Attracting and retaining customers has forever been the drive and the key goal for business of any type. And as the goal it has often presented challenges that have been created by various circumstances not always in the control of the organizations. This has definitely been the situation of the past 2+ years. Now, in May of 2022, we are hopefully emerging out of the pandemic that in various ways hijacked the best plans and intentions. And, as has often been stated, in emerging we are not returning to the business atmosphere that was. We are emerging to an environment of the new normal. So, in terms of attracting and retaining customers, what does that mean?
First, let’s explore how various organizations have looked at the loss of a customer(s). Perhaps it was the oldest, biggest or most profitable and the reactions regardless of the customer varied. I’ve seen some try to laugh it off. Another was simply angry … at the client given all ‘we have done for them’. A third reaction was just being sad and puzzled. Yet regardless of the initial reaction actually examining the situation generally takes all to a place of concern.
Upon reflection and examination, what created the puzzle and lack of understanding as to why the customer was lost included:
- They didn’t recall any negative conversations and viewed this as an easy customer.
- They may have done a poor job of really listening to their contact and missed some warning signs of discontent.
- They realized they had no real relationship or interface with any people in higher positions if the customer was a company, thus making them vulnerable.
- They viewed this customer as a long-term relationship requiring little attention.
Do you see any red flags? I bet you do. Even though doing things to change the above pitfalls seems so logical we find that getting comfortable … too comfortable … is not a rare occurrence.
HOW THE CHALLENGE HAS INTENSIFIED SINCE 2020
Now consider today and what might be different that can intensify the threat of losing our customers. It has much to do with what the customers have had to endure and what adapting has required. Regardless of a particular business thriving in a COVID impacted world or suffering, it is the customer’s lives that have been turned upside down. For us to retain past/current ones or attract new ones we need to focus on and understand what they have endured.
The answer is defined in two simple words … CUSTOMER SERVICE. Most people do understand that the places they like to go to do business have also been challenged. Most people have also been extremely frustrated in adapting to the changes that have been imposed … just as the business has. However the one thing that customers see as in their control is the level of service they receive when working with a company of any type.
Shep Hyken is a customer service and experience expert and a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. Perhaps logically, he has explored and researched this very issue and the experience of customers navigating the challenges related to doing business. Here are some of his key findings as presented in his Forbes report:
- There was a major jump in customer inquiries, complaints and support calls. Companies adapted with digital support—some better than others.
- At first, customers were a bit more understanding about long wait or response times, but quickly lost patience as they realized the companies and brands weren’t making an effort to adapt to their changing needs, which were based on the rapidly changing times.
- A survey of more than 1,100 consumers found that 50% have prioritized customer service as a deciding factor about whether or not to do business with a brand. If you’re a company that focuses on customer service you could have a competitive advantage.
- One third (33%) of the consumers surveyed claimed they had switched brands due to poor customer service since the beginning of COVID-19.
- Sixty-four percent would switch after just two or three bad interactions. Furthermore, 67% report having the same or less patience for bad service since COVID-19 began.
STEPS TAKEN TO RESOLVE THIS THREATENING SITUATION:
Concerning? For sure and it should be. And the question becomes what to do about it that will resolve this very real and threatening situation? Here are some very practical steps to be taken within the entire organization as it relates to customers:
- Adopt the mindset of ”NEVER AGAIN” and communicate this to all in the organization
- Look at a loss as a signal of other potential problems within the customer base. Attributing it as just being ‘that’ customer is a serious oversight.
- Create a litmus test to perform on each relationship to uncover weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Accept every customer comment as delivering a message that may need to be addressed and improved.
- Openly share each incident with the organization and certainly the management group to discuss changes that can avoid this going forward regardless of how big or small the issue appears to be.
- Resolving an issue or answering a problem on the first call makes sense. Nobody wants to keep calling back regarding the same issue a second or third (or fourth or fifth) time. Nobody wants to wait on hold wondering when they are going to get to someone who can help them. That’s customer effort.
Shep Hyken concludes his findings like this. Eighty percent of customers say that when their problems and complaints are managed well, they feel more emotionally connected to the company. Note: You can’t have customer loyalty without an emotional connection.
So, how do you lose customers? Even more important than price or product quality, just give them a bad customer service experience. Make them work hard to get to someone who can help. Waste their time with long hold times, not giving them an option to have a callback. Connect them with people who haven’t been properly trained or don’t have the knowledge to answer questions. If you’re guilty of any of these (or other related customer service blunders), it’s time to change course. In these times of heightened customer expectations and demands, you have to be good enough for them to say, “Even when there is a problem, I can count on them. I’ll be back.” Otherwise, say, “Goodbye.”
The longer we have a relationship with a customer the more relaxed and comfortable it becomes from all sides. However, when easier and comfortable spills over the line wherein we take the relationship for granted we risk finding ourselves on a rocky and unstable path. Clearly the past recent years have left their mark. It becomes the job of every business to respect and respond to this reality. Does it make sense to take inventory in your customers? Litmus paper is VERY inexpensive and a great tool for an on-going check-up.