Late last year, it was my pleasure to co-facilitate two peer discussion groups regarding protecting your customer base at the CompTIA event in Las Vegas. I found the experience to be fun and enlightening. CompTIA did a great job of setting up and educating the facilitators on running the groups. I was paired up with Gennifer Biggs from Business Solutions. I have known Gennifer from numerous other industry events and thoroughly enjoyed working with her.
We facilitated two different peer groups consisting of 12 to 15 VARs each. Each group was given the same parent topic: “Protecting Your Customer Base/Building Better Relationships with Your Customers”. as well as a list of about 10 starter topics. Each VAR was asked to introduce themselves, and pick the starter topic most important to them or provide their own. What I found fascinating is that even though the two groups started with the same starter topics, each went in an entirely different direction with the discussion.
With the Economy being what it is, it can be a challenge to find new business. This means your competitors are more likely to poach form your hard won customer base (you are going after their customer base, aren’t you?) Consequently, protecting your customer base is more important than ever. A common adage is that the cost of acquiring new customers is 5 to 10 times higher than the cost of selling to existing customers. Since it’s easier to sell to your existing customers, and your smart competitors will be poaching in your territory, it’s critical that you put the proper effort into retaining your existing customers.
The first peer group chose the following topics as being most important to them:
- Best Practices: Building a meaningful customer relationship.
- Building a corporate culture that supports customer service.
- What do you do when/if your customer relationship is under threat?
- How to build a customer retention program.
- How do you generate customer loyalty?
- How do you create loyalty to your company vs. your employees (tech, engineer, sales person, etc.)?
- How do you sell deeper, wider to create stronger customer relationships?
Creating Customer Loyalty
The first key to building customer loyalty is to create an A-team to work with your customers. When you first start your company, you control the customer experience because you are the customer experience. As you grow, you will have to spend more time focusing on your business rather than focusing in your business, and this means that you will have to have employees replace much of the face-time you spend with your customers. The challenge is hiring people that will treat your customers the same way you treat them. If you suddenly become less visible, and if the person that replaces you in the customer experience doesn’t provide the same caring, thoughtful approach that the customer has come to expect, your customer becomes ripe for the picking – by a competitor!
Here are some thoughts about building a culture of service:
- Invest time in the hiring process. The old adage is “hire slowly, fire quickly” – and it’s true. Avoid the temptation to take the first warm body that “mostly” fits the position, and instead take the time to find the proper person for the job.
- Consider soft skills in addition to technical skills. If you are hiring for a technical position, technical skills are obviously important. However, an applicant’s soft skills – how well they treat customers, get along with their team members, and carry the company banner are just as important. In general technical skills can be taught more easily than the soft skills. When hiring, consider giving weight to someone with great soft skills and medium technical skills over someone with stronger technical skills but weaker people skills. Remember, your technicians often have to deal with C-level executives when on-site. Their ability to interact with people is critical to creating customer security and loyalty. Character counts.
- If you have an existing team that’s high on the technical skills but could use some improved customer service skills, get them some professional training or, if you are up to it, mentor them yourself, no one understands the goals and visions of your company like you do.
- Use personality tests (such as the DISC tests) to choose the right personality for your culture, and specific job openings within your company. While these tests do cost money, the costs you incur when making a bad hire are far greater. Be sure to follow-up on the personality testing after making a hire by implementing a plan to improve the weaknesses that are brought forward in the screening tests.
- Communicate your vision often. It’s important that you develop internal communications to educate and reinforce the customer service stance of your company. Remember, the person with the vision has the responsibility to share that vision with those around them. This is not something that can be done once a year at a company meeting, but rather needs to be discussed and enforced constantly.
Building a corporate culture takes effort and time. If you don’t have a service-oriented culture, you need to build one. When your company works together as a team with all efforts aligned to customer satisfaction, great things can happen and your company can grow!
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