Customer Retention: Don’t Worry, Be …
For years now, Garnet Hill, a Franconia, N.H.-based apparel and home furnishings cataloger, has placed follow-up calls whenever customers encounter a problem with the company. Specifically, 24 to 48 hours after a customer complaint, Garnet Hill calls the customer and casually asks how the problem was handled and if it was resolved.
Smart and sensitive upselling techniques make Garnet Hill’s customers feel cared about. Liberal employee discounts have its employees wearing the clothing and using the products it sells, so it’s easy for them to personalize the experience. This “touchy-feely” group has products open and laying around so reps literally can get their hands on products when they’re taking care of customers on the phone.
When a customer needs more information on what color blue a blanket really is, a rep literally can look at it and offer an opinion to the customer, who is grateful for the attention. With real people answering the phone within 20 seconds 80 percent of the time, the company spoils its customers grandly.
On the B-to-B side, the so-called “piggers” who represent New Pig Corp. have to take a “vow to wow” their customers. They never stop learning, improving or seeking new ways to keep customers happy. Real people actually answer the phones there, too; and just like Garnet Hill, the employees are well-educated in their products and always can help the customer make the right choice.
When something’s wrong, piggers are authorized to make it right, and they’re fully supported by management. Piggers never need to decide between making the customer or the boss happy; the two are one in the same.
Top management involvement in maintaining a strong, customer-focused culture is critical to success for many marketers. The Container Store manages customers across all retail channels with its strong commitment to the company’s values and customer happiness. All 4,000 employees receive 240 hours of training, and it’s their collective responsibility to maintain and nurture their unique culture.
The cost of acquiring new customers constantly is rising, which makes your customers even more precious to your company. Garnet Hill, New Pig and The Container Store make huge investments in creating “many happy returns” for customers.
But many companies today just want to toss you when you’re a “problem customer.” The question is: What are you doing to keep your customers happy, loyal and comin’ back for more?
Here are 10 ways to take good care of your company’s most precious assets:
1. Make it easy. Don’t pretend to make it easy — really do it. Many consumers want to buy from one channel and return through another. If the jacket doesn’t fit, they want to be able to take it back to the store and return it there.
In the J. Jill women’s apparel catalog, the company cross-promotes the Web and the “store nearest you.” J. Jill invites talls and petites to go to the Web for complete collections. At the same time, however, its toll-free number clearly is displayed.
Online shoe marketer Zappos.com takes back any product ordered and pays the return postage for up to 365 days. Quite the pleasure for fussy feet that don’t know they don’t like the shoes until blisters appear.
Zappos.com even makes it easy for customers who like to do price comparisons. It has a 110 percent price protection policy. You find it anywhere else for less, Zappos.com will refund you 110 percent of the difference.
2. Execute the basics. Catalogers built their reputations on trust, and anyone who wants to be successful needs to be just as mindful of building customer trust today. Your merchandise assortment has to match the needs and values of your customers.
The key to doing the basics brilliantly is not to assume your employees know what the basics are! Make a list of the basics that matter in your industry, such as reliability, quality, accuracy, speed, empathy. Make sure everyone constantly is learning.
3. Be relevant. Travel products mailer TravelSmith’s “outfitting experts” help navigate the complexities of sizing and reduce the risk of having to return an item.
When Garnet Hill puts a beautiful picture on the front cover of its catalog, it gives up the real estate other catalogers use to sell product. This distinguishes the company from its competitors.
4. Don’t get lazy. Too many catalogers take the easy way out and try to be what they’re not. They sell the same “hot” item this year as everybody else and wind up blending in with the pack. That’s bad karma; some customers may think you “sold out.” They’ll migrate elsewhere. Authenticity is more important to consumers than ever.
5. Provide choices. Do you ship to stores, offices and homes? Picking up a purchase at a store on the way home from work may appeal to the shopper who doesn’t want a box on the doorstep announcing her absence. Offer delivery options.
6. Uh, too many choices. Read Barry Schwartz’s “Paradox of Choice” (Ecco, 2004) before you overdo it. Too many choices cause confusion and send customers away. Your goal is to find the sweet spot where the number of options you offer enhances the quality of the experience, instead of detracting from it. It’s all about learning how to work with the human brain, not against it.
7. The best “thanks” comes with a check. It’s nice to earn credits while you spend. 1-800-FLOWERS.COM’s Fresh Rewards program gives you one point for every dollar you spend. The Sweet Energy sinful desserts catalog delivers a “dividend” check every January with its sale catalog, a “birthday” check once a year, a “Christmas” check and a wrap with special deals, as well as special sale days that keep its customers engaged and happy.
8. Have some fun. It never hurts to allow your customers to have some fun when shopping with your company. You can play Tic Tac Hoof with Gurt the Cow on the Stonyfield Farms’ Web site, or exercise your imagination at Pottery Barn’s Web site by browsing its Style House for ideas and how-tos.
At New Pig, spend a few hundred dollars and get a Bad Little Piggy T-shirt. There’s fun, and there’s funny. Ask to be put on hold while on the phone with a New Pig rep and the song “Kiss a Swine” will come on.
9. Use a little guilt. Napa Valley vintner Manfred Esser has coined his customer care strategy as “guilt marketing.” He explains: “You treat your customers soooo well that you create a sense of obligation for them to come back for more. They actually feel guilty if they forget about you.”
Naturally, the guilt strategy only works if you really do lavish attention on your customers. But it can work. The skin care company DHC sends me so many catalogs with cool little samples of skin cream enclosed (the stuff is great and fits flat in the single, one-quart plastic bag you have to take on the plane these days) that I’m about to place my first order — I feel guilty since they treat me so well!
10. Challenge the status quo. You either create the future or it creates you. Too many companies spend their time fighting fires
and plugging up holes in leaky dams. We get instant rewards from reacting to “urgent” affairs. Too few companies have a rigorous process in place for examining what the late, great management guru Peter Drucker called the “Theory of Business.” It’s an examination of the assumptions on which an organization has been built, along with an assessment of whether or not they still fit reality.
Be a Visionary
Too few companies pull the total brainpower of the organization and together imagine its future. C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel, authors of “Competing for the Future” (Harvard Business School Press, 1996), say, “In business, as in art, what distinguishes leaders from laggards, and greatness from mediocrity, is the ability to uniquely imagine what could be.”
We’re a global village now. We’re competing with companies around the world. Do you have the courage to imagine what you could be for your precious and increasingly valuable customers? «
JoAnna Brandi is the publisher of the Customer Care Coach®, a weekly leadership program. She’s also the author of two books on customer loyalty and one on positive thinking. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.customercarecoach.com.