We are very much in a growth-oriented mode at Accessa, focused, like you are, on building a bigger, stronger business. We also fully recognize that replacing lost customers is like running in place. You never get ahead. Maintaining customers remains first on our list of priorities, while securing new business remains at No. 2.
Fortunately, we have a strong customer retention record, due in no small part to the following three traits our men and women — from the sales side to the production side — strive to reach every day. These are three things that your team could also likely put into place to not only help you retain customers, but also to help strengthen your company culture by having a set of shared values and ways of working.
No. 1. Honesty: It’s not a game.
Nothing sours a relationship more than a nagging feeling like the other party isn’t being totally up front with you. It puts you on your guard, makes you suspicious of their motives, and has you questioning everything they say.
For the person who is telling little white lies, not being totally authentic with someone must be tiring. As the inauthentic party, they must be motivated by a fear of disappointing their customer, losing their trust, looking unprepared and losing the business.
Being honest with customers and clients takes the game out of communication. For example, we may have customers give us false 911s — they need it in one day or else! But in reality, they really need their delivery in hand in four days. They give us this false deadline in an effort to allow some cushion. This false alarm creates strain on production and can ultimately put strain on a relationship.
If every person who comes in contact with your customers, from the delivery truck drivers to customer service representatives, and your customers are honest about what they need, what they know, how much it will cost, etc., your two-way relationship will be much more positive.
No. 2. Expectations and Accountability: Do what you say you’re going to do.
Say your customer calls on Tuesday and wants an order delivered by Thursday. That means it has to ship on Wednesday. You have an estimated three-day delivery policy, but is the customer requesting a three-day delivery turnaround or a one-day? Is this a realistic expectation for you to fulfill? Does everyone involved understand what your “three-day” policy really means?
You can only disappoint customers a finite number of times before they leave you. If the disappointment is painful enough, a customer will pull the plug fast. This is why setting expectations with clients upfront and meeting them is so important.
While honesty is pretty black and white, setting expectations isn’t as straightforward. At Accessa, we are consistently working on this challenge. When our customers get really busy, we get really busy. During such times, it can be harder to deliver on our fast turnaround times for things such as color matches, but if we have said we are going to do something, we have to deliver. If circumstances are beyond our control and expectations aren’t going to be met, we have to be proactive in having that difficult conversation with a customer.
Establishing expectations typically involves multiple layers of personnel. While a Coatings Consultant might be communicating with the customer, he or she will likely need input and manpower from customer service and production folks. Everyone has to have a clear understanding of the expectations in order to meet them. We all have to be swimming in the same direction.
The key is to establish an open dialogue with customers so you know what they want to accomplish and what your role is in their goal. Before jumping into a project, make sure you understand and can support your customer’s standards.
Attempting to set expectations or standards halfway through a project or months into a relationship is difficult, so get started as quickly as possible. Waiting for expectations to become unmet leads to an accountability issue, damaging a customer relationship further.
No one is perfect. Here are two solutions-oriented tactics I like when you have to have a tough conversation with customer:
- “No … but … ” If you can’t fulfill someone’s expectations, be honest about it and offer up a possible solution. Use a “No … but … ” as in “No, we can’t get that complete order to you tomorrow, but we can deliver 50 percent of it tomorrow and the rest the following day. Will that help?”
- “Yes … if …” If you hit a roadblock, offer up an alternative solution using a “Yes … if …” model as in “Yes, we will have that order ready for you on Thursday if you are able to wait until 4 p.m. instead of 9 a.m.”
A partnership founded on a mutual understanding of what each person or company can bring to the relationship leads to a more effective, fruitful relationship. Communication is key.
No. 3. Consistency: Leave the surprises at home.
No one wants surprises in business. While you might typically run a tight ship, any faulty product, late order or other misstep in which you interrupt your customer’s ability to perform well will be remembered. To retain your customers, always strive for consistency. For Accessa, as with many of our customers, consistency has to be found in two main areas:
- Service: Deliver on time, communicate regularly, be responsive, offer solutions before the customer asks for them — these are ways you can support service consistency.
- Products: Have quality controls in place to ensure your products are meeting the specifications your customer requires. A failure to do this can lead to rejections or failures in the field.
A reliable, repeatable process leads to consistent products and overall great customer experience. Serving as a consultative partner to our customers is critical to our process. As such, Accessa recently created the position of Technical Support Consultant. This person is solely committed to supporting our customers and Coatings Consultants as an extra layer of support, maximizing the deep well of technical experience we have our team.
We choose to work with some of the best suppliers in the business. They are consistent in what they say they are going to give us, and we are confident that they will continue to provide the best for our customers. Expect this same sort of service from your suppliers, and deliver this same kind of service to your customers to support retention.
Never be complacent. While we trust our suppliers, we are consistently evaluating to make sure they are aligned with us as the best strategic partners. We don’t bring on suppliers on a whim. It comes down to measuring the needs of our customers and making decisions based on their goals.
The long-retained customer.
While chasing new business is important for growth, focusing on customer retention must be a top priority. These people help shape your reputation in the marketplace, provide positive referrals and increase their work with you. They understand the value you bring to the table. Take good care of them.