Earn Client Trust for Repeat Business
The problem in business today is that we have lost the client focus. It's that simple. No spin, no hype, no play on words. American business has lost its reason for being.
No longer are businesses in business to properly serve clients; businesses today want to make money as quickly and as painlessly as possible. And it's all types of businesses: healthcare, banks, airlines, communication companies and even fabled department stores and Internet companies. We have lost that desire to delight our customers. When you want to earn long-term client loyalty, take these steps:
Commit to continual improvement first -- not profits. Ninety-five percent of companies today focus exclusively on profit. Any improvement is an afterthought. Profits should not be the goal. Your goal should be to continually improve your products and services. When you accomplish this, you will make more profit than you can imagine.
Don't believe me? Read the record-breaking successes of Wal-Mart and then recognize that one of Sam Walton's greatest legacies was to teach his people the importance of continual improvement. He always walked into stores and asked people what was not working and what could be improved. And he did not settle for pat answers.
Today you don't hear about companies saying, "How can we serve you better?" "How can we bring greater value to you as the customer?" "We're going to merge so we can better serve you." You don't hear these things. What you hear instead is the ringing of cash registers and the trampling of customers.
And lest you think that fabled department stores maintain the client focus, think again. Surf the Web and see how easy it is to give feedback on their services.
I recently was on the site of a major department store renowned for its customer service. When I finally found the customer feedback section, instead of allowing me to give feedback on what I thought was subpar service, it asked what I wanted to order or which new store locations I needed. Everybody is in such a rush to make money that they have forgotten the importance and necessity of excellent client service.
When you want to develop long-term customer loyalty, the first step is to be obsessed with improving the quality of your product or service. If you are not constantly improving the quality of your service, you are falling behind. It's this simple: Excellent customer service = client loyalty = increased profits.
Be in business for your clients. This is the corollary to No. 1 and appears simple. Few companies actually achieve this client-first service. Simply put, every action your firm takes should be in your clients' best interests. Clients should remark how easy and pleasurable it was after doing business with you.
A company that does an excellent job of being in business for its clients is Johnson & Johnson. Its company credo clearly states that its first priority is to the "doctors, nurses, mothers and fathers and all who use our products." Not only does Johnson & Johnson have a credo, it backs up its words with actions. When the Tylenol crisis hit, not once, but twice, the company voluntarily removed the capsules from shelves all over the world. Is this client commitment profitable? Maybe that's why Johnson & Johnson has greater market share today of Tylenol than it did before the crisis.
Get ongoing client feedback. To be successful and profitable, you need to know exactly how your clients experience your service. Call your clients after a product has been delivered or an engagement has been completed and ask how happy they were with the service. Do whatever is necessary to make clients happy. Incorporate these clients' suggestions into your standard business practices.
Avail yourself of other client feedback methods. Develop an easy-to-complete client survey. Post the survey on your Web site. Tell your clients about it. Encourage clients to complete it. Reward clients' best suggestions. Invite a range of your clients to your office. Treat them to a meal and ask them what you do well and how you can improve. Next, ask clients what else you can do to serve them better.
Tackle clients' complaints head-on. Most companies do the opposite. They either don't hear what complaining clients are saying or let them walk straight out the door. We all know that it costs more to find a new client than it does to retain an existing one. The question is, what are you doing today to retain your clients? Think of every client complaint as an opportunity to develop a long-term client.
Unfortunately, most businesses today are built on the churn of clients. This churn allows for little or no client loyalty. Companies bring in, at great expense, a new crop of clients, bleed them dry, then spend more for a new batch of clients.
When your clients take time to complain, they are telling you how to improve your service and are offering an opportunity to earn their loyalty. Listen to client complaints, and quickly respond to issues. Track client complaints, and measure your ratio in converting complaining clients into long-term clients. Build long-term client loyalty. You could not make a better investment for your business.
Business, no matter how much hype, cannot be sustained without healthy, long-term client relationships. It's just that simple. When business history is written, the companies that have worked hard to forge long-term partnerships with their clients will rise to the top.
• Richard Buckingham is president of GoalStar Business Strategies, Bethesda, MD, a consulting and training company. He just completed his first book, "Lifetime Tools Lifetime Clients." Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.