How to Build Profitable Customer Relationships

Edna B. Shearer

It is a challenging time for most business leaders today. Leaders are demanding their company’s grow and so marketers are continually focused on driving their products and services into the hands of new customers. Unfortunately this intense focus on attracting new customers has taken attention away from established or past customers. It is measurably more expensive to attract a new customer than to retain an existing customer. So why do so many companies focus their efforts and their dollars solely on new customers? It is because every organization is committed to growth and growth is associated with building new business. However, in order to maintain continuous profitability, companies must establish and maintain profitable relationships with all of their customers (past, current and future). Business leaders must do four things to have profitable customer relationships.

1. You must continuously be attracting (profitable) new customers in the industry sectors that you have identified in your strategic plan.
2. You must actively retain your (profitable) current customers and re-establish relationships with past customers.
3. You must customize your product and service offerings to better meet your customer’s expectations and needs.
4. Your employees must be continuously trained and rewarded for delivering exceptional customer service.

New Customers: The industry sectors that you have identified for growth in your strategic plan must be implemented throughout your company. Your sales team must have their commission structure designed to reflect (and reward) closed sales in the industries you have committed to pursue. When you are marketing and selling to your new marketplace you need to make sure that the products and services you offer are profitable. In other words, you must conduct a customer profitability analysis at the beginning of the sale, and periodically during the sales cycle. Too many companies focus their marketing dollars on their customers that are the largest revenue generator. Remember profits are revenue minus costs, so you need to make sure all of your customer relationships are producing the results you initially projected.

Current and Past Customers: You worked hard to attract new customers to your business and know you need to continue to work to establish and strengthen the relationship you created. The more you know about your customer’s organization, their buying habits and patterns, their growth plans and their operations, the more successful you will be in designing your relationship programs to meet their needs. The goal is to be so familiar and become so indispensable to your customers that your company is the only one they consider when purchasing products and services.

So many companies offer special pricing, bundled package offers or incentives to attract new customers, while completely ignoring their current customers. If you want to keep your customers from switching to your competitors (to take advantage of their “new customer discounts”) you need to create loyalty (recognization/appreciation) programs, and referral discounts and/or incentives. If you value your customers, then reward them for their continued confidence in your company’s product and services. You might also consider instituting a “frequent user” program. The more business a customer does with your company-they can receive either a discount on future work (or purchases) or a free service.

Reach out to your customers on a regular basis to provide helpful information such as case studies, success stories, testimonials, and new product/service launches. Invite your customers to give you feedback on their needs/wants. The more inclusive you are with your customers, the more they will value the relationship with your company.

Customize your programs. Technology has offered us a myriad of communication vehicles for reaching our target audiences. Technology is a tool to support customer service not to replace it. Always give your customers the option to talk with a human being. I know that having trained customer service specialists can add costs to the bottom line, but think how much business you lose, by not having someone available to visit with your customers when they need help, have questions or have a complaint that needs to be resolved.

In order to exceed your customer’s expectations you must use your technology and marketing savvy to customize your relationship with each customer. Make sure your CRM (customer relationship manager) programs are integrated with your customer contact programs and you are working with your customers to understand how and when they want to be contacted. The more you know about your individual customers and can customize your marketing and sales program to meet their needs, the stronger your customer relationships.

Social media is continuing to revolutionize they way we conduct business. Anyone can quickly research your company to discover your company’s customer satisfaction history. Your company’s reputation is one of your organization’s most valuable assets, so make sure you are doing everything possible to maintain excellent customer relations and continually build a strong reputation for your company.

Employees: People treat people like they are treated. In order to deliver exceptional customer service (a must requirement for every employee in your organization) you need to make sure the core values for your organization specifically address your commitment to your customers and your employees. Customer and employee satisfaction are intertwined and business leaders must recognize and reward employees for the value they continuously add to the organization. When things go wrong, your employees need the training and resources to turn your dissatisfied customers, into happy, satisfied, and repeat customers. Make sure you have a resolution ladder in place, so unhappy customers can immediately be connected to someone who has the authority to resolve their issue.

For your company to create and sustain long-term profitability you must continuously develop and improve your customer relations. Treat your customers as the valuable assets that they are. Periodically conduct a customer profitability analysis and use your technology to customize your products and services to meet your individual customer’s needs and watch your company’s growth skyrocket!

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