Don’t Forget Your Customers

I just finished presenting two sessions about marketing to the Parent Association at the independent school my son attends.  As head of the school’s marketing committee, I was asked to explain branding and marketing, specifically how we developed the school’s value proposition and key communication points (the Admissions Director explained the implementation phase of the marketing program).

As I listened to the Head of School discuss the challenges facing the school I was reminded again about the importance of retaining current customers.  The school has done a nice job of attracting new families, but the attrition rate the past few years has outpaced the historical average.  This has been due primarily to economic conditions, not a lack of attention to current students and families.  So the school needs to attract more and more new families to offset the rising attrition, as well as large graduating classes.

It is pretty much gospel at this point that it costs multiples in time and expense to land a new customer as it does to retain your current customers.  Here are some suggestions for retaining customers.  The application of these ideas will depend on your type of business (consumer, B2B, retail, e-commerce) and where your customers are located.

Align your performance system – For many companies getting a new customer creates great buzz.  A bell is rung, the sales person gets a slap on the back and a bonus, and the internal publication/web site trumpets the good news.  But what about that nice order from the company that has been a customer for 10 years or the sales person who saved an account from walking out the door?  Make sure these “wins” with current customers get the same attention and rewards.

Offer a discount – You often offer a discount to secure a new customer.  Why not offer current customers a discount for remaining loyal?  This could take the form of a discount on every purchase or a discount when they reach various volume points.

Give them something special – Our dry cleaner gives us a bottle of wine at the holidays.  It is a nice gesture that says “thanks for being a customer”.    I imagine they only do this for customers who have a certain volume of dry cleaning.   For high-volume, low-cost retail products (coffee, ice cream, etc.) give a free product when a customer reaches a certain number of purchases.

Send them your promotional material  – Often promotional material is used only to generate inquiries/sales from new customers.  You should also send it to existing customers to reinforce that they made the right decision in selecting you over your competitors.

Create a special section on your web site – Depending on your business, set aside a password-protected section of your web site for customers only.  The section could contain special products or information that can make your customers more profitable.  Why share your knowledge with people who are not going to pay you and who buy from your competition?

Hold events – If most of your customers are local to your company, hold an occasional event at your office or store or at an interesting nearby venue.  The event can be purely social (an opportunity for customers to meet each other) or it can be knowledge sharing to help them improve their business.  If you are in B2B and your customers are scattered around the country, consider hosting an event at an association conference that your customers attend.

Build a community – I did pro bono work for a local non-profit farm that has Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where CSA members purchase a “share” of the farm production and pick up their produce every week.  Many of the CSA members wanted a focus on “community”, so special events were scheduled for the weekly pick up time, recipes for that week’s harvest were shared (with samples sometimes prepared by the staff) and a Facebook page was started for the group so they can communicate with one another.  CSA members viewed the community as being as important as the produce they received.

This touches just a few ideas.  I am sure you can come with unique twists on these to fit your specific business and you may have others you would like to share.


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