This post is the first of a two part series. This post focuses on B2B customer retention and loyalty; part two focuses on B2C (business to consumer) relationships (you can find the B2C post here). Although there are similarities between the two, there are also some important nuances.
It’s interesting how customer retention often takes the back seat to new customer generation. That’s understandable – getting new business fuels growth and customer diversification. However, after losing a customer, we often look in the rearview mirror and realize how easy it might have been to keep that customer. We now find ourselves scrambling to replace the business we just lost, when maybe a fraction of that effort could have resulted in a happy, long-term customer. This pretty much puts customer retention on equal footing with new business generation, doesn’t it?
Here are a few things that I have found helpful in increasing customer loyalty and “stickiness:”
- Cultivate an executive sponsor. I heard this term used by Tom Searcy recently. It is critical to have an executive sponsor in the customer organization. This is a person in a leadership role that clearly understands your value proposition. Your customers’ halls are lined with finance and purchasing folks that tend to focus on price alone. The executive sponsor is your ally that understands your differentiators and the value you provide.
- Reinforce your differentiators – repeatedly. This is another biggie. Identify what you excel at that no one else can – i.e., your sustainable competitive advantage. Communicate and demonstrate this to your customer at every opportunity.
- Solve issues swiftly, and at the lowest level. Empower your customer support personnel to quickly resolve billing, fulfillment, shipping or other issues. This shows the customer that you accept responsibility for mistakes, and it prevents problem acceleration to decision-makers (or the executive sponsor).
- Make them feel special. Show your customer that they are important with every interaction. Designate a point of contact in your organization with decision making authority. For major customers, consider forming a dedicated team that is well versed with that customer’s needs, and is responsible and accountable for customer satisfaction.
- Executive checkins. Maintain a discipline of regular executive check-ins with larger customers. Ask lots of questions, listen, and figure out how to make your customer’s life easier. Ask your executive sponsor how you can “partner” with their company for mutual success. Don’t just focus on how your company can help the customer by selling them more stuff – offer to help in other ways through business referrals and valuable industry connections.
- Consistency. Make sure that all everyone in your company that “touches” the customer is held accountable for customer satisfaction. You might have the best product quality and customer support, but if there is a negative experience with accounting or other personnel in your company, you’ve just created a “naysayer” within their organization.
I could probably add a few more but, as my grandmother used to say, “better leave well enough alone.”
Question: What are you doing each and every day to retain your best customers?