The Question of Customer Loyalty

As we head into what is the busiest shopping season of the year for many businesses, I think it’s a good opportunity to talk about customers and customer loyalty. As a business you have to have customers, otherwise you won’t be in business very long. The next thing to consider is whether most of your customers are repeat customers, or if you offer things that people buy once or extremely rarely. If you offer something, say heart surgery or roofing, you probably will ever work with someone once. But if you offer something like ice cream or hair cuts, and you’re not having repeat customers, something probably has to change. Here’s what one very successful entrepreneur had to say:

“Customers aren’t loyal. And it’s a waste of time trying to convince them to be….Life changes. Priorities change. Competition changes. In reality, almost no one is 100% loyal….Fact: 87% of a brand’s customers don’t stick to just that brand. They’re promiscuous at best. And if they’re offered something better, they’re gone.” Ramit Sethi

Those are some pretty serious percentages. So the question becomes: do we even try to gain customer loyalty? The first answer that comes to mind is that if you don’t give any effort to making your customers come back, few probably will. The second thing to consider is that it’s consistently proven to be cheaper in all ways to keep customers coming back than to gain new customers. The third thing to consider is that even if you have a service or product that’s purchased maybe once in a lifetime you can still gain loyal customers, it’s just not the same type of loyalty. Fourth, if you ask employees who really love your company about their favorite customers, they’ll often tell you that they enjoy connecting with the “regulars.” Fifth, loyal customers are those who share about your great products or services with their friends, and/or leave you nice testimonials you can use to get more customers.

One thing to remember is that everyone is human and everyone goes through changes in their life. So it’s really unrealistic to expect that every customer would stay with your business and your products and/or services for the full duration of their life (or their need for that product/service). But my answer is that we should work on making customers loyal, or at the very least, increasing the amount of times they purchase from us. Whether you use email newsletters, social media, events, physical mailings, a blog, a loyalty card or even just new products or services that are in line with those you already offer, there are tons of ways that you can build loyalty and encourage repeat customers. What are your favorite ways to connect with your customers and build relationships with those who are loyal to you and love you?

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Just Another Sale?

If you’re really in business it’s important to make sales. There’s no two ways to put that. If you’re not making sales you’re either doing some kind of renovation, closed for some temporary reason or going out of business. If you’re offering a product or service and not selling it or making a profit from it, what you’ve got is considered a hobby, not a business. So without a doubt you need to have sales to be in business. However, what I want to talk about today is the idea that not everything needs to be a sales pitch.

If you’re like me you get a dozen or two emails every day from various retail companies who are letting you know about sales they’re doing, reminding you to repurchase products you may be running out of, trying to up-sell you based on previous purchases or letting you know about the latest and greatest products they’re now offering. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact sometimes it can be very helpful and even exciting to get those emails and see what’s new or at a great price you’ll want to take advantage of. Sometimes it’s good to send an email that lets your subscribers know that everything in a category is on sale and not really include specifics, but more often than not people want to be inspired and see some of the specifics that they could get as part of this sale.

But if you take the time to think about it, in most cases the sale or purchase is a very small portion of the customer experience with that product or service. For example, let’s say I spend 20 minutes researching movies that are out and texting with friends to decide what to see and another 5 buying my ticket. So the purchase portion of my experience with the movie is a total of 25 minutes. But then I go see the 2+ hour movie, I talk about it with my friends for an hour after, I go home and think about it throughout the next few days, and because I enjoyed it so much I’ll watch it whenever it’s on TV and maybe even invest another 5 minutes to buy it when it comes out on DVD. The point here is that I’ve spent a total of 30 minutes in the sales/purchase aspect of this movie, and invested well over 60 hours on my experience with this one movie, which means there’s so much more to your business than just getting the sale.

You want to create products that your customers will use, remember, enjoy, talk about and share for years to come. You want them to be open to products in the same line and even the next generations of the specific product they bought initially. You want your customers to feel comfortable with your brand, with your employees, and with your products/services. All of this means that you have to remember that there’s so much more to what you’re selling than just the sale. In many ways the sale should be just the beginning.

Which is why it’s important to take time to celebrate your customer’s birthdays, to share tips for using your products, to raise awareness for needs in the world like Hurricane Harvey/Irma, to celebrate the fact that spring is here and winter is over, and ultimately to remember that your customers are so much more than a cash machine. They have lives, families, dreams, interests, passions, purpose and even fears and issues that all can play into the purchases they make and don’t make. Don’t be so focused on the sales pitch that you forget that your customers are so much more than another sale.

In the Business of Helping

This month one of the topics we’ll be talking about is the topic of help. I believe that each and every business should exist to help their customers with something. Maybe that help is something that seems important like fixing a broken leg or maybe that help is something that seems trivial when compared with a broken leg like jewelry to give your young daughter for her birthday. Both of those are helpful, they’re just helpful in different ways and at different times.

I think that keeping the focus of your business on what you do to help people is one of the ways you can ensure your success. If you and your employees are aware of and focused on being as helpful to customers and potential customers as you can be not only will you have happier customers, you’ll also have happier employees and often you’ll have more opportunities for growth and contribution in your community and the world.

With a focus on helping your people you’ll work on designing systems, creating guidelines, marketing products/services, providing customer service, hiring, and even creating products/services that do more than just add to your bottom line. Yes, the bottom line is important, but if you’re keeping employees longer, keeping suppliers longer, and have happier customers, the bottom line will take care of itself.

There are unfortunately tons of ways that businesses are unhelpful, sometimes intentionally but all too often because the businesses and their employees are rushed, overworked, uninformed, overwhelmed, lazy or unhappy. Some things are more simple fixes like website updates and doing different marketing, but others are more challenging like product or employee changes.

But if you look at the well-known successful businesses, more often than not one of the keys to their success is how valuable (helpful) people find them. These businesses have legendary customer service, they have fantastic return policies, they offer products that improve people’s lives, they have happy employees, and they are well-known in their community. No, they’re not perfect businesses, and even if you implement a “help” policy at your business you’ll still have some mistakes and unhappy customers, that’s part of doing business. But, it could bring about the boost, passion and direction that you’ve been missing. How do you help your people?

Empowering Through Sales

It’s September so of course I’m thinking about lots of education topics and about the next generation.  Last week we talked about something that kids are known for: asking questions, but we talked about it with regards to building a better business.  Something that we may talk about in other contexts later this month or next month is the topic of bullying because it’s a serious topic that affects people of all ages, not just kids, but it’s most discussed with regards to kids.  What I want to talk about today is something that relates to bullying, is actually in some ways the opposite: empowerment.

The way I see it businesses are in the business of empowering their customers in one way or another.  Whether they offer a product or service they empower their customers through the solutions they offer to problems in their lives (darkness, coldness/heat, hunger, transportation, infertility, crazy kids, divorce, loneliness, sickness etc.).  The dictionary defines empower as “to give power or authority to; authorize, especially by legal or official means, to enable or permit.”  By putting whatever you sell in their lives you’re giving them the power to overcome the challenges in their lives, to make living life a little easier or better, and you’re giving them the opportunity to make the right choices for their life.

So the question we ask often is how can we make our customers and employees happier?  Logic, systems, leadership, training, testing, communication, marketing, good people and customer service are all ways that we as business owners can give our customers and employees can make their experience with us better, longer, and more satisfying.  Make sure that what you offer and what you tell people make sense.  Make sure that you’ve got good systems, leadership, training, hiring practices and communication in place to support and guide your employees. Make sure that people can find you, know what you offer and are able to understand what you offer and how to use/apply it.  And make sure that the experience they have with you and what you offer makes them want to come back for more, even if their initial purchase with you isn’t the greatest.

By choosing to go the extra mile with preparing your products and services for customers, giving your employees the tools they need to be successful and support your customers and giving your customers an experience that reinforces the great product or service you’ve sold them, not only are you more likely to be more successful as a business, you’re empowering your clients and customers to solve their problems and enjoy their lives.

How do you empower your customers and/or employees?

Reality of Reviews

This week I’ve been thinking about a topic that is an issue for all business owners at some point in time or another: negative reviews.   Most of us have more than one customer throughout the lifetime of our business, so we have to be aware of how our business is seen by others.  The internet does good and bad things for us as just about every person goes online to check out businesses they may want to work with and products they’re considering before buying or striking up a conversation.  Whether company websites, review and group sites or social media, there are lots of ways that potential customers can find us and find out about us. So what happens when a customer has an interaction with us that for whatever reason doesn’t go the way they want it to?  They find a way to make their dissatisfaction known of course.

So what can we do about negative reviews?  The answer to this is not to eliminate the ability of customers to leave reviews, because unless you’re a bad business the reviews will largely be good and we need the good reviews to encourage potential customers to buy.  The answer is also not to bribe those who write negative reviews to remove them.  And, the answer is not to leave a scathing reply to their negative review because that just adds fuel to the fire.

First I think we need to understand the customer a bit and release some of the pressure from us.  Not all negative reviews are your/your business’s fault.  Sometimes people are having a bad day and find things to complain about, and you just get lucky that they picked you.  Second, some people who should have never purchased from you leave a negative review because they were unhappy with something they never would have been happy with.  And you have no control over the weather so as long as you do all things within your power when you have interaction with weather as part of your business, there’s nothing else you can do.

Second, know that negative reviews can be good because most of them point out an area of your business that you could improve.  But, they’re only helpful if you actually do something about it (and positive reviews after those negative reviews should indicate improvements).  Negative reviews do compile and do stick around so you want to make sure to address things you should address quickly, which means you need to keep an eye on your reviews.

Third, don’t take negative reviews too personally.  Yes, they hurt.  It’s not fun to have our businesses bashed, and sometimes the negative words are actually accurate.  But if you take all negative reviews super personally you’ll never have the attitude or strength to keep your business growing and thriving.

Finally, let’s talk about how you can respond to negative reviews.  First and foremost you should do everything in your power to resolve situations before anything gets posted online.  Some people prefer to just shout their displeasure to the world regardless of all efforts you make to communicate with them beforehand, and you can’t do anything about that.  Second, depending on the situation the right thing may be to reach out to the unhappy customer and try to resolve things.  This doesn’t work in every case and isn’t always recommended.  Third, do your best to get lots of good publicity so that it’s clear that the negative reviews aren’t representative of the majority of your customers.  This means having active social accounts, doing local newspaper interviews, contributing to local events and being an active part of relevant online groups and communities.

What are your thoughts about negative reviews?

Business Classics

As we go through this summer I’ve been enjoying summer classics like ice pops, warm sunny days, late night walks, thunderstorms, fresh fruits and vegetables and less traffic on the roads.  Thinking about summer classics got me thinking about some of the things in business that never get old.  Like the summer classics there are lots of variations on the classics we can try, and the true summer classics don’t get old, so don’t be turned off by thinking these are just the “same old things” or dated and aren’t relevant, they’re as central to business success as sun is to summer.

Good leadership: I start my list with this one because as we see in the news, often it’s the leadership behind the business that makes or breaks it.  If you want to be successful make sure that you’re the person who can truly lead your business or that you hire people who can.

Good products and services: there is nothing that beats a happy customer.  Happy customers usually mean more customers, and that’s always a good thing.   One of the best ways to have happy customers is by providing them with products and/or services that live up to their description and the promises made about them and really help people.  Some products or services are successful because they make people happy even if they don’t technically fill a need or resolve a problem that customers have, but all things that are bought or sold must have a purpose of some kind to sell well.

Good customer service: whether we’re talking about the processes of shopping, buying, using or getting help, customers need help! Your products and services don’t magically transfer from you to them, there are things that happen between first knowing about it and the end result (and sometimes after that too).  How easy is it to work through your process?  Do you make your potential customers jump through unnecessary hurdles?  If so you may be scaring customers away before they have a chance to check out your fabulous products or services.  And don’t forget about the people (employees, bosses etc.) that are part of your business too.  Make sure they’re fully equipped to help with a whole variety of customer service needs and are pleasant too.

Good marketing: there has to be some kind of marketing done for customers to hear about your business and what you offer.  We’ve seen laughable attempts at marketing as well as non-existent ones (both of which can end a business).  Marketing can be as singular as a physical storefront or website, or as involved as a national campaign using all kinds of media.  But all marketing does one thing well: communicate to potential customers who you are and what you offer.  How detailed this communication is depends on many things, but all marketing must answer that essential question.

What are some other aspects of business that are classics in your mind?

Telling the Truth in Business

Do you know what can sink your business really fast? Lies. When you lie about how effective a product or service is or what you’re going to do or who you are, people not only won’t buy from you again but they tell their friends too. And as we know negative news spreads faster than the positive news. I know some people will tell you that too much truth is a bad thing or that some mystique is a good thing. I agree that a little mystery can be a good thing, but what you offer and who you are should not be one of those mysteries.

The whole truth and nothing but the truth:
I understand that you want to keep some secret sauce for your clients. I have no problem with that. Some people find success in sharing their secrets, others have learned what “enough” is that they can share and interest people with what they offer. One of the things I advise some of my clients on is using Facebook. The first thing usually asked or considered is “what do you think of my page?” My answer is usually “I can’t really tell what makes you special” (or tell what you really offer at all), and sometimes also includes “and all your posts are promotional” (which isn’t a good thing). Most people don’t give sufficient information about their business whether we’re talking promotional materials, social media or in client conversations.

Do it right the first time:
If at all possible it’s always desirable to get things right the first time. The reality is that we don’t always get things right the first time and do have to fix things and sometimes start from scratch. But you’ll be more satisfied with doing the job right the first time than you would be if you gave it a half effort. Not giving it your best effort means you’ll also never know if you could have been successful if you gave it a little more effort.

Anything worth doing is worth doing right:
This is another of my favorite sayings. Too often we throw something together quick without really thinking it through or doing the research. Sometimes, as I’ve said in the past, the research is as simple as reading what’s been written and already provided to you. I don’t believe in perfection so that’s not what I’m saying and I think questions are great, so I’m not judging that either. But if you’re really serious about helping people with your product or service you owe it to them (and will save yourself lots of time) if you disclose as much as possible.

Do everyone a favor and check your business for lies, misleading information and invisible information. What do your customers and potential customers think of your business?

 

Customer Relationship Reality

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it takes to really be successful in business.  Now, there are many ways you could be successful, several of which I strongly advise against.  We all need to find what works for each of us, not everyone can be successful with a blog or selling door-to-door (or the 2016 equivalent).  But one of the biggest divides is between those who have regular interaction with their customers and those who don’t.  For example a personal trainer has lots of interaction with clients, but the company who created the cookies that you bought at the grocery store last weekend isn’t likely to talk with hardly any of their customers.

That said, in 2016 I don’t believe you can really be truly hands-off with customers.  Even taking the simple example of social media shows that there really isn’t distance between a business and their customers any more as the companies interact directly with their customers through social media.  It just reinforces my understanding and belief of business as a relationship between people (even if there are machines and technology between and/or connecting you).

What I’m seeing, what the research is saying, what other businesses are saying, and what the customers are saying is that there needs to be some change made so that people are at the forefront of the discussion.  Do you really think about what’s best for your customer when making decisions or are you just looking at the bottom line?  Do you even know if what you’re considering is needed and/or there’s a market for it (or reasonable proof seems to indicate there is)?

Business no longer means you can have distance from your customers.  The best thing you can do is begin cultivating a relationship with them.  Get to know them, let them get to know you, don’t dread customer service calls, retrain your employees on proper customer communication and relationships if necessary and consider all the benefits of knowing your customers better.

Storefront Success

Last week I shared an article with my business newsletter subscribers about the current state of Barnes and Nobles. If you’re not familiar with the company they sell books and related materials. They’ve been in business since the 1960’s but as with other book stores have suffered since the advent of eBooks and online shopping. So as I was reading the article it got me thinking about what the reason for physical stores is anyway. Technically all businesses are physical businesses because there’s a person somewhere behind each of them, but what about businesses with physical stores you can go to to shop at? What’s the benefit and should you have one?  Let’s start off with who should have one:

1-you’re selling a hands-on service. This would be something like a cooking class, yoga class, gym membership or something else that works best if people come to you rather than you going to them or providing the service over the internet. Yes, you can sell them online but traditionally they’re known for being off line.

2-you’re selling services only to a local market.  If your goal is to reach the local community having a physical presence where your potential clients will see you during their day-to-day activities is beneficial and can go a long way to encouraging them to shop with you.

It’s important to note that I don’t recommend just having a physical presence/storefront.  Not taking advantage of the internet, even if it’s just for marketing not selling purposes is a big mistake in this day and age.  Everyone should have a website and do some online marketing whether a blog, social media, a newsletter and/or others.  So if we all have an internet presence, what’s the benefit of having a physical one?

Primarily that you sell something that people would prefer to see/touch/experience before buying.  I can’t say I want to buy fruits, vegetables or fish online, many people like to try on clothes before buying them or experience a technology device when considering different options.  But just about anything and everything can be purchased online, especially products, so if a majority of your products can be and are purchased online, i.e. books, clothing, technology, health items etc. will the physical storefront be going the way of the Dodo soon?

One key to having a successful storefront, and the thing that I think could be the defining factor in whether or not storefronts stay alive, is the experience they provide to a customer.  For the majority of non-fresh food businesses if all you’re doing is selling a product there’s no reason to buy from your physical store vs. your online store.  But if your in-store experience makes buying a product exciting, adds value to the purchasing experience or adds something completely different to the company separate from the products like demonstrations, education, celebrity experiences etc., you’re taking full advantage of all that a physical location can offer.

So if you’ve got a physical location, are you doing all you can to maximize it, or would you be more successful closing the doors and just running your business online?

A Mission to Make a (Healthy) Difference

Here in the USA most of us have choices about whether or not we want to be healthy, and many of us choose to not be healthy. We choose to fill our bodies with junk food, our minds with TV and our lives with people who influence us in not so good ways. But many people around the world aren’t as fortunate as those of us who live in the United States are, and while it’s not our fault that they’re not as blessed as we are, we have an opportunity to help them.

You’ve heard it said that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and that concept applies here. If you want a healthy world, if you want to truly solve the world’s problems, it begins with teaching the next generation the value of giving back. From the time I was a young child and my parents encouraged us to make donations at church or in the Salvation Army Santa buckets, to volunteer in soup kitchens or for special community events, or to participate in work days where we cleaned up non-profit facilities. We didn’t volunteer because it was politically correct or to look good, we did it because there was a need and we were capable of helping resolve that need.

I’ve gone on mission trips, worked in my community and others, signed petitions, and contributed to walks, charities and causes not because it looks good on my resume or I’m “doing my good deed for the day,” but because I believe that my life is better because I’ve taken the time to care about people who are less fortunate than I am. Yes, my actions have helped the people in need, but truly they’re the people who have blessed me.

So this week I encourage you to make time to make a difference around the world.  Set up a schedule of charity donations throughout the year, help your neighbors in need, contribute to your community and choose to help others not only because you’ll feel good about it, but it will have far-reaching benefits beyond your simple actions and contributions.