April 30, 2012 – While every company can only survive by generating repeat customers, few have programs in place that specifically focus on encouraging customer engagement. With the advent of social media, consumers have become the voice of the brand, but who represents the voice of the company?
Frontline associates are the interface between the organization and the company's most important asset; their customers. Richard Shapiro, founder and president of The Center For Client Retention, details how businesses can improve their customer service - and boost their profits – in his new book, The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Customers.
Companies can generate revenue and increased profits by implementing these seven considerations for securing repeat customers:
1. Engage customers
Providing good customer service does not automatically result in repeat business; a relationship needs to be established. Relationships can be created by making an excellent first impression, by smiling and being friendly, letting the customer know the associate's name even if it is on their badge, asking the customer for their name and having a dialogue with a customer that communicates to them that the frontline associate sees them as a person first, a customer second. The retention journey must start with an engaged consumer, otherwise the business is focusing on today instead of leveraging the consumer encounter to generate business for tomorrow.
2. Express customer and associate appreciation
In many retail transactions, consumers feel that their business is not appreciated. Many frontline associates act robotically or indifferent. Even when they say thank you, the customer is left with an empty feeling. Expressing customer appreciation in a meaningful manner conveys that the customer's business is welcomed, important and appreciated. Customers do not like to feel their business is being taken for granted and if it is, they will make their purchases at another establishment. Equally as important is having companies demonstrate the same appreciation to those associates who appreciate their customers. It's a two-way street.
3. Provide hassle-free experiences
Too many businesses have rules in place whereby customers feel it is a hassle to do business with them. Every company needs policies and procedures in place, but organizations should ensure that the policies not deter the customer from returning tomorrow.
4. Implement a three-pronged approach
All interactions with customers should be segmented into three distinct stages: the greet, the assist and the leave-behind. The purpose of the greet is to make the customer feel welcomed and want to engage with the frontline associate. The assist includes helping the customer by learning about them as a person and what their specific needs are. It also includes providing them with additional useful information beyond what a label or instructions might contain. The Leave-Behind communicates a direct message to consumers that the associate wants to personally serve them again. Such actions as giving the consumer a business card, informing them of the associates' work schedule and telling the consumer to ask for them by name, all relay a feeling they that want the consumer to return.
5. Listen for the magical phrases
There are certain phrases that consumers say in passing that should never be ignored by company associates. Such consumer comments as, "This is the
first time I'm in your store," or "I recently moved into the neighbourhood," should elicit a response that indicates to the customer that the associate is listening. If someone just moved into the neighbourhood, finding out why they entered your establishment would provide excellent information and would help to engage the customer enough to create an initial relationship.
6. Interview customers
In market research, there is a common guide that a sample of 100 will provide sufficient data to make certain assumptions. Owners and management of businesses should interview at least 100 consumers to find out what they like, what they don't like, their opinion of the company's frontline associates, etc. Conducting interviews (not electronic surveys) with a sampling a customers who purchase, as well as those that didn't, can benefit any business.
7. Think about the ROI
Those frontline associates that bring back the "personalization" in service deserve to be recognized and rewarded appropriately. Most consumers divide their purchases among several businesses; employing associates who drive customers to do business with your organization instead of your competitors are worth more to your company. Hiring quality personnel who are welcoming, engaging and who can make your customers feel important will be an investment, but it will provide an excellent return.