In order to both win and maintain an existing customer base in today’s market, you must provide a competitive edge to your customers. That edge can be defined as customer delight. Creating customer delight need not be expensive; you don’t need to spend a fortune on gifts, discounts and promotions. Making the process of doing business with you straightforward and trouble free is a proven way to delight your customers. The following ten tips and tricks are based on the methods of successful industry leaders, as well as over 25 years of personal experience as a professional marketer, hiring manager, and discerning consumer.

Building and retaining your customer base:
Developing a reputation for excellent customer service is the most cost effective way to build a large and diverse customer base. According to the BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey 2015, “92% of consumers now read online reviews (vs. 88% in 2014).” Customers today rely on the experience of others in order to guide their decision-making. Think of how you hire a hairdresser or a gardener. We often ask our friends and neighbours whom they use. Customers often feel more comfortable hiring someone who has provided excellent service to others.

In addition to word of mouth marketing it also makes sense to expend effort keeping your existing customers rather than focusing solely on finding new ones. According to Bain & Co., “increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.” Keeping an existing customer costs far less and provides a more reliable source of income than attracting new ones.

Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen defined the Customer Influence Mix in the January/February 2014 Harvard Business Review, stating that “customers’ purchase decisions are typically affected by a combination of three things: a) their prior preferences, beliefs, and experiences, b) input from other people and from information service; and c) information from marketers.” They state: “the greater the reliance on one source, the lower the need for the others.” By focusing on building your reputation and keeping your existing customers, you can expend far less resources on marketing to new customers.

  1. Get to know your customers:
    According to TrueSalesResults, customers have numerous options available to them and are able to easily move to another solution if their needs aren’t being met. “They [customers] only want to work with companies that really take the time to invest and learn about their business and marketplace.” This investment doesn’t need to include an expensive set of market analytics. Making time to nurture relationships with your customers will pay off exponentially. Keeping in touch, expressing an interest in their business, and asking your clients how you can help them to succeed is far more effective than any survey or study. An added bonus is that if your existing customers like you, they will often share information on other opportunities and services that they and their colleagues need.

Another avenue for learning about your clients is online reviews. There are numerous online review sites that provide a forum for leaving both positive and negative feedback. As the popularity of social media demonstrates, people want to be heard. Savvy consumers today leave honest reviews and provide invaluable feedback for free. Leaving a review is a way to say thank you for superior service or to point out ways a company can improve. There are forums for any type of service including Yelp, Amazon, TripAdvisor, UpWork, WorkMarket and many others. Whether positive or negative, a review provides insight into the needs of your customers and your competitors’ customers as well.

  1. Deliver personal service:
    Just as you need to take the time to know your customers and what is important to them, you need to show them that you are invested in their success. No matter how well you know your customer, if you aren’t available when they need you, they will turn elsewhere. Consistently being unavailable, forwarding calls to IVR systems, voice mail or email gives the impression that your customers aren’t important to you, or that you are too busy to handle their requests. It takes only one missed call for your potential customer to move on to your competition.

Consistently manage your online presence as well. This is the face you present to the market 24/7. Make your contact information easy to find and encourage your customers to contact you directly with questions or concerns. Pay attention and respond to reviews and posts on your website and social media pages. Thank your reviewers for posting and providing feedback. Offer to improve the experience of your negative reviewers. Just letting disgruntled customers know that you are paying attention goes a long way toward turning a negative impression into a positive one.

  1. Provide clear, easy to understand pricing:
    Avoid providing a verbal price on the spot, instead inform your customer that you will review their project requirements and send them a quote. Take the time to understand the project requirements, develop reasonable estimates to complete the work, and provide a comprehensive quote that you feel confident about. The Deal Memo as outlined by Art Business Consultant, Maria Brophy is a nice template. You can format your memo to represent your unique brand, but the key items to include are: a) the name of the client; b) a date that your offer expires; c) a brief description of your understanding of the project and the services you will provide; d) fixed price or hourly price (with estimated hours to complete and an estimated total cost), and/or any additional price options they can choose from; e) payment terms, e.g. 50% down and balance at completion; f) deadline; and g) copyright notice. Most important, provide value to your customer by making the estimated total cost easy for them to find. Busy professionals don’t have time to wade through a morass of marketing copy in order to get to a bottom line. Providing a direct and concise price quote communicates a respect for your customer’s time, and demonstrates confidence in the services you are quoting.

  2. Communicate clearly and effectively:
    According to Mark Sheffert of the private investment firm Manchester Companies, “miscommunication can cost an organization 25% to 40% of its annual budget.” Your chances of satisfying your customers will be much lower if you don’t take the time to fully understand what they need. Assuming that you know what your customer wants without a clear dialogue or presuming that they understand what you are telling them without a clearly articulated plan is a recipe for disaster. My mantra throughout my career and the number one expectation I have of any consultant that I hire is a lesson I learned in Business school: always take 100% responsibility for ensuring that your audience understands what you are saying, and take 100% responsibility for understanding what your audience is communicating as well.

  3. Set reasonable expectations for your clients that you can meet...and meet them:
    The old adage “underpromise and overdeliver” has become obsolete in today’s market. Customers prefer that you consistently providing them with the best possible service. According to researcher Ayelet Gneezy of the University of California, San Diego, there is no added benefit to providing more than you initially promised. In a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, Gneezy states “[W]hile participants valued keeping a promise much more highly than breaking one, exceeding the promise conferred virtually no additional happiness with the promise-maker.” In a market filled with competitors, it makes more sense to promise exactly what you can deliver. You don’t want to make the mistake of promising less than your competition is able to guarantee.

  4. Anticipate questions and provide information:
    You are being paid for your expertise. Prepare yourself with answers to the questions you anticipate your customers will ask. Impressing your customers with your foresight is far more effective than being caught without information. Continue to add and refine the information as you receive additional questions from your customers. Make it easy to find the information on your website, in your proposal, or through your blogs and social media posts. This information will go a long way to enhancing your reputation as an expert in the field and will save you time by addressing questions before your customer even knows to ask them. If you do get caught with a question you don’t know the answer to, however, never try to bluff your way through an answer. It is perfectly acceptable to state that you will look into the question and provide an answer. Just be sure to follow up with the answer as soon as possible and add what you have learned to your source of information.

  5. Be an advocate for your customer:
    My favorite consultant is the one who consistently goes to bat for me with the rest of the consulting team, anticipating next steps and ensuring that all of the minute details are taken care of. She allows me to step back and take a big picture perspective, knowing that most of the fine details are handled. When I worked as a consultant, we marketed ourselves as serving as “an extension of staff.” Today, “customer advocate” is the new buzzword. According to Lou Hunnebeck of SupportIndustry.com, an advocate serves as both “a bridge between the customer and what he needs, as well as the voice of that customer.” This advocacy builds a bond of trust and reliance between the customer and the contractor, allowing the contractor to be the right hand that the customer cannot do without.

  6. Check in regularly:
    Checking in throughout the project is crucial to maintaining the schedule and coordinating the work effort. Once the project ends though, be sure to maintain those lines of communication. Contact your customer on a regular basis just to keep in touch. There is a finesse to maintaining communication. You don’t want to harass your customer or take up valuable time, but you do want to maintain the relationship that you have developed. Determine your customer’s preferred method of communication, whether a phone call, email, tweet, or post. Whatever the method, be consistent and provide value. Send a tip, some analysis, or a pertinent article that relates to the customer’s business. Show them that you are still interested in helping them to succeed.

  7. Provide value added services:
    You need to determine what it is that will provide value for your customers. In today’s market, there's very little difference in cost among the key players. The best way to win business is not to undercut your competition in price, but rather to add value through additional products or services that can make your offer especially attractive. This method is called "bundling." Think about what you can provide your customers that is unique as well as complementary to your core competency and present it as a value added service.

  8. Thank your customers:
    Never forget the power of the “thank you.” It is our nature to want to be appreciated. Be sure to show your customers that you value their business and welcome the opportunity to continue to work with them. Write a note of appreciation, make a phone call, or invite them out for a cup of coffee. Always remember to express to your customer how much their business means to you.

Links:
https://www.brightlocal.com/?p=19694
http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/1590.html
https://hbr.org/2014/01/what-marketers-misunderstand-about-online-reviews/ar/1
http://www.truesalesresults.com/2015/04/do-you-really-know-your-customers/
http://mariabrophy.com/business-of-art/fear-giving-a-price-quote-the-art-of-the-deal-memo.html
http://www.manchestercompanies.com/newsviews/Manchester-April2001.htm
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub
releases/2014-05/sp-jk050814.php
http://www.supportindustry.com/newsletter/ccnitilarticle.htm