For any business to be profitable, it must sell some product or service to customers. Sadly though, in an age of pop-psychology, 5-step panaceas, overnight billionaires and an obsession with technology and efficiency, Customer Experience Management (CEM), seems to be getting increasingly lost in the shuffle. It is being treated as more of an afterthought than as a principal business planning objective. Most businesses regard "getting customers in" as a high priority; after all, it takes revenue (or excessive borrowing and bailouts) to cover the expenses of operating a business But they neglect to go further -- to wine, dine and mine their customers as a source of continuing and increasing revenue.
The sales function (getting prospects into the marketing funnel and converting them into purchasers) is always prominent, unless your business happens to be a monopoly or have a legally-protected territory. But customer satisfaction, retention and participation are generally afterthoughts. This is a terrible mistake.
In a typical business environment, a small group of your customers or clients (the old "80% - 20% rule) are responsible for the bulk or either a) your revenues, or b) your return and referral business. Cherish and nurture this group in order to retain it and to increase its size.
Some Actionable Tips:
1) Respond PROMPTLY and COURTEOUSLY to every prospective customer inquiry;
2) Always ask how the prospect "found" you. If it was through an individual, send that individual a personalized letter (email or snail-mail) thanking him or her personally for the referral (name the referred party), and be sure to include a brief questionnaire about WHY this faithful friend made the referral, and about his or her current level of satisfaction with the service or products received from your company;
3) Send a newsletter (with general content of general interest....notable quotes, scientific breakthroughs, little-known facts, poetry, and the like) to all of your existing customers via email [with a catchy subject line to avoid that sales nemesis -- the black hole of the spam box] quarterly to customers, and offer them an opportunity to express themselves in a survey of some sort -- some of the questions [hint, hint] might even be related to your product or service, and how it might be improved: wishlists and suggestion-box formats are becoming increasingly popular. Make the letter important and information-packed.
4) Award repeat customers (loyalty is to be treasured) and referring customers (referrals are the mainstay of many a business) with special gifts -- substantial ones. These gifts are an investment in continuing and increasing revenues!) Never let them feel unappreciated. Make them feel loved -- and while you're at it, keep your name in front of them at every opportunity.
5) Birthday and holiday cards are usually trite and rather ineffective. A personal telephone call or an email letter (the former is preferred) simply asking the customer or client how he or she is enjoying the product or service, and if he or she is less that satisfied with any aspect of the product or service breeds tremendous customer loyalty. When they make a suggestion, repeat it in a "Thank You" follow-up letter, and say how you are taking action on their valuable input. Make them participants in your business process.
Customer satisfaction, retention (loyalty), referrals and participation in your business.
An "oldie but goodie" excerpt from a ZDNet newsletter says quite a bit about the typical business' lack of focus on customer satisfaction (Customer Experience Management, or "CEM"), due to a misprioritization of the elements required to make a business or brand profitable.
Revenues drive all business. And customers or clients provide that revenue. Think of them first, AND think of them constantly. Simply stated, "don't forget about them, and they'll probably remember you." Even in difficult economic times, exemplary CEM can make your company and brand stand out -- people will even pay a premium for personal, compassionate, interested attention in this increasingly de-humanized and de-personalized social environment.
Douglas E. Castle