THREE KEYS TO LONG-TERM CUSTOMERS

Long-term customers don’t bloom by accident. This was originally written in May 2015. Nothing has changed for companies that want to align for growth.


“Here you go.”

That’s what the shoe salesman said, thrusting two boxes in my direction as he simultaneously began to walk away.

I was pretty stunned and started doing a mental checklist:

  • Had I smiled at the guy? Yes.
  • Had I asked politely to see the selected shoes? Yes.
  • Was I seriously considering purchasing? Yes.

Hang on. Rewind.

I had been seriously considering a purchase – until that moment.

Having shoes thrown in my lap had changed my entire interaction with the purchase and the store.

Now…you might think I was at some low-rent shoe store, where lackluster service is the norm. You’d be wrong. I was shopping in the heart of high-end, the lap of luxury.

In other words, I was shopping at Neiman Marcus.

NOTE: Neiman Marcus has since filed for bankruptcy. Stories like this are part of the reason why.

Perhaps the fact that I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt put the gentleman-salesman off his A-game? I shouldn’t have to prove my worth as a customer by wearing labels.

Here’s the irony – I had purchased both my shirt and pants in that very store.

As the owner of a business that helps companies find the revenue they’re missing from existing customers, I am always hyper-aware of missed opportunities. In this case, my experience wasn’t a near-miss.

Nope, the attention I received (more accurately, the lack of it) was a flagrant fail in Customer Service 101.

The Impact of One Bad Experience

For companies that need renewals and repeat customers for growth – that’s most of you – a single client interaction can have massive ripple effects for your bottom line. Unhappy customers tell a lot more people about their bad experiences vs. their good ones, according to an American Express survey.

Worse, once you provide a negative experience to a customer, you need a whopping twelve positive experiences to win them back.

If that customer even gives you another chance.

Let’s be real here. No matter what our professional roles, we’re also consumers. And we’ve all had bad experiences as customers. Unless a company does something to make their flub right – and quickly – are you willing to give a company twelve more chances to win you back?

Probably not. There are too many other buying options – at every price range. The days when consumers were limited to their Main Street offerings are long gone.

As a business leader, you need to jump in to fix the problem immediately to have any hope of saving an unhappy customer.

But first, you need to know when customers are unhappy. Most of the time you don’t because they won’t tell you. (But they will tell their friends.)

Fortunately, there are ways to stop the tide of negative commentary, when you have the right customer outreach plan in place.

How Companies Recover For Long-Term Customers

If you are able to connect with that customer and resolve their complaint there’s a 70% chance you can retain them. In fact, sometimes customers who have had their complaints resolved well can become your most loyal allies. Mistakes will happen in your business – the steps you take after there’s an issue is what separates the winners from the businesses whose customers tweet and write posts about their negative experiences.

Here are the three keys to saving unhappy customers:

1) Make customer retention a priority.

It may seem obvious, but unless you address the issue specifically with your team, they will focus on the outcomes that are best for them, personally. Employees often go for the short-term win instead of the long-term value of a customer. Until you are clear and consistent about your objectives, you let employees decide what is most important for your customers’ experience.

2) Have a plan.

Once your objectives are clear, how are you going to manage to them? Both you and your employees own pieces of the execution phase. You must have a plan with back-end systems to reward the behaviors you want. The responsibility to enforce the plan to show you mean business resides with you as a manager, but having objective and specific outcomes will make it easier for everyone to follow your lead.

3) Monitor customer engagement.

You may not know if every customer is unhappy, but even small businesses can put systems in place to catch issues before they become problems. When you consider the value of a long-term customer and the negative impact an unhappy customer can have on the rest of your customer pool, it’s worth time and effort to monitor how folks feel about your business.

And then what? If someone from Neiman Marcus reads this post, what will they do? What would you do if you found out about an unhappy customer who had a bad experience in your business?

Knowing the exact answer to those questions can be the difference between saving a customer and losing them for life.

Craft your plan to win customers and keep them with this fast (and free!) assessment.