Do you love your customers? Really love them? In a down economy it’s far too easy to start trimming customer perks in an effort to save the bottom line. But if you’re trying to retain customers and gain new ones, you shouldn’t be looking at a short-term fix. You need to look instead to customer engagement, or what I call ‘long term romance’.
Long term romance is the way to make new customers into faithful repeat buyers, and it’s also essential for retaining the customers you already have. Here’s something to consider: A business-customer relationship shares many of the same aspects of a personal relationship. For instance:
- There must be a sense of equality. Customers need to feel that they are getting something of value when they buy your product or service. Relationships hardly last long when one party feels like he or she is doing all the work. The same can be said for customer loyalty. Your product or service should be one that the customer feels good about purchasing, and one that you feel good about supporting.
- They want to know you care. When you’re in a happy personal relationship, you do things for the other person ‘just because’. You are attentive to that person’s needs and can anticipate what he or she might want. Now, apply that to your business relationship. When’s the last time you sent out a ‘Thank You’ gift or a special loyalty sale? If you’re a freelancer, when’s the last time you put some added value into a project for one of your clients? It’s the little things that keep relationships going.
- You have to provide something unique. If you’re competing on price alone, you’re competing to lose. Customers only interested in the lowest price are a fickle lot, and you’ll never keep them happy long-term. Instead, get your customers to love you for quality, for dependability, for customer service that is truly exceptional – anything that will make the customer feel special is something you want to emphasize in your marketing.
- You need to be a good listener. Sometimes this gets confused with implementing customer suggestions. You don’t have to implement every idea that rolls into your inbox or flutters its way onto your desk via letter or fax. You do need to take the time to listen to those ideas, and decide whether or not they are worth possible implementation. It may not always be practical, but try to send a little personal acknowledgement, letting your customer know that you have heard their concern or idea and are willing to take it under consideration. Even if you ultimately decide not to move ahead with the idea, let the customer know why, and thank them for the time they spent to send you that suggestion. Their next idea may just transform your company.
Lastly, be willing to grow together. Companies and even freelancers evolve as their customers’ and clients’ needs change. New skills based on emerging technology can help keep you ahead of the competition. You don’t need to compromise your core vision, but if a majority of your customers are interested in new features that are compatible with your company’s vision, take that initiative and move forward. It’s a small price to pay for a relationship that means so much.