You Already Own A Gold Mine
Don’t Forget Your Existing Customers
by Lisa M. Berlin

Published in Home Run Business Newsletter November/December 1991

It is a great feeling to get a new customer or client. Most of us continually spend an enormous amount of money, time, and effort to ‘prospect” for new customers and “close the deal.” We network, cold-call, and advertise in an effort to bring in new business. We search out leads, qualify them and make presentations to develop that relationship. Since our business is our personal “goldmine,” each new customer has the potential to be the “nugget” that will make our fortune and business grow. But are we paying enough attention to the customers we already have? These are the ones we’ve already found, qualified and “closed.” Sometimes the orders are smaller than the new ones, but we haven’t had to work so hard for them, either. These customers are like the “gold dust” that the miner finds so often. Without repeat customers, we might go out of business, because the big nuggets are so rare. Repeat customers should be a steady stream of income which keeps your business healthy. Like the gold miner, we need to pay attention to the small things, as well as the large ones.

Is your existing customer base everything it should be? Ideally, anyone who has bought from you should make repeat purchases, be loyal to your product, and refer friends and colleagues to you. They should be informed of new products you offer, and you should be informed of their changing needs. If this is not your picture, then you are not making the most of your “gold dust.”

There are several things that you can do to develop a loyal, mutually beneficial relationship with your existing customers. Your relationship should stress personalized service, because sooner or later there will be someone who can offer an identical or similar product, but only you can offer your unique level of service. The idea is to retain, as well as attract new customers, and to be getting and giving helpful information.

Listen to your customers
Encourage them to speak up, and show them that you value their opinion. Be receptive to both positive and negative feedback. Set up a calm, easy procedure for customers to voice complaints, and let them know about it. Have a customer service desk, phone number or guarantee.

    Be sure that every complaint receives a response, which stresses how much you value the information, and what steps you will take to correct the problem. A refund or replacement, brief phone call or letter backs up your customer service policy. Never let a complaint go unanswered. You may defuse an angry person simply by thanking him for letting you know about the problem, and promising to investigate possible solutions. Remember that one dissatisfied customer will generally tell other people, so you stand to lose not one, but many customers.

Try a customer satisfaction survey
    Get some feed back about your customer’s perceptions. It should be simple, brief, and ask about products, service, and suggestions. Encourage, but don’t require people to give their name. Some people are more comfortable commenting anonymously, but you can follow up with those who give their name. Offer a small gift or discount as an incentive for anyone who mails or brings in a completed survey.
Another way to accomplish this is to use a telephone survey with the same objectives. This can be done in-house or through an outside telemarketing company. The most important thing, though, is that it not be done by you -- the boss -- so people can talk freely. Again, offer an incentive gift or discount for those who will participate.
Then use this information to improve your service and products, and if possible, give credit to the person(s) who make the suggestions. The data gathered in this type of survey can be invaluable because they let you see through the customer’s eyes. In addition, they let the customers know that you respect their feelings and want their business.

Keep in contact
    A monthly or quarterly newsletter is helpful to keep in contact with potential and past customers. It lets people know you are thinking of them and would like to continue to have their business. A more personal, and very flattering technique is to call occasionally, send a copy of an article or newsletter that you think might interest someone, or send a brief note congratulating them if they have done something special. Everyone loves to be noticed and this builds both dialogue and rapport, which earns and retains business. In most businesses, we sell ourselves as much as we sell a product, and most people would prefer to buy from someone they like and trust.
It is also helpful to keep in contact with former customers who no longer buy from you. Call occasionally, send an interesting clipping or article, or invite them to a trade show or business event. People’s situations change, and they may regret or be embarrassed by having left your business. By initiating regular, friendly contact you make it easier for them to resume doing business with you.

    This is also a good opportunity to let customers know of new products that you now offer, and to find out if you can be of service in a new way if they have new needs.

Always ask for referrals
    There is no advertising that is cheaper or more effective than a satisfied customer who tells a friend or, colleague. Most people like to give referrals, but they may not realize how important they are for you unless you tell them.
By the way, a phone call or note of thanks to the person who made the referral is always appreciated, even if the referred customer does not buy. The point is that you would like more referrals, and this person may send you someone else who will buy. Anything you can do to encourage their loyalty will help both of you. And don’t give up on the one who did not buy. Ask him if he knows someone who may be interested, and keep in touch.

    Like the gold miner, we have to continue to prospect and search for the “nuggets” we haven’t yet found. However, by paying attention to the small details of excellence in customer service and retention, we can increase the flow of “gold dust” that keeps our business viable. In fact, your personal gold mine -- your business -- needs both to grow and prosper.

    Taking Care of Business, Inc. offers management consulting services for home-based and small-medium sized businesses, and personal financial management for individuals. Lisa M. Berlin, BA, president, can be reached in Columbia, MD, at 443-255-8176.