I recently saw the results of a well-known survey published by Catalyst Media[i] regarding the five main reasons why customers leave their vendors. I was more than a little shocked by the results:
- 1% go out of business
- 3% move
- 14% are lured by a competitor
- 14% are dissatisfied with your product or service
- 68% perceive a poor attitude or indifference toward them
The first three are out of your control, but those reasons account for less than 20% of customer churn. However, 82% (let me say that number again: eighty-two percent) of the time, your customers leave because of something you are doing, not doing, or could be doing differently.
The Three C’s for Customer Retention
In my experience, there are three “Cs” that you can easily implement to engage your customers and learn what they need so that you can then find better ways to deliver to them. These are not onerous and can be easily adopted across any size of business.
1. Connect – Continue to ‘sell’ your customers on why you’re the best vendor for them
How often are you connecting with your customers? One of the most neglected elements within many Technology Solution providers is their customer mailing list.
I know: you believe there are too many emails going out – nobody wants to read what you have to say. That is where you are wrong. In the sales cycle, customers are provided with a wealth of information about your company, product, partnerships and future direction. Too often after they sign on the dotted line, that line of communication goes dead. Customers have elected to do business with you because they believe you are going to help them. They would like to continue to feel that way.
Your email list is one of the most critical vehicles you have for reaching out to your customers. Make sure they are getting at least one communication per month from you, and make sure it is valuable. As you are immersed in your business, they are equally immersed in theirs. Information that you might take for granted may be knowledge they are completely unaware of. Your competition continues to contact your customers and tell them what is new and interesting about their company, product and services – you’d better be doing the same.
Block off an hour each month and write a personal email – from you to them. Share with them some good information… the kinds of things you might talk about if you were having a coffee together. For example, recently there has been a lot of noise about Ransomware in the market. Talk about what they should be doing to protect themselves, or what measures you already have in place to protect them. Let them know they can call you if they have any concerns.
Keep it short. Your email can be less than 150 words. Instead of a lot of verbiage, use hyperlinks to point them to other information if they want to read more.
The important thing is to be yourself, be real, and be as attentive as you likely were during the sales cycle, when you were trying to close them in the first place.
2. Communicate – Consistently solicit feedback about what you could be doing better
You might think that communication is the same thing as connecting. No. This is now about dialogue. This is a two-way exercise, providing a means for customers to give you feedback about what they like and don’t like about doing business with you. The key here is, don’t just ask for good news; sincerely ask for feedback about any problems the customer is experiencing or any unresolved issues they need help with.
I recently became a board member at a channel partner association and I wanted to find out why membership was declining. I asked for survey results from the membership coordinator but was told that almost no one ever completed the surveys. (That is not a surprise; traditional surveys have a 1.3% completion rate.) As an alternative, I asked for the membership list and randomly began to call the members. I introduced myself as a new board member and asked why they had joined and what they wanted to see from us in the future. I asked what they liked about the association, but the question that got the strongest response was “if we could be doing one thing better that would significantly improve your experience, what would it be?”
The results were surprising. Although a couple of calls made me wince (remember the 14% and 68% stats above), most of them were engaging. I learned why people had joined in the first place, what they enjoyed about the association and what they wanted to see remain in place. I also learned where we were missing the mark and what we could do about it. And the most surprising part was, the fixes suggested were surprisingly easy.
Most importantly, I had made a connection. Each member I spoke with told me how much they appreciated the call. They felt valued. Feeling valued is a big part of any customer retention strategy.
3. Collaborate – Create a customer community
Collaboration is taking the two-way dialogue one step further. Have you ever held a customer council or invited your customers in to participate in future planning? One system integrator that I work with regularly runs customer councils about twice a year. They invite a small group (usually between 5-15 customers) to their offices for a half-day. They review trends in the industry and how those trends might impact the customer’s business. They often bring in an expert speaker (security, big data, mobility, etc.) to introduce new ideas. They will review what their service model is covering today, and what they intend to cover in the future. Customers have the opportunity to share what is working for them and identify where they think they will need additional help.
This is about building community. People by nature want to feel part of something, and this practice builds relationship with other business leaders as well as a relationship with you. The actual practice of sitting and dialoguing with you and others helps develop a bond that will make it difficult for the customer to leave you. They now feel part of something they are co-creating with you. And they know they have a direct line to the leadership in your organization, something that is incredibly important for anyone in business.
Customers came to you in the first place because they believed you would solve their problems and take care of them. If you continue to reinforce that message as well as provide opportunities for clients to give you good feedback, you are more likely to keep them. This is especially important for solution providers who are moving into new lines of business like Managed Services. Use these customer retention strategies to help you define solution sets and migrate your clients to Managed Services offerings. It’s a win-win for everyone.
And don’t forget the immense value of the occasional personal touch. I recently started sending customers cupcakes. Yes, that’s right – cupcakes. The customer provides a reference call – cupcakes; writes a positive review on the software review sites – cupcakes; extends their contract with us – cupcakes – you get the picture. Of all the customer appreciation things I’ve done in the last fifteen years, those cupcakes are the best customer relationship investment I’ve ever made. Because for most customers, it’s really just about someone at the vendor taking the time to interrupt their busy day with some way of saying “thank you for being our loyal customer, we appreciate you.” And I mean, come on, who doesn’t like cupcakes?
Have any stories to share regarding creative approaches that your company is taking to build customer loyalty? Would love to hear about your experience.
Find out more about the approach Promys PSA takes to enhance our customers experience. Download the Guide to Selecting and Implementing the Right PSA Software Now.