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The Seven Considerations For Securing Repeat Customers

by Richard Shapiro, founder and president of The Center For Client Retention (www.tcfcr.com) While every company, from the smallest boutique to the Fortune 100, can only survive by generating repeat customers, few have programs in place that specifically focus on encouraging customer engagement. With the advent of social media, consumers have become the voice of the brand, but who represents the voice of the company? Frontline associates such as receptionists, hostesses, checkout counter clerks, customer and sales associates, museum volunteers, etc. are the interface between the organization and the company's most important asset; their customers. Here's how businesses can improve their customer service - and boost their profits - by implementing "The Seven Considerations For Securing Repeat Customers":

1. Engage Customers.

Providing good customer service does not automatically result in repeat business; a relationship needs to be established. Relationships can be created by making an excellent first impression, by smiling and being friendly, letting the customer know the associate's name even if it is on their badge, asking the customer for their name and having a dialog with a customer that communicates to them that the frontline associate sees them as a person first, a customer second. The retention journey must start with an engaged consumer, otherwise the business is focusing on today instead of leveraging the consumer encounter to generate business for tomorrow.

2. Express Customer & Associate Appreciation.

In most retail transactions, consumers feel that their business is not appreciated. Most frontline associates act robotically or indifferent. Even when they say the words "thank you", the customer is left with an empty feeling. Expressing customer appreciation in a meaningful manner conveys that the customer's business is welcomed, important and appreciated. Customers do not like to feel their business is being taken for granted and if it is, they will make their purchases at another establishment. Equally as important is having companies demonstrate the same appreciation to those associates who appreciate their customers. It's a two-way street.

3. Provide Hassle-Free Experiences.

Too many companies have rules in place whereby customers feel it is a hassle to do business with them. Companies such as Zappos and Nordstrom have built their reputations on easy return policies.  Companies should use the return process as a way to build or start a customer relationship, not to make the process so difficult for the customer that they make the decision never to return. Every company needs policies and procedures in place, but organizations should ensure that the policies not deter the customer from returning tomorrow.

4. Implement A Three-Pronged Approach.

All interactions with customers should be segmented into three distinct stages: the Greet, the Assist and the Leave-Behind.  Properly executing these three phases will encourage repeat purchases. The purpose of the Greet is to make the customer feel welcomed and want to engage with the frontline associate. The Assist includes helping the customer by learning about them as a person and what their specific needs are. It also includes providing them with additional useful information beyond what a label or instructions might contain.  Customer service is all about helping people.  Through my research I have found that those associates that have a history of volunteering, doing charitable work, coaching or tutoring, enjoy helping people. The Leave-Behind communicates a direct message to consumers that the associate wants to personally serve them again. Such actions as giving the consumer a business card, informing them of the associates' work schedule and telling the consumer to ask for them by name, all relay a feeling they that want the consumer to return.

5. Listen For The Magical Phrases.

There are certain phrases that consumers say in passing that should never be ignored by company associates. Such consumer comments as "this is the first time I'm in your store, this is the first time I used your site, I recently moved into the neighborhood, etc." should illicit a response that indicates to the customer that the associate is listening. If someone just moved into the neighborhood, finding out why they entered your establishment would provide excellent information and would help to engage the customer enough to create an initial relationship. For ecommerce, a new registration, a request for a forgotten password and new activity on the account are all great opportunities to engage consumers.

6. Interview Customers.

In market research, there is a common guide that a sample of 100 will provide sufficient data to make certain assumptions. Owners and management of businesses should interview at least 100 consumers to find out what they like, what they don't like, their opinion of the company's frontline associates, etc. Conducting interviews (not electronic surveys) with a sampling a customers who purchase, as well as those that didn't, can benefit any business.

7. Think About The ROI.

Those frontline associates that bring back the "personalization" in service deserve to be recognized and rewarded appropriately. Most consumers divide their purchases among several businesses; employing associates who drive customers to do business with your organization instead of your competitors are worth more to your company. Just compute the ROI. Hiring quality personnel who are welcoming, engaging and who can make your customers feel important will be an investment. But, I can guarantee it will be an investment with an excellent return.   Richard Shapiro is a highly regarded authority in the specialized field of customer satisfaction and  loyalty research. He founded The Center For Client Retention in 1988, following a career in customer relationship marketing and business development. He is the author of “The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business”.      

This is an article contributed to Young Upstarts and published or republished here with permission. All rights of this work belong to the authors named in the article above.

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