It makes better business sense to take care of your loyal customers than to chase after new clients.
Why should businesses strive to nurture relationships with their loyal clients? For one, attracting a new customer costs twice as much as keeping an existing one. Repeat clients spend up to 33 percent more than new customers do. They are also more likely to refer your business to family, friends, and acquaintances than would new clients. But how do you generate repeat business in this age of ever-shifting customer allegiances?
Here are some tips:
1. Deliver the goods.
Any effort to keep customers will be for naught if the product or service you are offering is not worth their patronage. Quality is key, according to Jimmy Landicho, owner of clothing subcontractor Apparel 21 Garments. Always ensure that your product or service lives up to its marketing promise.
2. Be honest.
“Never cheat customers,” says Louie Anastacio, owner of LD Anson Inc., which manufactures stickers and labels for Century Park Hotel, Philippine Airlines, Fortune Tobacco, and Lufthansa Technik. “Keep your word and follow clients’ specifications to the letter. Don’t say you are going to use a specific material or technique to make a certain product and then renege on your commitment to save a few pesos,” he advises.
3. Be reliable.
For Sylvia Yee of W&J Foods, a supplier of burger patties to groceries, cold-cuts dealers, and school canteens, on-time delivery is the easiest way to measure a business’s reliability. If there were hitches in delivery, inform clients and compensate them for the inconvenience. Respond promptly to complaints, questions, and requests for help. Be on time for appointments. Return phone calls immediately. We all know how annoying it can be when companies take ages to respond to a simple request. Even if you cannot solve a customer’s problem right away, at least let him know that you are working on it.
4. Solicit feedback.
Ask customers if they’re satisfied with your product or service and find ways to improve your offerings. This shows customers you truly care about your product. And when you actually implement their suggestions, they get a sense of involvement and fulfillment.
5. Show your appreciation.
Send them thank you cards or small gifts. Food is also an acceptable, if not a preferred, token of appreciation, given that eating is such a vital part of the Filipino culture. Anastacio sometimes treats out not only his contact person, but also the entire purchasing department of a client-company, to express his gratitude for repeat business.
Ever wonder why leading coffee shops offer a free beverage for a certain number of drinks bought, or why credit card companies hold special sales for cardholders? Excellent products and services attract customers, but incentives really tip the scales in your favor. Incentives—whether in the form of discounts, rewards, special sales, rebates, or limited-edition offers—help encourage customers to stay with you for the long haul. They make defecting to a competitor a ridiculous proposition for customers. Why would they shift when they receive incredible special offers or get discounts at regular intervals?
7. Go the extra mile.
Exceed clients’ expectations by offering value-added services. Yee, the burger-patties supplier, for instance, lends freezers to her customers free of charge. Demonstrate that you’re not just interested in growing your bottom line; show that you’re also more than willing to help your customers—your “partners in progress,” as Anastacio calls them—grow their own businesses as well. The owner of LD Anson recalls the time he had to transfer his account to a client-owned bank. “It’s all a matter of establishing mutually beneficial relationships. By transferring my business to a client-controlled bank, he earns from me, in the same way that I am earning from him.”
8. Stay in touch.
Send e-mail updates about your products or services to keep customers informed of what’s happening with your business. Make phone calls; send newsletters, interesting articles, holiday cards, and giveaways. The saying “out of sight, out of mind” holds true in business, so make sure that you periodically remind customers that you’re still around and that you might be of service. Stay on your customers’ radar.
9. Treat loyal customers as friends.
Remember clients’ names, even the special events in their lives. “Go beyond business relationships,” says Anastacio. “Be willing to act as a friend and adviser—even as a loan guarantor,” the businessman laughingly adds. In his experience, “going beyond business relationships” has run the gamut from consoling a customer whose marriage had just been annulled to helping pay the hospital bills of a client whose wife had just given birth. Make customers feel you truly care about them and rest assured they would come back.
This article was originally published in the July 2006 issue of Entrepreneur Philippines.