Do you know the real value of keeping clients?
Maximizing Opportunities, Transforming Relationships, Increasing Revenues
This is the third of three articles exploring the costs associated with getting, losing, and keeping customers. The first article focused on the cost of getting clients while the second article discussed the costs of losing clients. These articles and more are available in the “Resources” section of our web site. This article explores the true value of keeping clients with suggestions and solutions for retaining more of the clients you attract.
“Satisfied” Isn’t Good Enough
Market research reveals a surprising fact about customer satisfaction. Up to 80% of surveyed customers who report being “satisfied” with the level of service are just as likely to leave a business as those who reported being “dissatisfied”.¹ Simply meeting customers’ expectations is no longer good enough. Organizations must deliver what business guru, Tom Peters, calls the “Wow factor” by routinely exceeding customers’ expectations with positive, memorable, and worthwhile interactions.
Wow factor moments are based on trust, respect, gratitude, manners, competence, and professionalism. Every client interaction is an opportunity to influence the customer’s judgment about the quality of your services from the first impression to the last interaction whether by email, telephone, or in-person. Customers will judge those interactions by whether you or your employee is paying attention, present to the conversation, smiling, and genuinely caring.
The workplace should let you communicate with clients without distractions. Are you talking to a co-worker while she is on the telephone with a customer? Are you eating lunch at your desk while helping a client? Are you frowning while answering your emails?
Do you routinely ask how the person is feeling without really caring about the answer? If so, you are contributing to the likelihood that a satisfied medical or dental customer will take his or her future business (as well as potential referrals) to another provider.
Moving Customer Service to the Forefront
Transforming your organization from having satisfied customers to developing loyal, engaged clients who are willing to enthusiastically refer more business to you requires new focus, attitudes and behaviors from every person within your business. These changes must be demonstrated from senior management who develop a strategic plan to build loyalty among employees and customers. More and more forward thinking companies like Oracle are creating the position of Chief Customer Officer (CCO) who ensures that employees have the skills and tools to routinely deliver Wow experiences.
By moving customer service to the forefront, organizations demonstrate commitment to first making employees feel valued and appreciated so that they communicate those values to customers. This virtuous cycle increases employee and customer loyalty which will turn into more referrals from existing clients, lower turnover from staff, all of which has a positive impact on the bottom line.
In the healthcare sector, clients expect a basic level of professional competence and skill that is a baseline expectation which is the lowest acceptable level of service. Exceeding customer expectations is the ingredient that will allow your organization to flourish. The ability to create relationships with prospective and current customers is a skill that has measureable results and will differentiate your business from the majority of your competitors.
Ways to Create Wow
In the two prior articles in this series, managers are encouraged to calculate the true costs of attracting and losing customers. Now it is time to use that information to educate your staff so that they understand their roles in the financial health of your business – their employer.
Attach numbers to transactions and demonstrate that even a 5% increase in retaining customers can have a significant impact on revenues. And with the increased revenues other benefits such as pay raises and improved work space will be shared with employees. Paint a picture of the business that includes all of your employees and show them how they can make that picture brighter by improving their customer service skills.
Track your numbers on a regular basis including updating the costs of getting, losing, and keeping customers as well as the value of retaining customers including referrals. Identify changing patterns to bolster the improvements and correct the weaknesses. Is your investment in training staff in customer service skills paying off according to the numbers? Share the information with staff and reward excellence.
In addition to tracking the numbers, engage your customers in providing feedback about their experiences to make sure your clients are not merely “satisfied”. You can:
- Conduct customer surveys on a regular basis
- Test your clients’ willingness to recommend your services (an excellent measure of loyalty)
- Design, improve, expand, revise a referral/reward program for clients and employees
- Mystery shop your services as well as your competitors’’ services with an independent third party to measure the “Wow” factor
- Ask your customers and employees what else you can do to exceed customer expectations.
Get creative and come up with new ways to determine if your customer service is surprisingly good.
Appreciation and Sincerity
Meeting customers’ expectations depends on professional services delivered by a skilled staff, all of whom believe that people deserve to be treated with trust and respect as well as a smile. Demonstrating appreciation is fundamental to exceeding customer – and employee – expectations. A follow up call that includes a “thank you for your business” or a handwritten thank you note is not only polite but also good business.
A simple gift is another way to express gratitude for business or a referral. Coffee from Costa Rica, a carved good luck elephant from India, or a silk scarf or tie from Thailand waiting for the customer at home is a wonderful finishing touch to an exceptional experience. Every time that person shares a cup of coffee or is complimented on the lovely scarf, your business will be mentioned in a positive way. Think of it as very low cost advertising.
Regardless of the way appreciation is expressed, the message must be sincere. People are very adept at detecting phony sentiments. Think of the recording, “Thank you for calling General Hospital. We are unable to answer the phone right now but your call is very important to us”. Does anyone really believe that the call is important? If it was so important to the business, a person would answer the phone! When your customer is thanked for doing business with you, make sure the message comes from the heart and not from a script that is being read by someone who is detached from the conversation.
Learn from mistakes
We all make mistakes. It is part of what makes us human. In customer service as in life, it is what we do after we make a mistake that defines character. When a mistake happens, there are four things to do: respond quickly, apologize, solve the problem, and ask the client to remain as a valued customer.
When something goes wrong, it is tempting to bury our heads in the sand. That response usually makes the other person angrier. A prompt response demonstrates concern for the person as well as the value of the client’s business. Apologize for the problem and then either suggest a way to remedy the situation or ask the client what can be done to fix the problem. Then do whatever is promised. Follow up with the client to make sure everything has been resolved and then ask the client to stay with your organization.
Working hard to fix a mistake can be a way to increase loyalty among customers and is another opportunity to exceed customer expectations.
A Shift in Perspective
Working to continuously improve customer relationships by delivering services that consistently exceed expectations requires a shift in perspective from short term gain to the long term value of a relationship with a valued customer.
Employers must be willing to invest the time, resources, and leadership to develop a loyalty strategy for clients and employees. The loyalty strategy must include educating and training staff to create and deliver “Wow” experiences for customers. Reward staff who improve and master exceptional customer service skills.
The increased revenues your business generates will be proof that customer service skills can keep the clients your organization works hard to attract.
¹“The Real Cost of Losing Customers” by JoAnna Brandl, http://expertaccess.cincom.com, accessed 17June 2011
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