By Trudy Croxton
Manager of Client Success, Post-Acute Care
As most companies understand, the cost of retaining customers is quite a bit less than the cost of acquiring them. Some estimates put the cost of acquiring a customer at five times more than the costs associated with retaining a customer. With this in mind, companies are always looking for new and better ways to improve customer engagement in an effort to retain customers permanently. In my opinion, the solution is right in front of you: your employees. Finding the employees who are the best fit for your organization’s culture, and then investing in them, is the key. Employees are the most important tool any organization has to improve customer engagement and retention.
First, you must determine what the ideal “employee fit” is for your organization. A good place to start in determining the right fit is by evaluating your company’s mission statement and then choosing those desired characteristics and traits from this established framework to create a hiring profile. Basing a hiring profile on your company’s mission statement will further help you to select potential employees who should naturally exhibit the desired behavior, which in turn will improve customer loyalty. A good Best Practice is to show existing employees what your company’s characteristics and traits look like in action. For example, if “passion” is one of your core values, give them specific examples of how a Sales Representative, Implementation Consultant or Client Success Manager might demonstrate that on the job.
A customer’s loyalty is directly tied to the trust they place in your company and this is built through each interaction they have with your employees. To effectively build trust, an employee needs to demonstrate to the customer that they have their best interest at heart and will deliver on promises. Furthermore, an employee’s honesty and authenticity needs to be visible in all interactions. A few ways for employees to show they are putting their customers first is to take a proactive approach. This can be accomplished by giving the customer a “heads up” if the company’s website will be down due to maintenance, announcing mistakes before the customer discovers them, asking customers for feedback and offering multi-channel customer service outlets in the form of online chat, email and telephone.
Employees also build trust by delivering on promises in a timely manner. For example, with respect to sales they must deliver on their promises and see that all customer expectations are met or exceeded throughout the sales cycle. Your company can make it a customer service standard to have employees return all email and phone calls within 24 hours. If an issue needs to be escalated, the customer should be given status updates on a regular basis so that they are not initiating the communication. If a customer has to reach out to you first with a problem, that can become a major issue.
All customer service staff should be trained to use the same language, thereby creating a unified front. The customer will then learn how to better communicate their own needs by using the same vocabulary as your employees. Implement customer service training to include how to handle challenging customers, critical conversations and emotional hijacking. Consider implementing a recovery process to address a service failure. Another Best Practice is to create a recovery process which will empower employees to resolve a customer’s issue quickly. If you don’t have a recovery process in place, ask a few of your top performers to compose one.
Employees who effectively exhibit traits of honesty and authenticity will help the company to more effectively earn their customer’s trust. Customers expect honest communication so be sure employees don’t "gloss over" the truth or give them vague answers. If the answer to a customer’s request is “no,” instruct employees to give them other alternatives wherever possible. Educate your staff on how to promote these types of conversations by creating a script and regularly conducting role playing exercises. Also, teach them how to take ownership of a problem without laying blame on the customer or another company representative. Additionally, employees should never over-promise with respect to what your product can do, or pitch a customer an unnecessary add-on.
Authenticity means not giving your customers canned messages. Nothing will make an upset customer even angrier than the perception that they have received an insincere apology from a member of your company. When a customer is upset, for whatever reason, they want to be heard and they want to know that an employee sincerely cares about their problem and will help them find a solution. Empathy is a large part of being authentic. Some ways to promote empathy include inviting customers to share their experiences by participating in staff meetings or conferences. Another way to do this is to, have staff members use a product they are selling themselves, thereby becoming even more familiar with its strengths and weaknesses.
Another great way to establish a more personal relationship with customers is to send them a birthday card or work anniversary card, a funny cartoon or a pertinent LinkedIn article. Employees might also send their Enterprise Level customers a questionnaire to complete, featuring such personal questions as what their favorite sports teams are, their hobbies, their favorite place to vacation or what they like best about their job? These questionnaires should give your employees enough details about a given customer to enable them to initiate and better control the conversation.
Lastly, you should train your employees to be able to catch potential problems before they become “pain points” for your customer. Brainstorm about ways that your support team can become more proactive with your customer base. Another approach to consider is connecting with customers via social media, a monthly newsletter or regular conference calls. The newsletter can contain both employee and customer spotlights.
If you want to retain your customers indefinitely, it is important for them to realize how much your company values your relationship with them. Hiring the right employee and teaching them how to build trust and loyalty with customers is of the utmost importance in today's business world. Investing in your employees and offering them top notch training opportunities ultimately shows your customer that you care and that you are providing them with world class service. Properly applied, this formula is sure to bring your company continued success.
Trudy Croxton is Manager of Client Success at Relias Learning, an e-learning company offering training to the healthcare industry. Previously, she was Executive Director, Sunrise of Cary and Heritage Woods Senior Living Community. Her passion is growing and developing people and she believes that this is the cornerstone for any successful business.