Some industries live or die based on holiday business. (If you're in retail, it's pretty much make or break time.) Other industries—like tax preparation—follow a calendar with completely unique crunch times. Some of us are seasonal businesses that see a boom in the summer and a bust in cold months, or the other way around. But one thing unites us all: a very real need for effective customer retention strategies. We need to hang on to as many existing customers as we can.
We know it costs more—in both money and effort—to bring in new customers than it does to continue serving existing customers. Not that we can write off new prospects, of course, but we know the value of investing some time and energy in keeping our existing customers…and keeping them happy.
As the winter holidays approach, days pass ever more quickly—a blur of work, family and social obligations. To be honest, there have been some years when I've just tried to keep my head above water and simply make it to January, a time when I'll be able to take a breath.
But I've learned that a little planning ahead can let me do more than just muddle through. If I invest a little time devising and implementing customer retention strategies, then my holiday season can actually be both more profitable and more pleasant. Here's how I do it:
1. Make customer retention strategies part of your company's culture.
For my businesses, customer service isn't an afterthought. Customer retention isn't something we think about when we're wondering where people have run off to. It's woven into the very fabric of our company.
When I hire employees, I look for customer-focused people. When we train new staff, it's always with an eye on customer satisfaction. When we have our daily huddles, we always remind ourselves that without customers, we can't survive.
Customer retention is so much more than just a series of tricks we can play to fool customers into parting with their money. It's a mindset. It's a commitment to finding out what customers want and serving it up with a smile, a “thank you” and a “please come back and see us.”
While you can certainly use the holiday season as a reason to work a little harder and cultivate some more business, I think customer retention strategies should really be a part of your year-round goals.
2. Leverage your customers’ FOMO.
I've long been a fan of turning customers into ambassadors, and FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out—can be a force that turns customers’ experiences with your brand into advertising.
Say you own a car wash and you hand out bumper stickers to your customers throughout the year. You could run a contest in which customers post pics on Facebook or Instagram of family outings where you can see your car wash bumper sticker. Have customers vote for the most clever hashtag or simply select a participant at random for a free January car wash. As more customers post pics, their friends may want to join in.
The point is to generate a flurry of fun, positive social media activity that centers around your business and encourages participation. A word of caution: Consider having someone on your staff monitors social media closely to quickly shut down any offensive posts. The idea is to get people involved and excited.
3. Build in extra value for your customers.
I don't know very many people who feel flush with money around the holidays. Presents, travel, entertaining…it all adds up and can deplete our bank accounts. And because retail tends to depend so heavily on holiday purchases to make ends meet, it's easy for customers to feel like they're constantly looking at just another person who's competing for their dollars.
One of my favorite customer retention strategies—that incidentally spreads a little holiday cheer as well—is to find a way to give customers more than they're expecting. If you're an online retailer, then maybe it's a free shipping upgrade. If you own a restaurant, then perhaps it's dessert on the house. Every entrepreneur can find a way to boost customer retention by throwing in something extra—something that will delight your customers.
4. Focus on your business’s big fish.
If your business is like most others, your big fish account for a huge amount of your profit. And while I'm certainly not advising that we ignore small clients over the holidays, I have found it's worth investing even more time into clients with the highest return.
Before the season begins, I create a list of clients who I'm personally going to reach out to in order to make sure we're delivering everything possible to them. Sometimes I'll make a lunch appointment to find out if there are unfulfilled needs. Other times, I'll send a quick email to check in. There are dozens of ways you can check in with high-value clients and position yourself to capture even more of their business. You may feel stretched a bit thin, but your big fish are worth the investment.
I do make an extra effort at the end of the year to make sure my customers know how much I value them, and I work hard to make sure my companies are staffed with folks who do the same. But overall, customer retention strategies shouldn't be an afterthought or a little song and dance we pull out once a year. I believe customer retention undergirds all the work we do all year long.
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