Most businesses spend most of their marketing budget finding new customers. That’s because finding new customers is expensive.
Prospective customers tend to spend a lot of time viewing you with fear and suspicion. They know you’re trying to sell them something, and they don’t trust anything you say. After all, you just might turn out to be Hannibal Lecter.
So you do the work (which fails most of the time) of establishing rapport, developing a low-risk offer, building trust, repeating contact, guiding them through a purchasing funnel and basically coddling the holy hell out of them until they become trusting, happy customers.
All that is fine. It’s good, in fact. Over the long haul, you need to bring in happy new customers to stay healthy.
Here’s the other thing you need to stay healthy . . . and you need it every day.
You need happy existing customers
Your existing customers really want to like you. They’ve spent money on you already, so if they don’t like you, they feel like idiots–and feeling like an idiot is painful.
You’re familiar. The last time they did business with you, you didn’t eat their liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti. You represent a low risk, which means if you’re reasonably good, you’re probably good enough for them to use again next time.
So out of the customers who end their relationship with businesses, on average, what’s the reason about 2/3 of them go?
They don’t feel appreciated.
You can’t say ‘I love you’ just once
There are boyfriends out there who think that if they’ve admitted to loving you once, that ought to do it pretty much forever. (If this is you, repent immediately.) Your customer, like the object of your romantic affections, wants to hear it all the time.
The magic words are actually amazingly similar. “We love our customers. Thank you for [describe specific thing you love about them].”
Just like in a romantic relationship, you have to use the words and you have to show you mean it. Send your best customers little gifts, just because you love them. They don’t have to be expensive, but they should be memorable and they should be relevant to your relationship. Be careful about falling for pointless widgets that are mostly remarkable in a “WTF?” way.
Some great gifts include small trial-size versions of your product (this isn’t just for shampoo–put some creativity into this one), buy one/get one offers just for longtime customers, customer appreciation sales that are closed to the general public. You get the idea.
Don’t only give a present when you want some lovin’. Referral gifts or premiums with big orders are great, but you also want to give a little gift sometimes just to say “thanks for being with me, I love you.” Give a gift without asking for anything in return.
(How often? Slightly more often than you think is necessary.)
Don’t treat the waitress better than you treat your date
I have a friend who has his milk delivered by a dairy. The milk is really good–it’s much fresher than you can get at the supermarket, and the price is similar. On the other hand, it’s a slight extra hassle–writing another check every month, remembering to bring in the milk on delivery days, etc.
He went on vacation recently and his delivery didn’t start up again when he had expected it to.
He called the nice customer service lady. She gave him a probably overly long explanation (excuse) about why it hadn’t worked the way he thought it should. That was ok.
He asked if she would be able to send him some milk in the next day or two.
“Sorry, we aren’t set up to do that.”
“OK, but I see your sales van here twice a week with free milk samples for people who haven’t signed up yet–could he just bring a half gallon by?”
“Oh, no sir. That milk is just for new customers. We can’t let him deliver milk to existing customers, it’s against the rules.”
My friend dumped the dairy.
Never treat strangers better than the nice, loyal folks who fund your payroll month in and month out. (And if you are dumb enough to do that, don’t get caught.) Understand that it costs you five or ten or twenty times more to find a new customer than it does to keep an existing one.
If for some strange reason you have to piss off a prospect to take care of a customer, that’s the smart thing to do every time. (And if you tell your prospect why you’re doing it, she’ll remember the kind of company you are.)
Understand, too, that crazy-in-love customers will jump at the chance to act as your unpaid sales force. They’ll bring new customers to your door for a tiny fraction of what it would cost a formal marketing campaign to entice a stranger.
And that referral business tends to be an overall far more pleasant experience for you and your employees. Referred customers are less sensitive to price. They whine less. They’re less likely to ask you to jump through hoops to prove yourself. They’re less high-maintenance, in other words. More June Carter Cash, less Alanis Morissette.
(This is getting a little too far into Big Love territory, sorry about that.)
The rules are easy to learn and easy to forget. You won’t rememember it unless you make a point of it. So sit down with your calendar and work out when you’re going to give your customers a great big sloppy, sincere “I love you.” Don’t just calendar one occasion–calendar a series to cover all of 2008.
It’s either that or risk spending mega marketing dollars on the equivalent of dial-a-date. Up to you.