7 Laws of Customer Retention Marketing

Change Your Definition of CRM to mean Customer Retention Marketing

I have long struggled with the concept of Customer Relationship Management (CRM), mostly for the simple reason that I fully understand that customers do not want their relationships with an organization “managed.”

This is why the whole notion and philosophy of CRM as customer relationship management is wrong.

In my keynote speech a few years ago at the Services Marketing Conference in Kuala Lumpur, one of my key messages was that marketers and senior management really need to think of CRM as Customer Retention Marketing.

This is what true CRM is all about – retaining customers, or as I like to call it the art of keeping good customers.™

To implement this definition of CRM in your organization, you will need to inculcate the following 7 Laws of Customer Retention Marketing into your culture, processes, and thinking:

  1. The conversion of a prospect to a purchaser is the casting of a potential long-term relationship with a possible customer. A purchaser who buys from you the first time is merely a trial user. A customer is not a true customer until the second time they buy from you. Forget the notions that “the relationship starts with a purchase,” or “you are not closing a sale, you are starting a relationship.” As we have pointed out previously, the relationship starts way back in the information seeking stage of the buying cycle, at least from the customer’s perspective.

The art of keeping good customers means that your entire organization should be geared to ensure that every experience received by a customer (including a first-time purchaser) should result in that customer repeating their future purchases from you whenever you have a product or solution that meets their needs or solves a problem for them.

  1. You do not work for your employer ─ you work for your customers. Sure, someone in the company signs your proverbial paycheck (or authorizes the direct deposit into your account). But those checks and deposits would bounce if it were not for the customers who buy from your organization. When someone asks you “who do you work for?” your reply should be “our customers” or “the customers of (name of organization).”
  2. You do not sell products or services ─you sell solutions that meet the needs, wants, and desires of your customers. As pithy as this sounds, it is something that way too many organizations and workers these days just do not seem to understand.
  3. Customers want relationships with people and organizations they trust, that are committed to them, and with whom they have shared goals. All of us can buy products and services from a vast number of suppliers and outlets. But we choose to have continual relationships, and to repeat our business, with those we trust and with those whom we have shared outcomes.
  4. Employees should be liberated ─ and allowed to be customer champions. Almost all staff want to serve customers well, if only their organizations would let them! Unfortunately many organizations have rules, processes, procedures, and policies that tie the hands of their employees and prevent them from truly serving customers and satisfying their wants, needs, and desires.
  5. Do not have a commitment to customer service ─ have a commitment to customers (and to customer care). We are definitely in the age of the customer. Customers have many choices and options available to them. But they also all share a deficit of sufficient time. Caring about customers means committing to the things customers place high value on ─ flexibility, sufficient knowledge and information, convenience, ability to choose functions relevant to them, customization, and environmental concerns.

And, of course, good service, which in today’s world is now a prerequisite for repeat business as customers will simply not put up with bad service, inconvenience, inflexible policies and procedures, and a lack of options for customization and personalization.

  1. Customer Service staff should be fired ─ and replaced with Customer Satisfaction staff. This is not a matter of semantics. Customer service tends to be either reactive (to a situation) or a follow-up activity (to a complaint).

Customer service, which is problem resolution focused, is usually initiated by the customer, when he or she has a problem. On the other hand, customer satisfaction is proactive and is customer focused.

Customer satisfaction is usually initiated by the organization to improve the quality of the relationship with the customer. The corollary of this rule is that customer service scorecards, measurements, and matrixes should be replaced with indices that measure and monitor customer satisfaction.

In the typical CRM thinking found today, the organization is the center of focus, thinking, and planning. And the measurement tools used are indicators that support managerial bonuses.

In my Customer Retention Marketing model, the customer is the focus and occupies the central platform for all thinking, planning, and strategic focus. The result becomes the optimization of customer-first processes and the continued improvement in the quality of customer interactions.

Your organization will accomplish a great deal more, and be more highly successful, by changing your definition of CRM to Customer Retention Marketing.

 

KEY POINT: change your definition of CRM to mean Customer Retention Marketing.

TAKING ACTION: survey your employees and ask them this open ended question: “what do we sell to customers?” If they give you a long list of products and services it is time to educate them that you are selling solutions, not products and services.

Review the tools and measurements you use to track and monitor customer service. How could these be turned into tools and measurements to track and monitor customer satisfaction?

Prepare an entire issue of your next employee newsletter (or staff memo) on the subject of customer retention marketing, and what the implications are for the organization in terms of customer care, customer satisfaction measurements, liberating of customer contact personnel, changes in policies and procedures, and how you will reward the organization for making the change to customer retention marketing.

 

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

For more thoughts on customer retention marketing, read our Keeping Good Customers Blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Customer Complaints Are Good

Customers Who Complain Are Customers Who Care

As sure as there are customers for your product, you can be guaranteed that there will be complaints about your products or services.

Why?

Is it impossible for any organization to deliver 100% customer satisfaction and 100% fault-free products and services all the time? In a simple word: yes.

I have yet to come across an organization that does not make the occasional mistake, or the employee who does not commit the odd accidental error or who simply is in a grumpy mood that is reflected onto your customers.

So face it ─ complaints will happen.

And this is good. For complaints are good for you.

One of the worst things customers can do when faced with unsatisfactory service or a poor quality product is to not tell you and leave for the competition. After all, if you do not hear of the problems that cause customers to take their business elsewhere, how can you fix them?

Customer complaints are good for these:

  • Highlight areas that need improvement.
  • Identify procedures that cause customer pain.
  • Reveal information that is lacking, or erroneous, in your communications.
  • Identify staff who need more training or closer supervision.
  • Provide a check on consistency levels.
  • Surface policies that may be outdated.
  • Trigger positive change (if you take the initiative to act on the complaints).
  • Raise staff morale (through positive change).
  • Provide a method of competitive intelligence.
  • Provide bench marking from other industries.
  • Identify customers who care.

That last point is a critical one to ponder. Customers who complain are customers who care!

Sure, customers who complain often want some form of restitution for the inconveniences suffered. But most just want the organization to live up to the promises made, which ought to be the key objective of the selling organization anyway.

So while they care about themselves and having their own satisfaction levels fulfilled, they also care enough about future engagements with the organization to want to help the organization live up to future commitments.

Otherwise, they would simply just walk away and take their business elsewhere (after demanding a refund of whatever money has already been spent on the unsatisfactory product or service).

Whether they are loyal customers, upset customers, wronged customers, disappointed customers, angry customers, right customers, or even wrong customers ─ customers who complain do care. (Okay, maybe not all, but certainly most.)

If your staff attitudes can be shifted so that they collectively and individually view complainers as customers who care, then your organization is in a much better position to learn from such complaints and to implement restorative steps that result in retrieval of departing and departed customers.

Unfortunately, too many organizations treat customer complaints as “sore points” that need to be counted, rectified, and forgotten as soon as the service staff moves on to the next complaining customer. This is why too much of “customer service” these days is reactionary and process driven, with managers and service staff monitored and measured in terms of efficiencies, quickness of response, and the number of complaints “handled” per shift, day, week, or month.

When complaints are handled and tracked this way, true organizational learning and the opportunity to turn complaints into new levels of customer satisfaction through positive change are usually lost. Forever. Or at least until an enlightened new manager takes over the so-called customer service unit.

Lastly, it is important to remember that all complainers have one of two things in common ─ they are all customers or prospects.

Service recovery starts with the way you handle complaints and complainers, a topic that we will discuss in the next Monday Morning Marketing Memo.

Until then, remember that complaints are good. And that, for the most part, people who complain are customers who truly care about your future. Or at least your future with them as your customers.

 

KEY POINT: customers who complain are customers who care.

TAKING ACTION: how are customer complaints handled in your organization? Are they processed and handled as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then forgotten? What steps are needed to turn the efficient handling of customer complaints into learning opportunities for your organization?

How is customer service monitored and measured in your organization? What does your customer service “scorecard” look like? Does it include measurements for how lessons from the frontline are circulated to other staff, used in training courses, and incorporated into new employee orientation programs?

How can lessons from the frontline be turned into learning stories to the benefit of the entire organization and its customers?

 

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

 

Service Excellent Attributes

Excellent Customer Service Drives Customer Satisfaction

There are several attributes regularly displayed by staff who consistently perform at high levels of customer service delivery. These attributes are the ones that differentiate Service Excellence winners from other staff.  They are also the attributes that managers will want to search for in future hiring and staff transfer decisions.

These attributes are:

Cares for the customer ─ Service Excellence winners are sensitive to customers’ needs and are frequently described as customer advocates. They display a sincere willingness to listen to customers and to assist wherever and whenever they can.

Displays Consistent Service Ethic ─ Service Excellence winners are committed to doing the best job possible every day. They assume ownership of problems in spite of adverse circumstances or conditions. They work well under pressure and adapt quickly to new assignments.

Exceed Production/Quality Goals ─ Service Excellence winners regularly exceed their volume, timeliness, accuracy, and quality goals.

Solves Problems Creatively ─ Service Excellence winners proactively seek alternative methods to improve procedures, reduce costs, and improve quality. They place customers’ needs above internal concerns.

Works Well With Co-workers ─ Service Excellence winners have excellent working relationships with co-workers. They are always willing to help others and to share knowledge freely.

Helps in Other Areas ─ Service Excellence winners display a desire to learn jobs outside their immediate areas of responsibility. They frequently volunteer to assist on task forces and special assignments, notwithstanding the longer hours required.

Exhibits High Energy and Enthusiasm ─ Service Excellence winners exhibit positive attitudes that impact morale within their units. They have the ability to motivate those around them to work harder and smarter on behalf of customers.

Can you teach the above skills? You can, in the same way that you can teach ethics, good manners, proper social behavior, and fellowship to mankind. For in effect, what really differentiates a service excellence deliverer from anyone else is how they interact with their customers, both external and internal. It is really a personal attribute, sort of like being a good citizen or being a good neighbor.

In addition to teaching the above skills, it would be best to create the right internal corporate culture where these skills and attributes can flourish. As we discussed the Monday Morning Marketing Memo on Creating A Culture of Service Professionalism, none of the tactics employed by service excellent companies to build employee professionalism are necessarily revolutionary. Most important, however, these tactics are energetically and comprehensively inculcated throughout service excellence organizations on an on-going, never-ending basis.

In our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo we discuss the Five Dimensions of Service Quality Excellence, the 7 Cs of Customer Retention, crafting a Customer Service Creed, Creating A Culture of Service Professionalism, and other key attributes of service excellence providers.

The path to becoming a Service Excellence Company is figuring out how to integrate these concepts into your own comprehensive, energetic, interactive, on-going, and never-ending program.

For, at the end of the day, excellent customer service drives customer satisfaction; resulting in a strategic advantage for your organization with a direct impact on repeat business, customer recommendations to others, market share, revenue, and profit.

If your business focus is on customer satisfaction, all these other items on your corporate scorecard will fall naturally into place.

KEY POINT:  the attributes regularly displayed by staff who consistently perform at high levels of customer service delivery are different from other staff.

TAKING ACTION:  how do you recognize and reward staff who assume ownership of problems in spite of adverse circumstances or conditions?

How do you reward, recognize and celebrate your customer service success stories?  How can these be ingrained in the culture and practices of your entire organization?

Do your training programs focus only on functional skills, or do they also incorporate activities that help to grow personal attributes, social skills, and interpersonal communications skills?

Is your organization or business unit a high energy one or a demotivating, energy-sapping one?

This article is partially excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

Creating a Culture of Service Professionalism

Customer relations mirror employee relations

How is a service-successful organization different? To start with, such organizations build employee professionalism in several ways.

They establish the personal accountability of individual employees. They create service teams. They open multiple communication channels with their staff and use these rigorously.

They accomplish employee professionalism by rewarding extraordinary service actions and informing staff how their jobs fit into the entire organization. They explain to staff the importance of customer service, the need for problem-free service, and the benefits to the organization of delivering excellent service to customers.

None of these tactics is necessarily revolutionary. What’s most outstanding is how energetically and comprehensively excellent companies work at their total programs. The strategies and tactics for excellent customer service are ingrained at all levels of the organization, not just within a handful of specific departments or outlets.

Underlying all these imperatives is a simple belief: customer relations mirror employee relations.

Employees must first perceive and experience within their own organizations whatever it is that management wants customers to perceive and experience. This operates most directly with customer contact employees, the pivotal people in any service business. They internalize messages passed within their organizations and in turn broadcast these messages to customers.

A recent study of bank branch employees and their customers confirmed this relationship. When employees reported that their branch emphasized service, customers reported superior banking experiences, and were more highly satisfied.

Some proven techniques for achieving a culture of service professionalism include:

  1. Use of staff attitudes (people surveys) as a diagnostic tool for understanding staff views on service and service delivery. Action plans undertaken to address staff issues and concerns should be part of the business unit’s overall service delivery strategy.
  2. Use of service recognition programs that result in winners serving as role models for fellow staff members. Also, service awards for the office or business unit are based on service indicator performance.
  3. Internal performance improvement teams are established within offices and business units to work on improving service delivery. Participating staff learn new skills and are motivated to perform at even higher levels.

Like marketing itself, creating a culture of service professionalism is not rocket science. But it does take effort, leadership, dedication, and continued communications to make it happen.

It also means having a management team that is not solely focused on achieving “the most efficient processes.” This is because many aspects of excellent customer service delivery require personal, customized handling.

A good example is the “telephone hell” that many customers have to go through to speak to someone. All these automated voice response systems are fine (you know, “press 1 if you have product A, press 2 if you have product B, etc.) and highly efficient from the organization’s perspective.

But from the customer’s perspective these systems are annoying, dehumanizing, and denigrate the customer service image of the organization being contacted.

A taxi company I used to use in Singapore had it right. Their automated incoming call system had just two options: press 1 if you wanted a taxi immediately, or press 2 if you wanted to book a cab for a later time. If you pressed 1, and you were a regular customer calling from your normal phone, the taxi was sent immediately to pick you up and the system provided an estimated time of arrival. If you pressed 2, a customer service person came on line, took your details, and arranged for the taxi to collect you at your requested time and place.

Simple, short, and sweet – while both highly efficient and highly personalized.

The bottom line for creating a culture of service professionalism is twofold:

  1. Treat your employees positively and they will treat your customers positively.
  2. High-tech is great from the perspective of organizational efficiency, but high-touch is even better from the perspective of your customers.

When you accomplish both of these, you will achieve a great bond with both your customers and your staff.

KEY POINT #1: customer relations mirror employee relations.

KEY POINT #2: high-tech is great and efficient, but high-touch is what keeps your customers coming back.

TAKING ACTION: Do you treat employees as special? Is the way your organization treats its own staff reflected in the way your staff treat customers?

What impressions of your organization do your customers have after each and every interaction with your organization?

How can you eliminate the “us and them” thinking between your staff and your customers?

How do you reward, recognize, and celebrate your customer service success stories? How can these be ingrained in the culture and practices of your entire organization?

How can you use technology to make your customer experiences simple, short, and sweet?

 

This article is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo by Steven Howard and is available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

Customer Service Creed

When the customer wins, you also win

The importance of focusing on customer needs, wants, and desires is a key theme in every seminar and keynote speech I give.

I have long advocated that too many businesses are being run in the pursuit of short-term shareholder value (i.e. share price) and not in the pursuit of long-term shareholder value through solving customer problems profitably and from developing long-term customer loyalty.

Now that a significant portion of the global economy is undergoing a slow (or negative) growth phase, the solitary pursuit by senior executives in trying to constantly push the share price higher and higher is coming home to scorch them.

The best way to create long-term shareholder value is to create and keep good customers.

In order to develop strong customer retention strategies, you need to have an organization-wide customer service creed in place.

Here’s a generic Customer Service Creed that you might be able to adapt for your own purposes:

Every employee has customers, either internal or external (or both). Everyone in the organization must walk the talk during every customer point of interaction.

Treat all employees as special, just as you would treat all customers as special. How you treat your staff is mirrored in the way they treat your customers.

Empower employees who are engaged in regular contact with external customers to make decisions. Establish relaxed levels of authority and alternate chain of commands. Not all decisions should, or need to, come to managers. Trust your staff, having given them appropriate guidelines to work within.

Customer service does not end when the customer has paid for the product and taken it home. Customer service must continue after the sale, just as it must come before the sale.

Allow the customer to talk. Look at them. Be interested in them. Summarize what they are saying. Treat each customer as a unique individual with individual needs, wants, and desires and never as someone who is making the same request you have heard before.

To the customer, each individual they interact with is the organization. Eliminate the “we/they” thinking. Success comes when you think of the word “us” when dealing with customers.

It is much easier to create a positive impression than to erase or correct a negative one.

Let the customer win. Then you both win.

Your competition is anyone the customer compares you with.

Reward, recognize, and celebrate your customer service successes. This creates momentum for future success stories.

To win today’s marketing battles, you might want to consider creating and publicizing, both internally and externally, your own Customer Service Creed.

And remember, when the customer wins, you also win!

 

KEY POINT #1:  in order to develop strong customer retention strategies, you need to have an organization-wide customer service creed in place.

KEY POINT #2: when the customer wins, you also win!

TAKING ACTION:  do you treat employees as special? Is how your organization treats its own staff reflected in the ways your staff treat customers?

What impressions of your organization do your customers take away with them after each and EVERY interaction with your organization?

How can you eliminate the “we/they” thinking between your staff and your customers?

This article is partially excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

7 Cs of Customer Retention

Seven Ways to Keep Good Customers

Many companies around the world are recognized by consumers for worldwide excellent service. Companies such as McDonald’s, Singapore Airlines, Federal Express, L.L. Bean, and Citibank are successful because they know exactly what their customers expect and then they satisfy these customer expectations (most of the time).

At McDonald’s, every employee ─ in every country around the world ─ knows the company stands for quality, service, cleanliness, and value. Every McDonald’s employee also knows exactly what each of these elements means in terms of HOW to do business with McDonald’s customers.

At Citibank, the service quality goal is to set and consistently meet service performance standards that satisfy the customer and profit the bank. In other words, at Citibank the customer is the final judge of service and the bank invests an inordinate amount of money each year in tracking its customer satisfaction levels.

While all customers are unique, and use different values to make purchasing decisions, there are seven common customer expectations for customer service that have basically become the MINIMUM LEVEL that today’s customers DEMAND be met by all the organizations from which they buy. Because these are the minimum requirements, they are also the ones that must be met if you are to achieve any significant level of customer retention.

The 7 Cs of Customer Retention are:

Caring Attitude ─ employees that are caring, friendly, helpful, care/show empathy, value me as a customer, apologizes for company errors.

Customized Practices ─ flexibility in applying most, if not all, company policies, simple documentation, forms that are easy to understand and use, suspension of disputed charges, willingness to extend additional services, ability of the organization at all key contact points to know and understand the customer’s relationship with us.

Competent CCPs ─ having customer contact personnel who communicate well and accurately, take action, meet commitments, keep customers constantly informed of a situation’s status, and who are fully aware of all the organization’s products, services, procedures, and policies.

Call/Visit Once ─ the customer’s initial contact person in your organization handles the problem, or gets it resolved. The CCP or contact person makes necessary decisions and the customer only needs to explain the problem once (even if moved to another service provider). All contacts know the customer’s account status, as well as the nature of the problem under resolution.

Convenient Access ─ your operating hours of stores, branches, outlets, offices, and call centers are structured with the needs of customers in mind. Your access numbers are easy to get through, are answered promptly, and the length of time on hold and the number of transfers internally before the problem is resolved are kept to a minimum. Your website is easy to understand, navigate, use and the ordering process is simple and caters for international orders (if you are willing to ship goods and products outside your home country).

Compressed Cycle Times ─ customers receive an immediate response to enquiries, products and services meet customers’ timing, adjustments or changes (such as address changes) are made before the next billing or statement cycle, and your organization provides consistently quick turnaround (especially for problem solving).

Committed Follow Through ─ the CCP and/or customer’s contact person commits to what/when/how, follows-up to confirm action, checks on satisfaction level, and your organization takes corrective action to prevent reoccurrence of an error or problem.

These 7 Cs are the minimum requirements your customers have. And if you do not deliver well against these criteria, then you cannot expect to have high levels of customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, or customer retention.

Last week we gave you a checklist of items that you can use in monitoring your business unit’s service delivery on these seven customer expectations. As several other successful, customer-focused organizations have done, please put this checklist to good use and you will be well on your way to achieving high levels of customer retention, or what I like to call the art of keeping good customers.™

 

KEY POINT: there are seven common customer expectations for customer service that have basically become the MINIMUM LEVEL that today’s customers DEMAND be met by the organizations from which they buy from.

TAKING ACTION: do all your customer contact personnel have caring, friendly attitudes? Do they exhibit empathy towards customers at all times? How could this be improved?

How flexible are your company policies? Could they be made more flexible? Would greater flexibility be appreciated by your customers?

How simple and easy-to-use is your documentation? How can this be made more simple or easier to use?

When was the last time you asked your customers these same questions?

This article is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, which is available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

The Sales / Service Relationship

Sales = Service = Success

Many organizations like to segment their customer service function from their sales activities.  I believe this is a mistake.

The closer you can entwine your service and sales activities, the more successful you are likely to be. After all, the customer rarely segments a sales activity from a service activity. To him or her, all your activities are service interrelated!

The formula for weaving these two activities together is to:

  • turn customer service opportunities into sales opportunities, and
  • follow up on sales opportunities to provide efficient and appreciated service.

Another way of expressing this is:  SALES = SERVICE = SUCCESS.

Some people like to argue that this expression should read “sales + service = success.” But that is where I disagree. That is the way of doing things today, with sales being one activity and customer service being another, with little or no integration.

Changing your mindset to SALES = SERVICE = SUCCESS means you understand that success comes when there is no segmentation between selling and service.

In today’s age of consultative selling, one of the best services your organization can provide is to sell a customer the right product at the right time that provides the right solution for his or her particular need.

Now that’s a true service. One that every customer is likely to appreciate.

People often ask me, “How do you know if a customer is satisfied?”

The simple, and best, answer is: ask.

Be proactive. Call and ask the customer:

“Did everything go as expected?” 

“Have we delivered as promised?” 

“Have we met your expectations?”

Staff should be encouraged to never be afraid of having to deal with problems. What if you do call up and there is a problem? Well, at least you are now aware of it, and you have an opportunity to fix the immediate problem ─ before it grows into something larger and unmanageable. And by doing so, you not only show the customer that you care about them, but that you are also willing to make sure that they are completely satisfied ─ two concerns of customers that they will value highly.

Also, not following up always results in a missed selling opportunity.

After all, when is the best time to start the next sales cycle?

Anytime the customer is satisfied with you.

So, if nothing has gone wrong and the customer is fully satisfied, that is the ideal time to start working toward the next repeat order. Or, once you have corrected any problems and have achieved customer satisfaction through your servicing efforts, you are in an ideal position to start working towards the next sale.

The Golden Rule of Selling: keep the customer satisfied, not just sold.

I see this as a 3-step equation:

1) Quality results in customer satisfaction.

2) Customer satisfaction results in repeat buys.

3) Repeat purchases lead to customer loyalty.

By weaving together your sales and service mindsets, and being proactive in your customer care efforts, you will achieve the customer loyalty levels you are seeking.

Marketing is not rocket science. In fact, marketing success really boils down to two key principles:  understanding customer needs and delivering upon the promises the organization makes. You can achieve these two principles through a full understanding of the sales/service relationship.

KEY POINT:  it is important to weave together your sales and service activities so that they appear seamless to the customer.

TAKING ACTION:  are you sales people capable of superior service? Are your service people capable of superior selling? How can you fix any gaps that exist?

How can you make your staff more proactive in their customer care activities?

How can you inculcate the mantra SALES = SERVICE = SUCCESS throughout your organization?

What steps can you implement to keep your VIP customers satisfied, not just sold?

This article is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

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