for the precise equipment I would need to actually execute the project successfully.
As you can imagine, all of the above led inevitably to one final search for the nearest, cheapest professional who could come by in the next 24-48 hours and do the job for me. Fortunately, I was able to find a guy who lived in my community and operated a one-man home improvement business right out of his home. He was fast, convenient, and affordable. He told me to give him a call if any other appliance broke down and needed fixing. I thought to myself, this will be the start of a beautiful, lifelong friendship.
Flash forward two years later, to when our dryer needed to be repaired, and I knew just who I would call. There was only one problem. My friend never gave me a card, I didn’t remember his name, and I had neglected to save his number into my phone. Now, when I really needed him, I couldn’t remember who he was or how to get in touch with him. Instead, I ended up going with someone else who probably was more expensive and also fails to remain in my memory. It would appear that we humans never do seem to learn from our mistakes.
This brings me to the real crux of this blog: the challenges of customer retention. By now, you’re probably familiar with the idea that a customer retained is more valuable than a customer earned. At the very least, customer retention is less costly. Partly, this is a product of the familiarity an existing customer has with your services.
Fewer marketing resources need to be devoted to a customer who already knows what you can offer. There’s no need to explain who you are as a brand, what your brand stands for, what your values are as a company, and how you stack up against your competitors. Typically, existing customers already have a working definition of these concepts.
But there are other reasons why retaining a customer is a more efficient strategy than acquiring a new one. Existing customers will frequently become brand ambassadors themselves, referring new customers to your business and saving legwork for your sales team in the process. These customers also have a tendency to remain loyal to your brand for long periods of time, although to be fair, this has a lot to do with the customers themselves and things like “churn rate,” which determines how often customers cease being customers.
But regardless of the “why,” it’s a fairly accepted notion that customer retention is a big deal for businesses. And yet, according to some statistics, the majority of companies tend to spend more time focusing on acquisitions rather than retention. In effect, this is sort of like abandoning your current friends at a party while you go and try to gain favor with the new kid, who may or may not want to be friends with you in the first place.
What gives? Where does the disconnect lie between business and customer, and what’s preventing so many companies from successfully retaining customers they’ve already gained?
Where’s the Strategy?
Going back to my friend the handyman, he had initially won me over with quality service and a good price point. But even when I, the customer, wanted to be retained, I wasn’t, simply because of a hole in — or rather a complete lack of — his customer retention strategy.
There were no follow-up emails, phone calls, surveys, or texts. All of the responsibility was on me to remain in touch and engaged with this guy’s small business, and my failure in this respect resulted in him losing out on my business forever.
If he had just reached out again, taken my email address down, or given me a call six months or a year later, I probably would still be using him for my home repair needs. But, unfortunately, like many small businesses, he either didn’t have the resources to build a customer retention strategy, or it wasn’t on his radar to build one.
Are You Appreciated?
A byproduct of a poor or lacking customer retention strategy is that your customers will not just feel out-of-touch, they’ll likely feel unappreciated as well. They may get a sense that no one is listening to them, or that no one from your company cares. According to some estimates, this is a $41 billion problem, with roughly 44% of U.S. consumers looking elsewhere because of poor customer service.
In the B2B space, and for many manufacturers and distributors, you may be hiring relationship reps for this very purpose, which is a great first step. But make sure that you’re not just catering to your top customers. It can make all the difference to a smaller account when there are personal follow-ups from someone concerned about their needs and hoping to provide solutions.
Now think about your own customer experiences. After shopping at a store or using a service, did the company follow up with you in a way that made you feel appreciated? Did they reach out to you with a thank-you email or a special offer or promotion simply for being a loyal customer?
For example, every once in a while I receive these promotions from Uber offering up to 30% off rides for a limited time, essentially for being a “good” customer. Now, I know Uber may not truly care about me as a person; that’s not my expectation. What I hope is that they care enough about my individual business to occasionally let me know that they appreciate my continued loyalty to their brand.
Have You Been Engaged?
Finally, a lack of appreciation is one reason why a company loses touch with its customers, but a poor engagement strategy in general is where they lose these customers for good. Now, just because a company sends me an email doesn’t mean they’re engaging me. There’s a fine line between useful engagement materials and spam, and it’s incumbent on a company to know who their customers are, what they want, and what they will and won’t tolerate.
Now, maybe this is like the example with Uber, where you offer your loyal customers a deal or discount. Maybe it could mean introducing a special promotion with gamification tools that keep your brand top-of-mind while activating those customers who you may fear are slipping away. Maybe it involves a survey soliciting customer feedback, whereby customers can feel like their voices are actually getting heard and the brand is concerned with getting better. Or, maybe it requires proactive customer service protocols with an active social media account, phone call follow-ups, text message notifications, or e-commerce chat bots.
The point is, customer retention is an ongoing process that should never be left to the customers themselves. You could have the best products and services and the premier price point in your industry, but if you don’t have a coherent customer retention strategy — one that demonstrates appreciation and provides continued gestures of engagement — you’ll likely find that even your best customers don’t stick around for very long. Just ask my favorite local handyman — whoever he is.
Looking to revamp your customer retention strategy? We’ll help you develop innovative ways to engage and/or show appreciation to your customers that will keep them doing business with you and keep them away from your competitors. Book a meeting with us.
Article originally posted by HMI Performance Incentives.