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The “Marshall Plan” for Customer Aftercare: How to Spend Less & Sell More

Posted on 04 August 2015 by cradmin

by Ernest Nicastro

My wife likes to shop at the local Safeway. Is it because of the competitive prices? Yes, that’s part of it. Is it because of the convenient location? Yes, that’s part of it too. She also likes their produce department. But the biggest reason she likes to shop at the local Safeway is “Marshall.”

Now Marshall is very good checkout person. He’s fast, efficient and seldom makes a mistake. But his job competency is not the reason why my wife keeps going back. She keeps going back because Marshall always has a warm and friendly smile. And because when Marshall asks, “How are you today?” well, by golly, you just know he’s sincere about it.

You see, for those few minutes while she’s a customer in his checkout line Marshall makes my wife feel genuinely valued and appreciated. And week after week she buys our groceries at “Marshall’s” Safeway.

As salespeople and business owners very few of us will have the same weekly, face-to-face opportunity as Marshall to make our customers feel valued and appreciated. And yet, if we’re smart we’ll make sure we have our very own “Marshall Plan” in effect. We’ll make sure – once we’ve rescued our customer from the grips of our competitor – that we have a Customer Aftercare Program in place to maintain the health and increase the profitability of that relationship.

This makes perfect marketing sense. And, with studies showing that the total cost of getting a new customer to be 10 times that of simply holding onto an existing one it can also make you plenty of dollars and cents, particularly when you consider that a five percent improvement in customer retention can lead to an 85 percent increase in profits. You don’t have to be King Solomon to see the wisdom in those numbers.

A One-Time Sale or a Lifetime Sale?

John and Judy First-Time Homebuyer purchase their first home and come to you for a kitchen remodel. Assuming that John and Judy are upwardly mobile professionals, they’ll probably want kitchen remodels 4 to 5 times during their lifetimes.

If you’re in the countertop business, that’s another 4 to 5 jobs at a minimum. John and Judy alone – even if they never send you a single referral – are conceivably worth many thousands of dollars to you during their lifetimes.

But if you’re actively working on this relationship, if you’re putting forth a consistent and concentrated effort to make John and Judy feel valued and appreciated, then they’ll send you lots of referrals. I GUARANTEE IT.

Now, stop a moment and multiply the above example by 40, 50, 500 or 1,000 and you’ll understand why today’s savviest marketers are placing more emphasis on “Share of Customer” and “Lifetime Value” and less on “Share of Market.”

But without proper planning and execution, you won’t come close to realizing John and Judy’s full lifetime value. The same thing holds true for any other industry as well.

Good Communication Is the Key

The key to increasing your Share of Customer and maximizing Lifetime Value lies in continually strengthening the bond between you and your customer. It should come as no surprise to anyone that good communication plays a major role in this bonding process.

An organized and consistent communications program will keep you in touch with your customers on a regular basis – and increase your Top of Mind Awareness (TOMA) with them. Plus, by welcoming and encouraging their feedback, you’ll be reminding them how very important and very special they are to you. And, we all like to feel special, valued and appreciated. We all like to feel loved.

Marketing consultant and Direct Marketing columnist James Rosenfield, in one of his magazine articles, wrote, “Every customer relationship begins with something that looks like love.” Your objective as a business owner or sales executive is to move your new customer beyond “something that looks like love” to the real deal.

Ideally, you want to turn each new customer into a walking, talking, word-of-mouth advertisement for you, your products and your services. And a proactive Customer Aftercare communications program can go a long way toward achieving this ideal. But most of us in the sales profession, unlike Marshall, don’t usually have the opportunity for weekly personal contact. In that case, direct mail is an efficient and effective customer retention tool.

And here are a few examples of the type of communications that should be in any good Customer Aftercare program:

Thank You Letter – To be mailed the very day the sale is closed. Sure, this is something we all do – right? Well maybe all of us do it, but I know from experience that a number of those other folks don’t.

True story: Last year I purchased a top-of-the-line computer system from a very well known, very large computer manufacturer that sells direct to consumers and businesses. Within minutes of closing on the transaction, I received an email from them. I must’ve gotten 10 to 12 pages of literature in the email, including at least 2 or 3 pages on all the awards they’ve won. But the one piece of literature that I didn’t get from them was a simple thank you letter.

Letter from “Mr. Big” – To be mailed 10 days to 2 weeks after the account is opened. In a smaller company, it should come from the president. In a larger company, a senior manager. This letter is a warm ownership/senior management welcome and also informs the new customer that, ultimately, “the buck stops here.”

Sample wording. “If the product or products you’ve purchased, or anyone in my organization fails to meet with your complete approval – now or in the future – I would like to know about it.”

How Did We Do Letter – Mailed a week after the sale. It’s a friendly letter explaining how important honest feedback is to you because it’s the only way you can improve. Attached to the letter is a brief customer satisfaction survey and stamped return envelope. The feedback you receive from this survey will be of tremendous value to you in your ongoing marketing efforts. This feedback will help you make more sales and generate increased profits.

Happy Anniversary Letter – Sample opening: “It’s been a year (__ years) since you opened your account/made a purchase with us, and I just wanted to say Happy Anniversary and thanks again. We look forward to working with you for many years to come.”

Random, Customer Appreciation Letter – Sample opening: “Do you ever get so caught up in the mundane everyday responsibilities of your job that you sometimes overlook things? I know I do. And that’s why I’m writing you.” From that point, you go on to tell your customers how much you value and appreciate them and their business.

Don’t do any selling in this letter. Helpful hint: Mail this letter right before you know your customer will be in contact with a large number of people. For example, right before Thanksgiving or before a trade convention or industry gathering. This way, you’ll get maximum mileage from the positive word-of-mouth this letter creates.

How Did We Do Survey Cover Letter – You should regularly survey your customers, and some suggest doing so at least once a year. Just the act of sending out the survey sends them a message that they are important to you.

But the greatest value and benefit to you and your business is the feedback you’ll get on how you can improve. So, word your cover letter in such a way that it will encourage response.

Sample copy: “At ABC Countertops we’re committed to offering you affordable, quality products backed up by a level of service that sets the standard for the industry. And your feedback is of tremendous help to us in measuring how well we’re meeting that commitment.”

The survey, whether or not your customer returns it to you, is yet one more indication that he or she is important to you.

Birthday Cards – Visit any Petco store and you’ll find forms to fill out with your pet’s name, address and birthday. Complete one and during the month of your pet’s birthday Petco will send your “Fido” or “Fifi” a birthday card and an invitation to come to the store and get a 10 percent discount.

Shouldn’t we treat our human customers with similar care and thoughtfulness? I think you know the answer.

Hand-Written Congratulations Cards – Whenever you or your assistant read or hear about awards, appointments, promotions and other forms of recognition earned by your clients or their children, acknowledge this with a letter or card. This is a small thing to do, but it is greatly appreciated and will pay big dividends.

In addition to the above communications, you’ll also be sending out your normal promotional mailings and regular reminders of the benefits of doing business with you and your company. Plus, you’ll also want to send an annual newsletter.

With the inexpensive database and sales automation technology available today, there’s little reason for any company not to have a well thought out, consistent and clearly defined Customer Aftercare Program. There’s only one drawback. It’s not a quick fix for low sales. But the benefits are many, including maximized customer retention and loyalty, reduced marketing costs and higher profits.

Most important, your Customer Aftercare program will set you apart from the vast majority of your competition and give you the competitive edge that leads to higher sales and profits.

About the Author

Ernest Nicastro is the President of Positive Response, a direct response advertising and marketing consulting company. Positive Response specializes in compelling, response-producing sales letters, ads and lead-generation programs and services . . . based on proven principles and strategies. A versatile professional, Ernest has experience in both the consumer and b2b markets. He has created ads, sales letters, lead-generation programs, marketing plans and marketing communications . . . for such diverse industries as computer software and hardware, financial services, health-care, printing, furniture retailing, autobody collision repair and many more. His clients include Colonial Life & Accident, Information Technology Association of America, Output Technologies, Timberland Custom Homes, Rocky Mountain Natural Laboratories and others.

Copyright© 2015, Ernest Nicastro. All rights reserved. For information, contact FrogPond at [email protected].

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Assuring Customer Satisfaction

Posted on 20 April 2015 by cradmin

By Tony Alessandra

“Those who enter to buy, support me. Those who come to flatter, please me. Those who complain, teach me how I may please others so that more will come. Only those who hurt me are displeased but do not complain. They refuse me permission to correct my errors and thus improve my service.” ~ Marshall Field

The attitude of the professional is summed up in the previous statement. It establishes the customer as the person to whom you are responsible. Customers support you; therefore, they deserve VIP treatment. When your customers are happy, you are happy. When they complain, you are unhappy, but you examine the complaint calmly and see it as an opportunity to learn as well as satisfy their needs. The quote echoes the fear that customers will not vocalize their dissatisfaction but instead take their business elsewhere.

There’s another quote that’s even more important to salespeople and companies immediately upon making a sale: “The sale begins when the customer says yes.” In the old days, It used to be, “The sale begins when the customer says no,” but that’s a totally inappropriate attitude to embrace in today’s customer-driven business environment.

Keeping Your Customers Happy

Because your first concern is customer satisfaction, you should be aware of some emotional stumbling blocks in your path: selective perception, user error and buyers’ remorse.

Selective perception is the process in which a person sees only a few details rather than the entire picture. This attention to detail is sometimes petty. For example, a customer may have a new countertop that is beautiful and fits their every need, but he or she is irritated by the seems. The customer focuses only on what is wrong rather than what is right.

This occurs because buyers expect their purchases to be perfect. Regardless of the purchase price, they figure that for what they spent, they deserve perfection. When you encounter someone who practices selective perception, evaluate the situation to determine if the complaint is reasonable or exaggerated. If it is exaggerated, try to resolve the problem by pointing out benefits and features that compensate. Put the negative detail in a different perspective for your client so that it becomes one small part of the total picture.

Many sales involve the installation of a new system or piece of equipment, and the buyer or their employees must be trained to use it. Their successful use of the equipment depends upon the effectiveness of the training, and it is imperative that the salesperson follows through after the training period to make sure the client uses the purchase properly. It is not uncommon for people to forget 75 percent of what they hear after two days. This can cause user error, which will significantly affect the outcomes  and may prevent your client from reaching his success criteria.

Often a client will be unhappy about a purchase and not realize that it is because of improper operation. The more complex something is, the more training it requires to use properly. In the interest of implementing the product quickly, users may settle for incomplete training or become sloppy in their application of good training. In any case, look for user error whenever a success criterion is not reached.

Buyer’s remorse refers to the regret that a buyer feels after making a purchase. It could be caused by selective perception, user error or the client’s error. Whatever the reason, the full benefits of the product are not realized. Buyer’s remorse can also be caused by the economics of the purchase. Until the benefits prove themselves cost-effective, a buyer regrets having made the purchase. It is the responsibility of the salesperson to assuage these fears by assuring the client that his or her investment is wise and sound. Reiterate some of the selling points that convinced the buyer to make the purchase, present data and put him or her at ease.

Handling Customer Complaints

Whether your customer’s complaint is legitimate or not, follow it up with a service call. Whenever possible, do it personally instead of sending someone from the customer service department. It provides the personal service that your customer appreciates, and it may obviate the need for a technician or service member to call. As an alternative, both of you can go together to handle customer complaints.

Keep the following guidelines in mind:

  1. Don’t procrastinate making the call. Often the problem is not as serious as it sounds. Some customers read the riot act when they call about a complaint. A delay in responding will only irritate your client more.
  2. Admit mistakes and apologize. Just because you made the sale does not mean you can become defensive about your company, product or service. Even the most reputable companies make mistakes and have problems with their products. You may want to restate the customer’s complaint to show that you are listening and have an understanding of the problem.
  3. Show compassion for your customer. Whether the complaint proves to be true or false, show your customer that you are concerned and will investigate the problem immediately. Help the customer calm down by saying, “I can understand why you feel the way you do.”
  4. Actively listen to your customer’s complaint. Talking will make him or her feel less anxious about it. Let your customers vent their feelings before you react to the situation. Be sympathetic and encourage customers to blow up. Afterward, they’ll feel better; this means they’ll be in a better frame of mind.
  5. Don’t shift the blame to your company or someone else within it. This may take the blame off you, but it undermines the integrity and organization of the company, and your customer will lose confidence in your firm.

Maintaining Customer Satisfaction

The philosophy behind maintaining your customers is simple; now that you have them, maintain them. When you consider the amount of time and money invested in them, you cannot afford to lose them. This investment goes beyond your personal expenditures. It also includes your firm’s advertising and marketing costs to reach that particular market segment. Your customers, therefore, should be treated as if the life of your business depends on them – which it does!

How to Keep Your Customer Satisfied

  1. Show them that you think of them. Send them helpful newspaper clippings or articles, cartoons related to their business and “Here’s an idea I thought you’d enjoy” notes. Send your clients holiday cards, birthday cards and thank you notes.
  2. Drop by to show them new products and brochures and offer additional services. Always make an appointment before making your call. Respect your clients’ time as you do your own.
  3. Offer a sample gift to enhance the use of your product. See how they are utilizing your product or service and suggest other ways that they can benefit from it. They may not be realizing its full potential.
  4. Offer loyalty discounts on new products or services. This will encourage additional business.
  5. Repay or compensate them for lost time or money caused by problems encountered with your product. If you pinch pennies, your customer may do the same.
  6. Be personable. Record details about your client’s life and enter these in your file. It’s so much nicer to say to someone, “How is Bob?” rather than, “How’s your husband?”
  7. Tell the truth. Lies have a way of coming back to haunt you.
  8. Make good on your guarantees. In the end, fixing a problem is much less expensive than finding a new customer.
  9. Be ethical. Keep all your information about the account confidential.
  10. Be certain that your company follows through on its commitments. This includes delivery, installation, packaging, and so on.
  11. Show your appreciation for their referrals by reporting back to them on the outcome.
  12. Ask for testimonials. Obtain permission from your successful clients to write about them in a newsletter or your website.
  13. Keep track of their results with your product.
  14. Keep the lines of communication forever open. As in any relationship, you must be able to exchange grievances, ideas, praises, losses and victories.

What all of this comes down to is that you should be willing to go the extra mile for your customers. The extra effort you expend now will be repaid handsomely in the future.

The bottom line in maintaining your clients is service, service and more service. Be there for your customers, and they’ll want to stick with you. If you meet their needs, they’ll think twice before switching to another company even if they’ve voiced some serious concerns.

“Make new clients, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”

About the Author

Dr. Tony Alessandra, CSP, CPAE has authored 13 books, recorded over 50 audio and video programs, and delivered over 2,000 keynote speeches since 1976. Dr. Tony Alessandra is recognized by Meetings and Conventions Magazine as “one of America’s most electrifying speakers.”

Copyright© 2015, Tony Alessandra. All right reserved. For information, contact FrogPond at [email protected].

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