Know Thy Customer

Features - Briefcase

To drive business in a bullish economy, many businesses will cast a wide net to capture more customers.

September 18, 2009

Dance with the one who brought you: As you drive to grow and get more business, don’t forget about the solid customers you already have.To drive business in a bullish economy, many businesses will cast a wide net to capture more customers. They’ll work hard to cultivate new relationships, target better prospects, and identify opportunities to sell, sell, sell.

But what about the people who help pay the bills? You don’t want to lose existing customers.

“It’s easier, faster and cheaper to grow your business from your existing customer base than to go out and get new customers,” says Phil Stella, president, Effective Training & Communication, Cleveland. Stella has worked with corporations across all industries to help them polish customer interaction.

Stella stands by the power of “Three Rs.” Those are 1) relationships with customers that lead to 2) repeat business and 3) referrals to new customers. “We all know that referrals are the most popular business development tool because you can offer rewards for them but you can’t buy them,” Stella says.

Happy customers will talk. So taking time to ensure their satisfaction is worth your while. And, according to a February 2009 BusinessWeek report on customer service, there’s no better time than now to earn customer loyalty points. The report showed companies with the best customer service rankings in 2008 actually improved their service during the last year. Those with the worst customer service records continued to decline.

Similar to how marketing in a tough economy prepares businesses to capture market share when people are prepared to spend, sharpening customer service will help maintain customers so a company can work on building rather than replacing business.

  1. Define your customer service objectives. “Precisely define what you want out of your ongoing customer relationships, because you will spend some time and money to survey them. Know in advance what information  you are looking for.”
  2. Play devil’s advocate. Stella suggests: “If customers weren’t happy, they would have talked to the business owner directly. If they are happy, no news is good news.” The lesson: Ask specific questions targeted toward areas you wish to improve.
  3. Define targeted areas of improvement to include in your survey. Some might include communications, attention to detail, timeliness and professionalism.
  4. As you craft your survey, keep it short and sweet. You may choose to provide an incentive – a dollar bill tucked into a mailed survey or a discount for services. But first, just ask nicely, Stella suggests.
  5. Devise a post-survey plan;  decide how you will use the information you gather to improve service. Share survey information and form a task list. Look for trends where customer service is lacking, and ask yourself if the criticism is valid. Is further training needed, and what kind?

This month, Lawn & Landscape asked three landscape contractors who operate companies in different revenue categories how they survey customers. Read on to learn their strategies.   

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The author is a freelancer from Bay Village, Ohio.