By Jonathan Crandall, president of J.C. Snow & Ice Management, Peabody, MA.
It is interesting how companies sometimes value a new customer over a loyal, repeat customer. The thought of bringing in a new, bigger sale makes everyone smile, but what if so much energy is focused on that new sale that the company loses sight of its extremely important and profitable existing customers?
You must not weaken existing relationships while seeking out new ones to expand your business; however, companies must make sure their existing customers still are a good fit for their portfolio.
The first step is to evaluate your customers and ask whether they are getting “A” or “B” service from you all the time. Every customer has the right to great service. If you aren’t going to provide it, then allow someone who is a better fit for that customer to start a relationship with them.
For example, if you used to focus on residential work but have since shifted to mainly large commercial parking lots, you probably are more concerned about losing the $100,000 supermarket contract than your residential customer’s driveway contract. This means he is no longer an “A” customer, and he needs to find someone who will consider him an “A.” What follow are key strategies for retaining customers:
When was the last time you talked with your customers to make sure everything was OK? Better yet, have you ever asked a customer what is wrong or could be done better? A simple call or in-person visit to let them know they are important to you and your business is huge.
Who in your company owns the key relationship with your customers? Service level and office support are very important, but businesses don’t buy your product, people do—and they buy on emotion more than anything. Keeping your customer happy, owning the relationship personally and showing you care about them and the business they award to you is essential.
Become more than a vendor
One way to build a stronger bond with your key customers is to offer things outside of the box. Continued training and education can help improve your efficiency, safety and bottom line, but why not leverage that training as a resource for your customers?
Offer a professionally facilitated course, and invite your customers to join your team to learn some valuable information. Weather science, licensing pre-test courses or safety courses are all good examples. By offering this to your customer, you become part of their team and a valuable asset. You are also proving that you are committed long-term and want their team to be successful.
Communication and execution
Great communication is essential, and should be one of the most important roles you either own or delegate. Make sure checks and balances are in place to not only communicate regularly with your clients, but to also execute actions those communications reveal.
If you are communicating well with your client but then not communicating well to your front line, foremen or managers, you are failing as an owner.
Systems get overlooked, or worse, never built and you promise something to your client that your team is not delivering. If expectations are not well communicated and followed up on, then quality control will catch up. The last thing you wa nt is an unsatisfied client telling other possible customers you did not perform up to expectations.
Systems for follow-through
To prevent this breakdown in communication, immediately follow up after work is completed. This not only tells you whether your customer is happy and all expectations have been met, but also lowers your “days sales outstanding.”
This good practice, if done consistently, will bring light to any problems. You can address them quickly, and the job will be completed and paid faster.
We have created an end-of-storm checklist and site review for our snow and ice business. Have a seasoned employee with a checklist performing this function. Simply asking the site manager or foremen “how are things going” does nothing but waste time.
Going the extra mile to deliver outstanding, personalized service and communication will help your position as you grow within your market.
E-mail Jonathan at [email protected]