Mark Madson

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11 Tips To Creating Strong Client Loyalty For Your Online Business

It's a matter of character and attitude more than anything else.

Mark Madson

March 30, 2009

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If loyalty is not in evidence in your firm, and is not a quality that you cultivate in your employees, it will be next to impossible for your staff to build loyalty among customers. It's a matter of character and attitude more than anything else. Remember, customers buy from people, not from impersonal companies, so building relationships and familiarity is key. You need to show loyalty to your staff, encourage them to internalize it and then it can ripple out to your customers.

The following list can be modified in its order or even its content to fit your particular circumstances. Even the mistakes you make in this area will be positive ones, since the positive results you are aiming for, with both staff and customers, will become apparent in short order.


1. Start at home: In addition to discussing customer treatment and teaching employees how to communicate, business owners need to demonstrate the same traits that they are trying to develop in the staff. Employee awards, recognition, weekly debriefings and even departmental meetings are ways and settings in which these attitudes can be exhibited. Even a simple thank you can go a long way in building positive attitudes in your staff.

2. First serve, then sell: These days, customers are both smart and well informed, and they do not take well to strong sales tactics. Doing business with your firm should not be an adversarial experience. Pleasant, efficient and personalized service will win their loyalty, so be service-minded, not sales quota oriented.


3. Centralize your data: You will not get that important 360-degree view of your customers without an easily accessible, centralized database. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and other tools can bring data from all the relevant departments - billing, sales, shipping, customer service into a centralized, easily accessed customer database. Don't handicap yourself and your employees with disjointed, uncoordinated, unusable information that is scattered all over the place.


4. Remember the 80/20 rule: Generally speaking, about 80% of your sales will come from about 20% of your firm's customers. Sorry to say, not all customers are created equal, and some will represent real, long-term value while others will be gone after one sale. You should monitor your customers to identify the ones of long-term value and make sure they get even more personalized treatment (special offers, thank you cards, etc.).


5. Speak the customer's language: One of the magic words for engendering loyalty, of course, is "value." You need to understand what your customers' definition of the word is, so that you can deliver what they expect. These definitions may be changing in a particular customer's mind all the time, but investing in some research (your own or someone else's) will help you stay abreast of the evolving meaning of value in your customers' minds.


6. Be responsive: Good service is seen by most customers to include a large portion of responsiveness, so timely handling of orders and quick solutions to problems are essential. It is impossible to stay abreast of a large customer base without the latest tools, so use chat, e-mail, phone trees, FAQ web pages and everything else you can think of to address the customer's desire for quick response time and timely answers.


7. Hunt down customer complaints: Some research suggests that only one in ten complaints are fully expressed by your customers. The remaining 90% are unarticulated and can show up in a lot of negative ways, such as unpaid bills, credit card reversals, obnoxious treatment of your frontline representatives and, worst of all, bad word of mouth (and, with the Internet, word of mouse). You need to head the bad news off at the pass, you might say, so you should not just make it easy for customers to voice complaints, you should solicit feedback of all kinds. Use online questionnaires, random phone calls, e-mails and other methods.


8. Use every channel to serve every customer: If you can exhibit the same level of good service to customers in the store, on the website or over the phone, research suggests that your customers will develop deeper, longer-term loyalty than those who are served through a single channel. You must attain, and maintain, a level of consistency, so you need to provide your staff the tools to know the customer wherever they encounter one. This involves service training, of course, but also ties back in to tip #3, above, which recommends you have a centralized database accessible from all company departments and locations.


9. Regain lost customers: Again, the research is clear. You have twice the chance of selling again to lost customers as to a prospective one. If you are not mining your records to go after these customers, you are ignoring a rich source of additional revenue for your firm. A lost customer is most emphatically not a lost cause, and with average firms losing 25-35% of their customers annually, programs for customer acquisition (and retention) are not covering all the bases. You should invest the time to win back those customers, as you will make long-term value customers out of a good number of them.


10. Give your contact center staff the skills they need: More and more companies have a "frontline" that is not just a call center, but a contact center. This department brings together all of the contact channels - web, e-mail, phone, chat, etc. - for greater efficiencies of both performance and operating costs. These employees needs to be able to write a letter, navigate the firm's website, be articulate on the phone and use the tech tools you have provided for them. After giving them the tools, train them in the skills, too.


11. Identify loyalty stages and proactively move customers through them: Loyalty is built one step at a time, so you need to be aware of where your customers are in that continuum. Understanding your customers' present loyalty stages will help you determine what's required to move them to the next one. Management gurus speak of six stages of customer loyalty: (1) suspect, (2) prospect, (3) first-time customer, (4) repeat customer, (5) client and, finally, (6) advocate.


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