Every business owner knows that satisfying -- and retaining -- customers is as important as anything they do to achieve and maintain success. They, as well as most of their employees, understand that customers coming back time and time again translates into both business stability and job security. However, I don't agree with most owners about exactly how that can be achieved.
Let's start from the beginning. The simple fact is that when you've made a sale to a new customer your goal should be to build a relationship with that customer so he or she will not only come back to buy from you again but will hopefully bring others with them. Of course, the importance of retaining customers isn't anything new. Business people have been aware of it for at least a century, and successful businesses have used a variety of techniques to achieve it. What is new is that, as competition has dialed up and changed over the last two decades, customer retention has become a very hot topic.
So how do you do retain customers? Well, there are lots of experts out there who are more than willing to answer that question. They offer CRM systems, innovative technologies, and all kinds of "new" ways to keep customers. And the vast majority of owners buy into these solutions and try to implement them in their companies. To my thinking, though, when a problem seems to have so many possible solutions, the best thing to do is step back and view the situation from a macro point of view.
In this situation, when you take that step back there's one thing that becomes very clear. No matter how great these new customer retention ideas may appear to be, nothing will maximize the effort you put into customer satisfaction and retention unless you -- the owner or executive manager -- are fully committed to it. It's this commitment that separates great owners from those who are just trying to be.
In fact, successfully satisfying and retaining customers requires entrepreneurs to implement three basic rules in their organizations.
- Every employee -- especially new hires -- must understand exactly how you expect customers to be treated from first contact, through the sale, and afterwards. You also have to make sure they understand what action you will take if they don't treat customers accordingly.
- Everyone in the organization must recognize that Customer Service is not just a department but, rather, that they are all responsible for customers being satisfied whenever they do business with your company. One way of accomplishing this is to include a reference to customer satisfaction in every employee's job description.
- You, as well as all of your managers, practice what you preach. That is, if you want your employees to treat your customers well, you have to treat your employees that way.
I don't imagine any owner would argue with either of the first two points. Even if they've never thought about the role their employees play in retaining customers, these two suggestions are more common sense than anything else. They're not easy to do day after day -- in fact, they're harder than most owners believe -- but they're worth it. The third point, however, is equally if not more important. The fact is that if your employees are not treated respectfully, honestly, and fairly, and made to feel that what they do has value, they won't be able to treat customers the way you want them to be treated. To me this is a fundamental truth about business, and unless you recognize it you will never be completely successful. I know that there's a lot of talk in business about employee satisfaction, but one of its most valuable benefits, and one that's rarely discussed, is the important role it can play in customer satisfaction and retention.
So if you want to lead your market in customer retention you need to follow these three simple rules -- define what you want and explain how you will measure it, make sure everyone understands that customer satisfaction is every employee's responsibility, and remember that employee satisfaction is an important key to customer satisfaction. It took me almost twenty years of ownership to figure this out and realize that no system, no matter how innovative, can solve a problem that humans create for each other, and that only humans can solve.