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7 Secrets of Customer Loyaltyby Phyllis Sheerin Ross
Consultant and Freelance Writer
The odometer in my car tells me that it's a seventeen mile drive from my house to my car dealership. The very same car dealership that, by the way, charges nearly twice as much for maintenance as my local service stations. And although I have three service stations within a five mile radius of my house, I continue to take my car to the dealership for both maintenance and repairs. I also continually by-pass both the house brands and sale specials to purchase the same brands of tuna-fish and mayonnaise that I have been loyal to for over thirty years. In addition, I drive past three discount book stores on the way to my favorite book store that's a half hour drive, each way, from my house. What is it that makes us so fiercely loyal to certain products, services, and businesses? And can we utilize these same elements to attract loyal customers? Please allow me to share the "seven secrets" of customer loyalty with you!
1) A superior product.
While taste is, of course, strictly judgmental, you obviously want a produce a product or provide a service where's there's lots of agreement of obvious superiority. Just look at the astronomical sales of those yummy chocolate fudge no-fat cookies. The manufacturer could not produce enough supply. People were fighting in supermarkets over the last box on the grocery store shelf! The cookies received outstanding reviews in every single diet publication. So put your heart and soul into building a superior product, and "the people will come". Be very clear as to the specific superiority of your product or business, and then publicize it aggressively.
2) On time, within budget.
Want to keep your customers coming back? Well, keep your word. If you promise to produce a product, on such and such a date, at such and such a cost, then that needs to happen. When we wanted to have a porch added onto our house, I asked my neighbor about the contractor who had built her beautiful porch. She hesitated before responding, and then said, "Well, they're really very good, but not very reliable." Despite her lukewarm recommendation, I went ahead and used the contractor. And while our porch turned out to be a lovely addition, we never did get to use it that summer because it was not ready by the promised date. And no, I will not recommend the contractor.
3) Fix it now, discuss it later.
That's the motto of my son, Richard Ross, who works in the technology industry. Richard says, "There's nothing more frustrating than when a company makes a mistake, and the first action taken is to probe the cause. While you're doing this, the problem is still out there, and probably getting worse. Instead, find the quickest, most effective solution. It might not be the permanent fix, but at least you're practicing damage control. Then invite the customer to assist with the post-mortem." Don't I have a smart kid? Doesn't he, at a very young age, already understand how to secure customer loyalty?
4) Consistency and reliability.
You do a great job the first time you produce the service. You do a not-so-great job the second time. The third time, you cancel an hour before you're supposed to show up. Do you recognize yourself in this description? If you do, you probably do not have a large customer base. Everyone these days has an incredibly busy schedule. To have loyal customers means to be a business person that your customers can rely on for consistency of product, and adherence to the promised schedule. For example, while cleaning establishments have come and gone in my neighborhood, I've continued to use the same cleaners for the last twenty years. I know, with total certainty, that my clothes will be ready, when promised, perfectly pressed, and with no missing buttons. Why bother checking out the competition when I receive such reliable service?
5) Generosity of spirit.
I referred earlier in this article to "my favorite book store". You can spend an entire afternoon, (and I often do) browsing in this store. Go there on a Sunday afternoon, and you'll encounter a well behaved mob. People milling about, taking books off shelves to read for hours(!) on a comfortable sofa. No one chases you out if you linger over a cup of coffee while perusing an out-of-state newspaper. Go back for free coffee refills. Stay as long as you like. Enjoy the free lecture, or concert, or join in one of the many book discussion groups. Not surprisingly, this book store is doing very well financially. The lines to purchase books, or CDs are always very long. Can you copy this generosity of spirit? If you do, you too will keep your loyal customers coming back for more.
6. Get personal.
Obviously you know your customers' names. Do you know anything else about them? Do you know when they have a blessed event in their family? Do you send a congratulatory card? Do you know when they're going through a rough time? Do you take a few minutes to make a phone call to see how they're doing? You have to genuinely care about people to take the extra time to get to know your customers. I am not referencing the "Merry Christmas from Your Local Pharmacy" card. This empty gesture really means nothing to me. But, boy do I love it when my financial advisor sends me a birthday card, with a single dollar bill inside, wishing me a prosperous birthday and year to follow! You may not want to send each of your customers a dollar, but do think about what you can do to get personal with each of them.
7) Treat the customers like royalty.
Remember my car dealership? Here's an organization that truly knows how to treat people like royalty! When you arrive, you're personally greeted by your service representative. An inquiry is made as to your need for lift to the Metro. If you choose to wait, you're offered a cup of hot coffee, a comfortable chair, and a choice of recent(!) magazines. Every fifteen minutes or so, a service rep comes over to update you as to the status of your car. No detail in the car is overlooked, and you're given complete documentation as to the specific repairs or maintenance performed on your car. To top it all off, the car is returned, washed and cleaned inside. Within twenty-four hours, you're called by a representative to see if you're totally satisfied with service. Now, any questions as to why these folks will continue to get my business?
These "seven secrets" keep me a loyal customer. See which elements you can "translate" to your business needs. And before you know it, you'll be serving two and three generations of customers. Oh, and come on over and say "hello" and share your secrets of customer loyalty next time you see me at our favorite bookstore!
Copyright © 1999 Phyllis S. Ross
Also by Phyllis Ross:
How to Keep Your Customer Forever!
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