Customer Retention - Do You Know Who They Are?

Cary Weston

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If you saw dollar bills blowing in the parking lot, you'd run out after them.

But every day, business owners and managers let their hard earned money go right out the door and don't even know it.

It leaves due to lack of attention, lack of focus and lack of long-term thinking. And here's what you can do to make it stop!

Who are these people?
Whether you spend just hundreds of dollars or thousands on marketing your business, you should simply stop it all together if you don't take the time to figure out who your customers are. How do you do that?

Why not ask?

As far as I'm concerned, an ad that brings a propect to your business is just as effective as an ad that brings a buying customer to your business. It's all about foot traffic (or virtual traffic as the case with website commerce. )

However, most folks are so busy in their everyday affairs of running their business that don't take the time to see it that way.

So tip number one is think of tomorrow and find a way to get contact information of everyone that walks in, calls or emails your business. Maybe its a guest book or a newsletter or simply through conversation, but get it and log it somewhere. We'll talk about why in a second.

Why did they come in?
Find out what brought them to your business to begin with. More than likely this will involve you or someone from your staff interacting with the customer to find out.

In our office, when the phone rings with a potential customer looking for marketing advice or web site details, I immediately insert “so how did you hear about us?" into the conversation.

Why does it matter? Well because the second tip is to find out what kind of advertising (or “non-advertising") actually brings folks to your company. What I mean by “non-advertising" is that quite often, folks come in due to a referral or walk-by traffic.

If you have some resources to allow this, try having a few different phone numbers and running them in your television or print ads. If the numbers are not published, then its a good tracking method for those phone calls.

If you're spending money on advertising - you need to know what works and what doesn't. The smart way to market is to find out what works and get rid of everything else. Unless, of course, you enjoy losing money!

A list worth its weight in gold.
Now the good thing about creating your customer list and adding to it whenever possible (this is also called a database) is to use it to your advantage. If you have your list and don't use it, again you're wasting money and effort.

The third tip is to communicate on a regular basis with that list. Send an email or mail them a letter. Hire an intern to make phone calls and offer special savings for help with a customer survey. Learn from your list and use it to make sales and grow your business. These people konw who you are and what you do - so work that to your advantage!

Communication internally is just as important.
Its amazing how many business owners put so much effort into trying to bring customers to their business but neglect to plan for their arrival.

If you have staff, you want to make sure that any and all tips, specials, information, new products or special order opportunities are clearly communicated as often and clearly as possible. Don't take that for granted!

If its just you, then make sure you have documentation (flyers, brochures or a website) that can answer questions or peak interest so you can be two places at once.

Do no take your knowledge for granted.
Just because you know things about your product and your business does not mean your staff or your customers do.

You can never share too much information with your staff or your customers when it comes to the benefit of your business.

Find a way to make a customer
The final point is to think of your customers needs before they do and take advantage of that knowledge or skill.

Your customer has options (unless you're wicked fortunate to be in a non-compete industry!) It's your job to convince them you are the best choice for their needs. The best part - most of the time they really don't know their needs.

Its scary for someone to make a commitment or a decision without feeling completely comfortable. So make them comfortable. Offer to give them free advice or a free analysis of their project.

Give them some pointers based on your professional experience.

Perhaps some handouts or sit down meeting.

This can be a free or cheap service. Heck, you may lose money or break even at best. But what it does is give you an insight as to their real needs or, even better, insight as to other ways your business can help them!

Always be willing and prepared to help your customer know more, get more and see more about your business and you'll stop sending money out your doors!

Cary Weston is President of Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications, a full service firm based in Bangor, ME.

Sutherland Weston can be found online at


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