7 Ways to Keep Customers Coming Back

Lots of money, time and effort goes into acquiring customers, but not nearly enough goes into keeping them.

Sure, there’s the occasional offer or discount. Sure, there are loyalty programs to encourage repeat business. But their track record is spotty. At the moment, Macy’s appears to be having some success, but today’s customers are always on alert for the next best deal. And it’s not just retail—it’s everywhere.

All too frequently, we don’t pay attention unless our customers are unhappy or go missing. Then, we get busy to try and get them back.

Such business behavior has unintended consequences. Consider cable companies—customers have learned to complain and threaten to leave unless they receive concessions. And how do you feel when a company unleashes the sweet talk after they haven’t heard from you? This is when you wonder, “Why didn’t you take care of me before I left?”

Whatever the business, as a recent Capitol One commercial suggests, the barriers to making a change are crumbling. No matter who you are, it only takes five minutes to switch.

So, let’s get specific as to why customers leave. Here are a few forces that disrupt customer relationships:

  • They’re easily bored. They constantly prowl the internet for what’s new and different. And studies indicate attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. In 2015, Microsoft’s media consumption survey in Canada found that the average attention span was eight seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000.
  • They don’t get the help they expect. This applies especially to decision-making. Customers may get confused after poring over countless online reviews.
  • They feel they’re being taken for granted. They place orders, pay on time and don’t complain. Sounds like the perfect customer, right? And then they’re gone. Why? They feel neglected—and chances are they’re right.

This list shows how fragile customer relationships are today. It doesn’t take much to harm them, but it does take effort to strengthen them. Here are seven ways to do it:

1) Communicate value. Of course, customers chase the lowest price for auto insurance. They view it the same way they buy commodities like milk or bread. Keep the attention directed on why what you sell makes a difference in your customers’ lives.

2) Focus on the front line. Person-to-person contact is the weakest point in most businesses. Issues range from lack of attention and inaccurate information to surliness, being ignored and being lied to. Like it or not, front-line service is the face of your business.

3) Act on feedback. Whether a business wants feedback or not, they get it, often from many directions. Encouraging feedback should be a company’s primary message, not tacked on somewhere: “We want to be better. We depend on you to show us how.” Then let customers know how they helped.

4) Make messaging personal. Customers must feel that the business experience is about them. Too much communication is either too general, inappropriate or about what you want customers to buy. Doing this right requires data.

5) Customize loyalty rewards. Not everyone is moved by a singular incentive. Give them options so the decision is theirs. Sure, it’s more complicated, but a key to loyalty is recognizing customers as partners.

6) Listen to their story. Email, text, telephone, letter—share common complaints and what you’ve done about them. Show how complaints make your business better. Customers want to talk about their situation.

7) Do something special. Surprise them. Let them know you noticed. Understanding why customers leave, also helps explain why they stay: They feel appreciated, understood and wanted—not just when they come aboard, but consistently over time.

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategy consultant and business writer.