Let’s not make this any more complicated than it needs to be:
Retention drives revenue.
According to an oft-cited study by Bain & Company, a modest 5% increase in your business’s customer retention rate can increase profits by up to a whopping 95%! That’s a whole lot of bang for your customer service buck.
With this in mind, here are 14 killer ways you can improve customer retention rates:
1. Have a Unique Vision
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably seen or heard of Simon Sinek’s viral TED talk on visionary leadership. If you're one of the few who haven’t, this is the basic takeaway:
Great leaders inspire action by beginning with an answer to the question “Why?”.
If your business stands for something, your customers will be proud to be involved with it. Fortunately for you, this pride will cover a multitude of product-related sins.
After all, there’s a reason people like me stuck with the iPhone even when Apple deprived us of our precious 3.5mm headphone jack…
2. Identify with your Customers
According to the social scientists of the world, people are intrinsically attracted to other people, places or things which somehow remind them of themselves. This stunning bit of common sense scientific discovery is known as implicit egotism.
Odds are, there was something about your organization with which the customer could identify before they ever decided to buy.
But don’t take that for granted. You need to get well acquainted with your customers. What is it that drew them to you in the first place? Which aspects of your personal and organizational approach can you tailor to better identify with their unique experience and outlook?
3. Set Clear Expectations and Make Good on Them
There’s nothing quite as frustrating as buying a product with the expectation of getting outcome X but ending up with outcome Y. Just ask anyone who bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 last year.
If you want to hang on to your customers for as long as possible, you need to set clear expectations and meet them every time.
Naturally, this begins with the folks in sales and marketing. For the customer success professionals among us, our unique mission is to check in regularly with customers and see how well our product or service is doing meeting their expectations.
If you consistently find that you can’t meet expectations, then it’s time to get with product development and/or marketing to address the issue. Even better, if you can coach your client through the issue and towards a successful outcome, you’ll keep them engaged and become their hero.
4. Overdeliver on your Promises
This section ties in closely with the previous one. When you set expectations, you need to dream big enough to excite your customers without setting your sights so high that meeting their expectations will take no less than an act of heroism on your part.
Leave yourself some wiggle room so that you can not only consistently meet customer expectations, but surpass them.
Think this sounds like a mess of good ol’ boy business advice? Then you might want to check out this study published by the smarties over at MIT. It argues that overdelivering on your promises is proven to bolster customer retention.
5. Be Proactive
Indeed, when it comes to customer retention, providing excellent service on a consistent basis is crucial. But according to at least one study, customers value proactive communication just as much as they do prompt, helpful service.
Why’s that, you ask? Well, let’s think about it from the customer’s point of view. What would you prefer? A quick reply to your service request or a heads-up email showing you how to avoid having to reach out to customer service in the first place?
Take a look at your customer’s journey and identify recurring hang-ups. Comb through your support tickets and look for common, emerging themes.
Produce support materials to address these specific issues. Push them out to your customers when needed. Not only will you create a cache of valuable content, but you’ll keep your most valuable customers happy and engaged.
6. Surprise, Surprise
Proactive communication doesn’t always have to suggest a problem. There’s no reason why you can’t reach out to your customers just to let them know how much you appreciate their business.
Messages like these are sweet, but they can leave your customers with a belly ache if they don’t include something of substance. So, take your preemptive outreach a step further and offer your customers a worthwhile bonus for their loyalty.
Here are some ‘just because’ rewards you can throw out there:
- A 10% discount on product upgrades
- A complimentary hour of consulting on a particular topic or feature
- An offer to feature your customer’s business on your community home page
What you do for the customer isn’t as important as that you do something on a periodic basis to let them know how much you appreciate their business.
7. Create a Customer Communications Plan
If the only time you communicate with your customer is when something has gone wrong, then you've got a problem. To spur your customers to learn to love your products, you’ll need to communicate with them on a regular basis—not only when something breaks.
Of course, regular communication won’t happen by accident. It’ll take planning and intention. That’s why you should create a plan for keeping in touch. By systematizing your outreach, you'll ensure no one falls through the cracks.
8. Listen to your Customers
You’d be surprised how frequently businesses overlook this simple point.
When you reach out to customers, take the time to listen carefully. This means you need to get past the fluff and listen to what your customer has to say about their and how your product is or isn't meeting their needs.
Don’t blow this off. In and of itself, the act of listening to a customer is a powerful relationship builder. Beyond that, it’s a veritable goldmine for storytelling which truly resonates.
9. Spend Time with your Customers
No, I’m not talking about grabbing beers with a random customer. I’m talking about taking the time to get acquainted with those who use your product.
Call it market research if you like, but reconnecting with your customers (especially if you’ve been in the market for a while) will give you a keener sense of their needs and will strengthen your brand’s connection with its customer base.
This means getting out of your bubble and into theirs as much as possible.
10. Be Great, not Fast
The need for speed in customer service today is one of our worst enemies. Faced with studies which tell us how customers are willing to spend more when we respond more quickly or leave us if we move too slowly, we all feel pressured to rush through our customer service encounters.
While the impulse may be a good one, it can also shoot us in the foot. Speedy service is of no use if it’s hamstrung by spotty information, incomplete solutions, or just plain wrong advice.
Instead of trying to set a speed record every time a new problem presents itself, try instead to respond to the customer as soon as possible to let them know you’re working on it. Then, take all the time you need to go above and beyond with your response.
11. Lean on Your Community
You can’t be all things to all people. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.
If however you’ve built a vibrant community around your brand, then you can enlist your customers to assume a significant part of your service and support load.
One of the simplest ways to do that is to organize your customer service around an online forum-based support solution. I won’t get into all of the benefits here, but suffice it to say that by involving your community, you can dramatically free up resources while giving the customer a better service experience than they’d have otherwise had.
12. Set Up a Multi-Tiered Advocacy Program
An advanced way to add a little structure to what I suggested in #11 is to devise a multi-tiered advocacy program in your customer community.
This program would include elements of both external advocacy (what customers tell the world) and internal advocacy (what customers tell one another). The latter would be especially important for improving your customer retention numbers.
The long and short of it is: by incentivizing your most active customers to take a leadership role within your brand’s community, you’ll create an environment where customers can help each other succeed.
13. Become a Trusted Advisor
Especially if you’re in the B2B space, establishing your brand as an indispensable source of wisdom and practical help in your customer’s eyes, will go miles in keeping them on board.
The best way to do this is to think several steps beyond your specific product or solution. Get to know your customers (see above) and their businesses better. Take an active interest in helping them succeed—even in areas which aren’t directly addressed by your own product or solution.
Think creatively and become a go-to resource for your customers. Do that, and they'll stick with you through thick and thin.
14. Let the Machines Do the Thinking for You
A few months ago, I wrote about 3 ways companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance their customer service efforts. In summary here they are:
- Enhanced Customer Experience (Example: Amazon’s personalized suggestions)
- Front-End Chatbots
- AI-Assisted Virtual Agents
There’s no substitute for a human touch in customer service and success. Nevertheless, with a little assistance from our robotic friends, we can cull insights and analyze trends which we would have otherwise never seen. Using this information, we can continue to retool our processes and give customers the absolute best experience possible.
Keep an eye out as applications for AI in customer success will continue to evolve over the coming months and years.
Have I missed anything? Share your favorite strategies for improving customer retention in the comment section below.