Much is being written today about the importance of building customer relationships and maintaining customer loyalty. Youíve seen articles on this subject in numerous trade magazines, on websites and in the popular press.
There are also dozens of books being published on the subject. This aspect of business operations is so important that programs on increasing or maximizing customer retention are among the best attended at industry conventions.
While customer retention is critical to business success, we must realize that there is more to building and cementing a customer relationship than just engaging in customer-centric behaviors.
Because of the education and sophistication of todayís customer, it takes more than newsletters, special programs, e-mails, self-service and cards to keep customers happy and loyal. It also takes more than preferred discounts, high technology and other similar approaches.
CSRs (customer service reps) are uniquely positioned within a business to help that company build secure and long-lasting customer relationships. There is usually no other department or person (except maybe sales) that has as much contact with customers as often as the CSR.
When reps take the time to serve and satisfy customers who call in, there is often a measurable increase in repeat business. Conversely, when reps treat the caller or customer as if it was just a transaction to be completed in a certain amount of time, satisfaction decreases, loyalty suffers, and repurchase behavior declines.
This article will show you how to develop the appropriate behaviors in your CSR staff to increase the psychological ties that bind customers to your business. Customers who donít like the way they are treated can easily switch businesses or vendors, regardless of financial costs associated with the switch.
Seven ways your CSRs
On every incoming call or visit, CSRs should take a moment to update the customerís file. The time that you gather this information during the call should be left up to the CSRs discretion. If the customer calls in and is upset, the CSR should let them get things off their chest before asking for updated information.
If the customer calls and is using a normal tone of
voice, the CSR may want to get the new information up front. They should also
make a positive comment on the most recent visit (this information is already
in your customer relationship management system) and make sure the customer is
still satisfied with that outcome. And, they must thank the customer for
previously purchasing, calling or coming in to use the business.
The CSRs must be products of the product. They must use the product on a
regular basis themselves. They must communicate with the entire staff so
they are constantly informed about improvements in the product. They must
also learn how the staff uses and feels about the product. Then, they can
combine this knowledge with their own plus what they gather from customers
and improve the way they work with customers. This is the only way that
they can truly understand the emotional makeup of the customer who calls
or comes in.
3. Invest time to learn about customers.
They must answer customersí questions and then make specific dispositions of these calls. Their effectiveness is often evaluated on how many of these activities they complete instead of how well they are serving the customer (quantity vs quality). In lieu of this, I recommend that you first consider the quality of the customer contact. Let the CSRs stay on the phone as long as is necessary to help the customer become satisfied.
When the completed call has a satisfied customer on the other end of it, the CSRs performance should be rewarded in a similar manner as if they were meeting a production or sales goal. The same holds true when the CSR does a great job in a face-to-face encounter. Remember that behaviors that get rewarded get repeated. So, reward CSR behaviors that serve the customer well, that satisfy the customer, and that help to build those long-term customer relationships.
4. Provide value to customers on every contact. Whenever a customer calls, whether it is to complain, get information from your CSR, or make another purchase, give them something of value. This does not have to be a monetary reward for doing business with you. Itís even better if the value is more perceptual or psychological. This will have more meaning to them. And, always remember to have CSRs say thank you.
Train your CSRs to work through the problem or situation with the customer and, together, they should come up with the answer. Customers who perceive that their CSR (and the entire business) wants to work with them and cooperate to give him or her what they want, will spend more time and money with that business. That means more renewals and lower attrition rates.
6. Reward customer loyalty. How you do this is up to you. Whatever you do, make sure the reward is perceived to be of high value by the customer. Again, it does not have to be financial to be valuable. My book, Beyond Customer Service: Keeping Customers for Life, has descriptions of various loyalty reward programs you can implement in your business.
One customer reward program we developed for a client involved assigning specific CSRs to certain customers so that when the customers called or came in, needed help or had a problem that needed to be resolved, they asked for that person. Even though anyone could have helped them, customers felt they now had their own personal CSR.
This made the customer feel very important and kept them involved with the business for an extended period of time. (This was a fairly small business so assignments could be made. This concept may not be feasible in larger companies.)
7. Communicate regularly with customers.
CSRs should be very
proactive in their customer service. While most CICs and businesses are
reactive with regards to customer service, and they wait for customers to
call or come in, you can make your business more proactive and have the
CSRs call customers just to see how they are doing. Customers will
perceive this as a very caring act on your businessís part and this will
strengthen the psychological relationship they have with your business.
Some other benefits
By training your CSRs to be more than greeters, order takers or information gatherers, you can achieve higher retention rates, increased referrals because customers like your businessís friendly and helpful atmosphere, and higher customer satisfaction ratings. All this then translates into greater customer loyalty and retention.
With turnover rates increasing in both
arenas, and the cost of replacing an employee now equalling or exceeding
the cost of acquiring a new customer, businesses must use their CRM
processes in a dual retention effort.
Too much fluctuation between promises and deliveries will be perceived by customers and employees as attempts at manipulation. Overcome this with integrity. Be honest in all your dealings with customers and employees and they will reward you with loyalty.
Create a customer-based culture
You will achieve a greater share of their wallets. Employees will reward you with greater productivity and longer-term employment.
This will reduce your recruitment, training and ramping-up costs for new employees. And, your customers will be more appreciative because they will be dealing with the same employees over time. With both customers and employees, the bottom line is to show them you care.
Unfortunately, cookie-cutter reward and recognition programs only work for a few people some of the time, and the only reason they work is because they are exactly what those people want.
The reasons these programs donít work for others are because the rewards and recognitions are so far removed from what they truly want, and they quite often see through the programs as simple manipulations to influence behavior. The lesson here is to ask customers and employees what they want in the way of rewards and recognition.
You may be surprised to receive answers other than money. However they respond, make sure you input the data into your CRM system so you can implement the appropriate programs for the respective employees and customers.
However, companies that provide professional development opportunities for their customers go a long way to cementing those relationships and creating customer loyalty. Hold seminars and educational programs for your customers. Teach them how to perform better in their business. The pathing concept can also take it a step further by creating service paths for customers.
Those customers who spend the most money with you and who have been with you the longest should receive a different level or path of service. This tiered approach makes customers feel special and it also motivates other customers to achieve these higher levels of service.
Recognize and reward longevity and loyalty for employees the same way you would for customers. In fact, treat all employees as the primary customers they truly are. Your appreciation of them will be returned by increases in retention. We already know that it takes up to five times more money to acquire a new customer than to get a current customer to make another purchase, and we can extend this statistic to employees.
This should motivate everyone to work to keep their employees and customers. Similarly, if youíre going to develop special offers or loyalty programs to attract new customers, think about giving those special offers to your long-term customers instead of the new ones you are trying to attract.
Reward the loyalty of the few who have stayed with you and they will bring you more business than you can imagine. In both cases, track their loyalty in the forms of referrals and repurchases.
One lasting thought
Second, employees and customers who refer tend to refer other people or businesses who are like them (possessing the same values, work ethic, goals, etc.) so you will be getting a new employee or customer who has the potential for longevity. Third, your new customer or employee brings a feeling of trust into the new relationship with you. This makes all your C/ERM efforts easier because of the positive first experiences, which leads them to tend to stay with you longer.
Richard F. Gerson, Ph.D
The results of his training and consulting programs turn individual and
organizational ordinary performers into extraordinary performers. GGI has
worked with clients ranging from individual entrepreneurs to Fortune 500
and Inc. 500 companies. Gerson has also coached executives, sales
professionals, athletes and teams to achieve performance improvement and
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