Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE
- If you increase customer
retention just 5% more, your profits will increase 100%.
- U.S. population growth is projected to be 1.1% in the next twenty
- Disposable income in the US is growing only 2% every year.
- US businesses will invest more than $1 billion this year on computer
technology, just for customer service departments.
The interesting bits of information above basically mean that the
number of customers are dwindling. Which is why customer service is
today's competitive advantage. If we don't have masses of potential
customers, we'd better keep the ones we do have happy. Ecstatic.
What is a vigilante consumer anyway?
First, a little historical perspective. Conventional marketing wisdom
always urged us to sell either to the classes or the masses. If you're
selling $100,000 cars you appeal to the classes, and if you you're
selling Hyundais, you appeal to the masses. That's simple enough.
But then came retailers like WalMart, who are known for good buys,
and whose hallmark is superb customer service. WalMart gave the masses
appreciation and recognition. "Now the masses know class," said futurist
Faith Popcorn, who also coined the term "vigilante" consumer. The
vigilante consumers are not as dangerous as they sound. They just want
value, service, convenience, choice and lots of attention.
Don't think of all this as bad news. Quite the contrary. This is a
great time to be alive and in business. Armed with the facts, drive and
an open mind, we can begin planning strategies that will bring us
challenge, fun and . . . profit.
Start at the beginning
What is your philosophy, your vision for doing business? "We treat
you right." "Solutions not problems." Think it through carefully and,
when you've decided, design your business operations and activities to
support that vision. Now, state your product or service in one simple,
short sentence that everyone will get. For example, one of my favorites
is: "We sell stuff with your name on it." That's the statement of
Jonathan Stone's specialty advertising firm Another Dancing Bear
People do business with people they know because they've heard about
them from a friend, read about them in a magazine. So your job is to
make yourself known to prospective customers. I follow advice given to
me by a multimillionaire client from my hair salon days. Manny Lozano
said, "I don't care if you can't squeeze another customer or hair
stylist in the salon, you still keep promoting. Because you have to keep
convincing your customers that yours is still the salon to which to
come." In other words the real sales comes after the sale. I have
followed his advice all these years and became an unabashed, relentless
self promoter of my business.
All I ever wanted for my business was an unfair advantage. I'm not
talking about lying or cheating. Exactly the opposite. An unfair
advantage is doing every tiny little thing better than your competition.
In this instance, your competition can be your best teacher.
Who knows what your customers want?
In a shuttle bus taking me to the airport after a speaking
engagement, I began schmoozing with the driver as I am always looking
for material. Knowing his service was not affiliated with any of the
resorts, I asked if the guests he drove told him about their experience
at the hotel. "Yes," he said, "in fact, the general manager of the
property where you were staying brings a big box of donuts and has
coffee with our drivers once a month. We not only tell him everything we
hear about his property, we tell him everything we hear about his
competitors." Think of all the businesses that have spent a fortune on
management consulting firms to find out what this resourceful general
manager gets for a box of donuts and an hour's conversation every month.
Think about who in your business knows what your customers want. Is
there a service that provides you and your competitors something that
might just provide you with an effective, economical market sample?
Don't overlook opportunities close to home
In your role as an unrelenting self-promoter, start off in your own
backyard. How many people in your office building know you and what your
business is all about? Introduce yourself to people in the hall, in the
elevator of your building. Let everyone in the immediate vicinity of
your office know who you are and what product or service you offer.
During my hair salon days, a friend, whose hair salon in Oakland was
not thriving, said, "I have clients who drive from Fresno for one of my
haircuts." I was forced to tell him the truth. "Rod, will you get a
life. People who drive 18 miles for a haircut feed your ego. What feeds
your family is people who walk out of their offices, their homes, their
apartments and walk or drive five minutes to you." Do not overlook the
opportunities close to home. Tell them about your superb product or
service and how you do things differently than your competitors and
you're right there five minutes from their doorsteps.
What can you do to make your vigilante consumers feel special and
appreciated? We know now, great customer service is no longer good
enough. We have to exceed the vigilante consumers' expectations. One
individual knew this way before the rest of us caught on. I met Gary
Richter at a banking conference several years ago. He runs a small
boutique bank in Naples, Florida. He told me about a situation at his
bank that speaks volumes about his bank's position on customer service.
At 5:20 one Friday afternoon, the bank received a call from an elderly
woman who needed to cash a $200 check. The bank closed at 5:30 and she
was 20 minutes away. Many of us would say, "Of course, please come over,
we'll stay open for you." But Gary's bank believes in giving exceptional
service so they told the woman that one of their employees would bring
her $200 on his way home and that he would pick up her endorsed check.
As it turned out the woman had her extensive financial holdings at a
large national bank, and after her positive experience with Gary's bank,
she moved all her assets and investments to his bank.
Today, Gary's bank continues to focus on superior customer service.
"I tell my employees, if we roll out the red carpet for a billionaire,
they won't even notice. If we role it out for millionaires, they expect
it. If we roll out the red carpet for thousandaires, they appreciate it.
And if we roll out the red carpet for hundredaires, they tell everybody
they know." And you can take that to the bank. In six years since the
bank opened, it has grown from 16 employees to 180; and they've grown
from $6 million to $330 million.
Build relationships with your customers
There are really only two types of customers: those who know and love
you, and those who never heard of you. All businesses spend relative
fortunes trying to get new customers and that will always remain
important. But don't spend the entire fortune on just attracting new
customers. Spend some of those dollars keeping in touch with existing
customers because you want to keep them.
One of the goals in growing your business should be that the same
person you sold to today will still be spending money with you ten years
from now. So don't celebrate the close of a sale. Celebrate the
beginning of a long relationship. People want to do business with people
who appreciate them and look out for them. Which brings me to yet
another salient point.
Seek strategic alliances
Strategic alliances is a relatively new term for something I learned
long ago in business and that's what I call "professional friends." I
developed friends in my business community who were looking for the same
type clientele as I, but who offered noncompetitive products and
services. Alan White, a professional friend, owned The Wright Shop that
sold custom made suits and good shoes. I realized that if his customers
could afford to buy custom made suits, they wouldn't be scared off by a
$30 haircut. So, I had gift certificates printed up that read: "To
further enhance your appearance, The Wright Shop would like to present
you with a gift certificate for a free haircut at Miss Fripp's." I paid
for the printing of the certificates. It was a great plan. Alan looked
like a hero to his clients. He was happy. They were happy, not only for
the free haircut, but for the quality of hairstyling "Miss Fripp's"
stylists offered. And I was happy to be beginning relationships with
these new customers.
|These are a few suggestions to help you in building your business
into a prospering dynamo. I know they work, because I continue to use
these tips and techniques myself with great success. You can gather even
more tips and techniques, by going to conferences, seminars, listening
to competitors, customers, neighbors, friends. We can learn from
everyone. Even if you think a technique won't work for you, twist and
turn it, see if you can put an adaptation of it to work for you.
As we slip into the 21st Century, we will no doubt create new buzz
words for the sales and marketing game. No matter what new terms and
phrases we develop, bottom line, we need to keep attracting new
customers, cultivating and deepening relationships with our existing
customers and treat them all with the kind of appreciation,
consideration and integrity with which we want to be treated.