This post is written by Brookeside Group president Tom Cates.
Most businesses underestimate the quality of their strongest customer relationships and overestimate their weakest. In a study our consultancy conducted recently, we found that, on average, companies tended to underestimate the quality of their strongest customer relationships by 18 percent and overestimate their weakest by 14 percent.
These companies risk letting customers walk out the door.
How can you avoid making that mistake? Know what your customers really think of you by reaching out regularly for customer feedback.
Release the Pressure
Think of your relationships as pressurized – over time pressure builds up between you and your customers. If there is no way to release that mounting pressure, you could have a problem on your hands.
The best way to prevent a big mess, or in this case customer defection, is to release some of that pressure by creating strong channels of communication. Start by simply reaching out to your clients and asking, “How are things going? How are we doing?” Allowing your customers an opportunity to give you some feedback lets them blow off some steam and is a reminder to them that you value their business. It also arms you with important information about how best to meet their changing needs and expectations.
Once a year is not enough! Consider scheduling several opportunities throughout the year for customers to release some of that pent-up pressure.
Reach Beyond Satisfaction
Unsatisfied customers will leave you – that’s a no-brainer. But what most companies don’t know is that even satisfied customers aren’t necessarily loyal. Satisfaction simply means a customer received your services as promised – and frankly, that should be expected. Loyalty is earned when companies are willing to go the extra mile.
Vancouver-based painting business 1-888-WOW-1DAY! promises customers a freshly painted house by 6 p.m. The company touts a loyal customer base because the homeowners come back to not only a repainted house but a bouquet of fresh flowers and a card signed by the whole painting crew. If that isn’t enough, if something goes wrong, the company treats the homeowner to dinner and a hotel stay. Thinking of dialing that number, aren’t you?
A loyal customer is one that sings your praises, refers new business and is open to finding new ways to work together. What are your company’s differentiators (like flowers and a handwritten card) that take customers from merely liking your business to becoming devoted fans?
When getting feedback, don’t just ask your customers if they are satisfied. Instead, gauge their loyalty. Loyalty is a complicated metric, but asking questions about qualities like your proactivity, competency and chemistry will give you a much deeper sense of whether your customers are merely satisfied or truly loyal.
Treat Every Customer Like Your Only Customer
The biggest mistake a startup can make is getting too wrapped up in the numbers and losing sight of the needs of an individual customer. When sifting through your customer feedback, consider every response individually. Then, tailor your strategy with that particular customer accordingly. The strongest customer relationships are created when you give customers the individual attention they deserve.
For small businesses that find balancing individual strategies challenging, customer service is key. Customers who work with small companies are typically comfortable dealing with a close-knit team, so if one or two people are the face of the business, this task falls to them. Remembering details about the customer will help to form a strong relationship. Did they mention an upcoming wedding anniversary or child’s birthday? It is important to connect with your customers on both a professional and personal level.
Take the time now to incorporate customer feedback into your business model and let loyal customers be what differentiates you from the competition.