Getting customers to try your products or service the first time is the result of a well-strategized and implemented marketing/sales plan. Getting them to continue to purchase your goods repetitively is another thing. Good branding can help, but branding is only skin deep if customers are not satisfied during every, single encounter with your business.

In today’s world we have more choices than ever before. There are few reasons to remain loyal to any business, unless they pretty much have a monopoly, i.e. cable and cellular companies.

Billboards on Times Square, NYC
photo credit: Justin Brown

For the rest of the retail world, competitors are plentiful. Promotions, such as group discounts (Groupon, etc.), intended to garner new customers, are available every day of the year. Up and coming businesses often use these mass couponing techniques so successfully that before you know it, a portion of your existing customer base is MIA.

1. Consistency

According to a McKinsey&Company study of 27,000 American consumers, consistency is the key ingredient that brings customers back for more. Most companies do not realize the power that consistency has over customer experiences, but think about it:

  • Are all of your employees trained to answer questions in a consistent manner?
  • Are you policies and procedures documented and checked to ensure all employees are following them?
  • Is the quality of your products or services checked on an ongoing basis?
  • What solutions have been derived from reasons for returns and other complaints to increase consistency?

How can you simplify your operation to increase consistency for your customers?

You can do this by creating, reinforcing standards in addition to ongoing training, such as:

  • Script responses for each situation: It’s not completely necessary for the employees to memorize any of the longer scripts, but they need to respond with the exact same information. Is there anything worse than getting a different answer from different employees within a single organization?
  • Provide a company fact sheet that provides all answers to consistently asked questions such as fax, hours, all product or service details, promotions, website and more. Too often information is compartmentalized which makes the customers have to go through unnecessary machinations and excessive time to uncover simple answers.
  • Hold monthly training sessions: This provides a forum for employees to bring up typical problems and challenges, in addition to ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Creating guidelines that mandate employees to conform to quality interaction and business standards is not always easy. Consistency covers every part of every business, not just the final product. From the way the customer is greeted to the end of the sale, they expect each interaction to be the same.

Customer service performed by a waiter

2. Active Listening

Communication skills are paramount in most aspects of life, and equally important in business. Where most business people fall short is in the listening department. When someone is talking others are generally thinking about what they are going to say next. How well can you listen if in the midst of preparing your next verbal blast?

Employees must be trained on how to listen and extract information from customers gripes, praises and questions. Unfortunately, in most of today’s operations, the employees spend most of their time interacting with other employees and their mobile devices than on the customers who are standing right in front of them. Does the phrase” grocery store checkout employees” ring a bell? Unfortunately, that is just one example.

Customers experience a great deal of frustration when they are conveying their feelings and receiving defensive responses that do nothing more than give the company’s point-of-view. Active listening involves the act of reflecting what the customer is communicating so they know they are being heard. It requires focusing actively, not passively, on what the other person is saying with full attention.

But that’s not all, once your employees have been trained to actively “hear” feedback that will help improve the business, they must take action, which brings us to our last ingredient!

Customer feedback

3. Take Action

“This store is always cold.” “Your company is constantly making mistakes on my orders.” “What is that extra fee?” “That sales person is offensive.” “Every time I come here, the food tastes different.”

These are the sorts of things you and your employees hear all of the time. In fact, odds are that one out of ten customers are saying things similar to the examples. But, how often do you hear all of the customer feedback from your staff? And, as important, how often are changes made based on the feedback?

Many employees just blow past this high-level feedback and find a way to blame it on the customer, as they don’t want it to reflect poorly on their performance. This fact alone can put your company in the danger zone, in terms of repeat business.

The way out is to make sure your employees always know that you will support them if they are following protocol and that customer feedback, both positive and negative, is crucial to growth. Negative feedback doesn’t have to viewed as anything more than important feedback. Make sure everyone on the staff realizes its importance and pave the way for honesty and a no-blame policy.

The reality is most business owners want to think there are more sophisticated methods and techniques they must use to capture customer loyalty. The truth is, consistency, active listening and taking action are the three key ingredients that are the most over-looked because they sound like common sense. However, if your business doesn’t have a solid foundation that includes these three ingredients, then we believe it is only a matter of time before your empire falls.