If you don't have a system in place to market to current customers after the initial sale, now would be a good time to build a strategy for a customer retention program.
How you apportion your efforts between new customer acquisition and retention of existing customers obviously depends on where your business is in its lifecycle. You can't remarket unless you have existing customers.
There are an infinite number of retention marketing techniques. There is also little agreement as to what the most effective of these retention marketing techniques is. What there is universal agreement on is that it's a whole lot less costly to implement and be consistent with a retention marketing plan than to only constantly beat the bushes for new customers. Retaining existing customers, or inspiring one time customers to return, simply costs less than acquiring new customers.
Let's start with a working definition of what a customer retention plan or program is. It's a specific initiative, or set of initiatives, designed to encourage customers to repurchase and evangelize a product or service. The intention of a customer rentention plan is to increase customer value.
Customer retention programs can be company-led, like implementing an onboarding process, or they can be customer-led, like downloading and using a mobile app to make purchases.
Here are some examples of the kind of initiatives a company can implement to encourage customer retention:
- Develop an onboarding program that teaches new customers how to use your product or service and ensure that customers know how to make the best use of the product or service to meet their goals.
- Use a customer feedback loop to collect, analyze, and distribute customer reviews and surveys. Use surveys to collect customer feedback.
- Ask customers to participate in testing and focus groups. You're looking for trends in behavior and areas that could enhance user experience.
- Be proactive in communicating with customers. Reach out to reestablish dormant relationships.
- Have customer support systems in place that enable you to provide the appropriate level of support needed both before and after a sale. Use a help desk tool or live chat to turn a question into a sale or a complaint into a resolution.
- Reward existing customers for their continuing loyalty.
- Get involved with your customers beyond your products and services. Create a corporate social responsibility program that pursues a moral goal. This further demonstrates your commitment to customers' needs.
- Demonstrate your long-term investment in your customer base by creating customer education features like a knowledge base or community forum.
Here are some specific customer retention strategies that have been shown to work in the real world.
- Use CRM software to record customer interactions and create support tickets to better ensure that each ticket is responded to in a timely manner.
- Empower customers with convenience by making your products and services as accessible as possible.
- Identify your buyer personas and meet them where they're at, reaching out on their preferred social media channels. Keep open lines of communication by responding to comments and questions your customers pose. Make it known you're available to help them before, during, and after they purchase your product or service.
- Remain consistent in who you are as a brand. That way, customers know what to expect and you gain their trust. Likewise, this integrity and consistency helps attract customers who are most likely to become strong brand advocates.
- Subscriptions can increase retention by providing benefits in the form of exclusive content and events. Taking a page from Amazon's playbook, you should offer something you know people want, like free shipping. Underlining all this is the understanding of your audience's desires and challenges.
- Telling your customers "thank you" is simple and effective, and doing so distinguishes faceless websites from beloved brands.
- Acknowledge that mistakes happen, apologize, and rectify the situation. Develop a plan for the inevitable mistake, be it a data breach, an outage, a billing error, or something else.
Like so many other pieces that contribute to your brand's success, implementing retention marketing and doing it well can be two very different things. Here are some ideas for incorporating retention marketing into your overall marketing strategy.
- Reprioritize and restructure priorities as needed. Recognize that retention marketing is a full-time endeavor. This means you need to get buy-in from the top down. It needs to be a priority of the business, not just the marketing staff.
- Redefine how you measure customer value over time rather than simply using the cost of initial customer acquisition. Using initial acquisition cost misses the fact that consumers place more emphasis on value than just finding the lowest price. Discounts alone aren't enough to drive sales.
- Determining a customer's lifetime value gives you a view of the potential net profit over the span of time they engage with your brand. This takes longer to measure but is usually a better prediction of future revenue.
- Retention is all about communicating with customers on a personal level with messaging and offers that are specific to their needs. Mountains of customer data are available but you need data scientists to analyze the data and pull out actionable insights.
- You may need to create a specific position to focus on retention and not simply add it as a task for your current marketing team.
The easiest way to grow your customer numbers is to not lose them after an initial sale. You need to lock in any sale and allay any customer remorse by taking action to demonstrate that you care about them and value their business. Thank them and remind them why they made the right decision in dealing with you. Put a system in place to continue to sell to them while also constantly proving that they made the right decision.
- Be sure every facet of your customer service experience is as seamless and error-free as possible. The best customer service leads to repeat customers while poor service ushers those same customers out the door, causing them to find solutions to their problems elsewhere.
- Stay in touch with old/former customers and remind them you're still around to help them if they need you. If possible, find out why they haven't bought from you recently. Keeping them abreast of your new offerings will show you value them and their needs.
- After a customer makes an initial purchase, loop them in to a programmed sequence of letters, events, phone calls, thank you offers, and/or cards or notes with a personal touch. Everyone likes to feel seen, and if you set up your communication to be regular and helpful, you'll go a long way in ensuring your customers know they are valued and recognize you as a brand that is continuously working to meet their needs. (See below for our email marketing tips and download a free checklist!)
- Remember that you can turn a complaint into a positive. If the customer talks to you, you get an opportunity to return them to a place of satisfaction and delight. Have a plan in place for how you'll respond to complaints or negative feedback. When that moment inevitably comes, you'll be able to handle it with grace, rectifying the problem and showing your commitment to making things right for your customer, thus spurring greater loyalty.