Business is tough to juggle sometimes. We have to focus on two main areas when it comes to our customers: bringing new customers in and taking care of existing customers. The old idiom, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” comes to mind here. I like this definition from the New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (Third Edition, 2002).
The things we already have are more valuable than the things we only hope to get.
From my experience, many companies spend most of their time and budget focusing on the sale to new customers and end up neglecting their existing ones. This works in the short-term, but eventually these companies find themselves losing more customers out the back door than they bring in the front door.
Here is a hypothetical example. Company A, a business-to-business manufacturer, is growing rapidly and has had a big year-end push on getting new customers to purchase their product. During their latest promotion, Company A saw a lot of interest in their product and was able to acquire several new business customers. As the promotion drew to a close, the focus remained on bringing in those last few customers who had expressed interest but weren’t yet “in the fold”. Company A succeeded in beating their promotion goals by bringing in additional business for the year.
Was Company A successful? Yes, with their goal of bringing in new customers. Were they successful in taking care of existing customers? Yes. They didn’t lose sight of those that had already purchased before and during this big push because Company A has a team of people that focus on keeping and growing existing business.
Here are a few tips for companies to ensure they aren’t letting go of the “bird in the hand” while pursuing those in the bush:
- Be sure to thank customers when they buy from you. Whether products or services, you want customers to know you appreciate their business! If possible, a personal thank-you card is best when you have a small or targetted group of customers.
- Recognize a return customer. If a customer has purchased from you before, acknowledge that in your thank-you note. A customer doesn’t feel valued when they get a note saying “Thanks for trying us.” when they have been buying from you for 5 years!
- Properly welcome a new customer. This could be a customer who is new to you altogether, or they may be new to this part of your company. Best practice organizations provide “welcome kits” to help customers navigate the system or get started. It could be as simple as the name of their account manager along with that person’s phone number. The kit is usually sent after the “thank you” note goes out.
- Follow up with existing customers on a regular basis. This could be an email or note to customers (especially useful if you have a lot of customers, as many consumer-focused companies do) or a quick phone call to see how things are going. Use whichever interaction approach your customer prefers. NOTE: This is not a sales call! The best way to turn off existing customers is to constantly pressure them for business (see Seth Godin’s post today on Spam for examples of how not to do it, especially his Dell example).
- Look for ways to improve the relationship. Let your customers know you truly value their relationship with you by asking them how it could be made better. Needs change. Budgets shrink and grow. By keeping in touch with your customers and understanding their needs and preferences, you will be aware of these changes and can react to meet those new needs.
Taking care of existing customers can’t be left to random chance. It also can’t be left only to great customer service personnel who react when there is a problem. Taking care of customers needs to be an ongoing, proactive part of the business. This will take time and budget.
But it’s worth it: just ask Harley-Davidson! They were the subject of one of my first blog posts here at Customers Rock!, and they have legendary customer loyalty. They are truly a great Customers Rock! company.
(Picture credit: Erika Aoyama, November 16, 2002)