Customer retention is on the minds of small and medium-sized businesses across the world. With rising customer acquisition costs, businesses need to innovate and assume a proactive role in retaining clients.
Studies from the U.S. Small Business Administration and U.S. Chamber of Commerce have found that acquiring new customers can cost as much as five to seven times more than simply retaining existing customers. The fact that customer profitability tends to increase over the life of a retained customer is added incentive for businesses to allocate more resources to sharpening their customer retention strategies.
Before I offer my nine customer retention strategies for businesses, I want to share three reasons, identified in research, your customers may leave you.
- 68% leave because they are unhappy with the service they receive.
- 14% are unhappy with the product or service.
- 9% decide to use a competitor.
The following nine customer retention strategies will give you some inspiration and practical examples to help you improve your customer retention rates. They address the above mentioned problems and provide you with actionable tips you can implement today to maximize your customer retention.
1. Set customer expectations
The first step to building better customer retention is to set client expectations early. The earlier the better. Don’t wait.
A great way to foster loyal customers is to “under promise and over deliver” on the expectations you originally laid out in the SLA. For instance, Datto states in its customer SLA that any ticket submitted with an “urgent” priority will be replied to within one hour. In reality, the response time on those tickets is closer to five minutes.
By setting expectations early and a tad lower than you can provide, you can eliminate uncertainty as to the level of service you need to offer to ensure your clients are happy. This clear vision enables your company to build KPIs around specific expectations and ensure you are always over delivering.
Clients tend to remember negative experiences. So if you have over delivered on the past 20 occasions, but, once, you undelivered – your client will no doubt quote that negative experience as a reason to cancel his or her contract with you.
Let’s take a look at an example. R & G Technologies, a successful Australian IT Company, has adopted a service-based model that has placed R & G in the top 15% of all managed service providers due to R & G’s response speed (as measured by Client Heartbeat). R & G has implemented strict SLAs, which work tightly with their employees’ KPIs. Jason Neville, General Manager of R & G, explains that his employees are incentivized to meet specific KPIs exceeding client expectations.
All Service Desk staff have 10-15% of their salary tied to delivering on our Service Level Agreements. If we break more than 1 SLA for the month, the entire service desk receives no bonus. Similarly, each individual service desk team member receives a bonus which is tied to the number of tickets they close for the month – so we encourage both individual and team based performance to achieve our goal.
2. Be the expert
Small and medium-sized businesses are becoming more and more dependent on services to run their operation. No matter what industry you occupy, if you can be the expert in your particular field, you will likely retain more customers.
Becoming your customers’ trusted advisor will build customer loyalty and reduce customer churn. Let’s revisit the example with R&G Technologies. If you were an IT Company, you should aspire to be the technology guru. Then your responsibilities will transcend the bare minimum your contract entails. If a customer wants advice on the most suitable mobile phone, you better be ready to assist that customer in choosing a device.
Becoming a trusted source on all technology, you build a relationship that leads to a dependency. Your customers will trust you, rely on you to give the best advice, and recognize you as an integral part of their business success.
If you want to build trust with clients, identify industry-specific problems currently facing those clients. Compliance and regulations are popular buzz words among small businesses, so, as an IT Company, this provides a perfect opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and build trust with your clients.
Give your clients a quick courtesy call – inform them of upcoming changes and provide some insightful recommendations as to their best plan of attack. This proactive, personalized approach will bolster customer loyalty and render other customer retention strategies more effective.
Being a trusted adviser takes time and a real focus on becoming an integrated part of our client’s businesses. We want to be their one stop technology advisor and that means you have to be comfortable from helping them with everything right from their new mobile phone, to scheduling and running strategic IT meetings. Above all else, I think the reason we have such high partnership scores is our customers trust us implicitly. We always give them unbiased advice even if we don’t make much money in the short term. We know the names of all of the staff that work for our clients. Even something as simple as popping in when one of our team is in the area for a quick, free walk-around builds trust – so they don’t think every time you appear you are selling something or on the clock. If you put their interests first, eventually you are rewarded with trust, and that is the most important part of a long term partnership.
3. Build trust through relationships
As the age old saying goes, you do business with people you trust. Trust is essential in business, and building relationships with clients will garner that trust.
A study by the African Journal of Business Management found that as trust increases, commitment tends to grow. The study then recommends building trust through shared values.
So what are shared values?
Cultivating shared values means taking an interest in your clients and their business. Do some research on their business, understand how you play a role in their day-to-day activities, and use this information to strengthen your relationship. A good way to start is by asking one simple question the next time you stop by for a quarterly check-up.
“What differentiates you from competitors?” Once they answer, remember that and make a note to do some extra research and find ways that you can assist them with strengthening that point of differentiation through the services you provide. Give them a follow-up call the next week and let them know what you came up with. This shows you have a shared value and are genuinely interested in their business.
Simply providing a service is no longer sufficient– as competitors enter your market, you need to start building shared values with clients and showing you take an interest in them and their success.
This leads me to my next point, implementing a relationship marketing strategy. Relationship marketing is a term that has popped up everywhere in the past couple of years. This is of particular importance because you are a service-based business.
To get you started, here are two quick ideas:
- Implement a monthly email marketing campaign
This is a lot easier than it sounds. You want to email your existing customers once a month. Touch base with them, inform them of any recent news or services, and share a couple of great articles you think will help them with their business. You should also link to your articles (see below) as a way to drive your customers to your blog.
- Start a blog
Write a weekly article on something interesting you accomplished that week, an accomplishment you feel your customers would value. Perhaps you began offering a product that can help save your clients 20 minutes a week or released a whitepaper that provides great insight into employee management. Be consistent with your blog and start using it as a way to build relationships with your customers.
4. Implement anticipatory service
Anticipatory service is a proactive approach to customer service. Instead of waiting for problems to occur, a company that implements anticipatory service can eliminate problems before they happen.
Aspect wrote a white paper, Four Reasons Why Proactive Customer Care Means Customer Loyalty, which explains the science of customer relationships as being simple – the value you get is proportionate to the value you give.
To achieve and maintain this harmony, today’s companies must establish a dialogue with customers that shows an awareness of their information needs and respect for their communication preferences. The more contacts made with a customer, the “stickier” that customer becomes. When customers are consistently given valuable information, this stickiness can form a durable bond of loyalty.
Let’s take a look at two examples of anticipatory service:
- A major airline proactively texts customers to advise them of flight delays.
- A corporate billing department alerts customers when an invoice is nearly due.
In both of these examples, the company is taking a proactive approach to what could become a problem that results in a negative experience. With the airline, no one likes to arrive at the airport and discover that the plane has been delayed for 50 minutes. Likewise, with the corporate billing department, you don’t want to be hit up for reminder invoices and late fees when these reminders could have been sent prior to the deadline.
You should be looking at ways you can stop problems from happening by being proactive. A good idea that you can implement today is a quarterly or half yearly on-site check-up.
Let’s see how it works:
So you have a client who hasn’t had any problems for four months. Everything is running smoothly. Your tech guys’ setup was perfect, and there have been no dramas since. Instead of just playing the waiting game, you should schedule an on-site check-up. Have one of your guys check in with your client to see if everything is running smoothly and double check that the processes you set up earlier are all still in place.
By being proactive – you can save yourself a lot of reactive problem fixing in the long run and build the perception that you are the type of company that consistently offers ‘anticipatory service’ with your customers.
5. Make use of automation
Automation tools allow for time-consuming tasks requiring manual intervention to be standardized into repeatable processes. Companies that leverage automation are able to minimise downtime and keep clients’ networks performing at their best.
Companies are typically bound by contracts that guarantee their services and make them accountable to clients. By leveraging automation tools and streamlining repeatable processes, companies can better meet their commitments.
By standardizing your processes and setting expectations for service levels, you can increase customer loyalty, which will lead to improved customer retention rates.
6. Build KPI’s around customer service
A great way to improve customer retention is to improve customer service. As outlined at the beginning of this post, 68% of your customers leave because they are dissatisfied with the service. The team at R&G Technologies faced similar numbers. The team set out to rectify the problems right at the source.
R & G implemented customer service KPIs built around their contractual agreement. This way, every R&G employee’s performance was measured and incentivized based on their level of service, which was closely tied to the client’s goals.
Let’s hear details about this initiative from Jason Neville:
Customer satisfaction is measured quarterly through Client Heartbeat and is tied directly to employee KPIs and compensation. We operate in a model with senior engineers assigned to a group of customers. If they do not achieve 8/10, then they fail to achieve their KPI. This is also tied back into a company goal and bonus structure.
7. Build relationships online
Your clients are online, so let’s start building relationships with them while they are glued to their computer screens. With the rise of social media, connecting with your clients through these mediums makes sense. I would focus my efforts on building social profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. The majority of your clients will have active profiles on at least one of these Web sites.
Debra Ellis from Social Media Today asserts that social media is changing the playing field by providing a venue for the one-to-one connections that create unbreakable bonds.
Connecting with customers and building communities takes more effort and time than typical social media acquisition strategies.
To get started, I remember taking the following three actions:
- First, set up a LinkedIn group, a Twitter profile, and a Facebook page.
- Include links to your profiles in all future communications with clients.
- Now use these channels to aggressively communicate with your customers. Start linking out to valuable and relevant content, share your thoughts on topics, and engage with clients who leave comments and feedback.
For companies struggling to find topics to post about on their social media channels, Scott from MSP Business Management recommends the following:
- Product news updates
- Short pieces on key news, such as virus outbreaks or high-profile system outages
- Case studies featuring your clients
- Reviews of new software
- Details of new services you offer
8. Go above and beyond
Oftentimes, companies overlook how important this is. Going the extra mile for your customers is an easy way to build strong relationships. As a service business, you have countless opportunities to woo your clients and transcend the minimum.
By doing this, you can build some serious long-term loyalty. If your clients know you are prepared to go above and beyond, they will stick with you when competitors start knocking on their door.
Here are a couple of ways you can go that extra mile for your clients:
- Pay attention to what your customers want and make their issues your issues – be proactive in addressing them.
- Isolate potential issues and fix them before they become problems.
9. Implement customer feedback surveys
Customer churn can be avoided by simply listening to your customers. Customer feedback surveys are invaluable for learning how your service is performing in relation to your clients’ expectations.
Qualtrics defines customer retention as being individualized and varied across the kind of product or service provided, the kinds and number of customers served, the longevity and frequency of customer/supplier interactions, and the strategies you have chosen to grow your business.
Client Heartbeat has identified three key metrics you must monitor to measure customer retention most effectively:
- Firstly, you should monitor customer feedback on an individual level. Comparing feedback across a broad range of customers would be a waste of time. You must narrow the data down to a specific client, see what that client thought, and take action from there.
- Secondly, you need to trend feedback across a period of time. You should track feedback survey to survey so you can see which areas have improved and which have suffered.
- Thirdly, you want feedback from customer surveys to provide intelligence. You need it to provide you with data regarding what customers are at risk, which areas of your business need improvement, and where your strengths lie.
This feedback will help you retain clients. By understanding client feedback, you can take action before it’s too late and make business decisions based on real data-driven feedback.
Retain more customers
The above nine customer retention strategies will empower you to not only strengthen your client relationships but also boost your bottom line.
For some further reading, check out these resources:
- 7 Customer Retention Programs You Can Try
- Customer Retention: Keep Customers by Growing Relationships Online
- 20 Customer Retention Strategies
- 15 Retention Strategies that Work
- 68% of your customer leave because they were unhappy with the service they received – Click to tweet this
- To build customer loyalty, you need to become their trusted adviser – Click to tweet this
- Instead of waiting for problems to occur, use anticipatory service to them before they happen – Click to tweet this
- By leveraging automation, companies can better meet their commitments – Click to tweet this
- Customer churn can be avoided by simply just listening to your customers – Click to tweet this
Updated May 5th, 2014.