Categories
customer retention Sales

Maturity matters

Have you spent any time looking at the differences between your newest customers and the customers who have been with you for years or decades? I’m not speaking of age, but of their maturity.

Imagine asking your customers “Why did y0u buy from us vs every other option you had, including buying nothing?” A new customer is likely to say something like “you offer the options we needed at a reasonable price”, and / or that your reputation helped them make the choice.

The “old” ones

However, the customer you’ve had for decades might respond that “you were the only one who had the product / service at the time”. While it’s possible that you’re still the only supplier, it’s unlikely that is the situation today. So why are these long time customers still around?

If the product you provide has a recurring income component, or you sell something consumable that will be purchased repeatedly (food, a service, supplies, raw materials, etc), ask your long-time customers an additional question: “I get that we were the first – but you still use us. Why? What’s kept you from switching to another vendor?”

While it’s great that they’re still around, their continued use of your solutions is not likely because you were the first vendor they bought from. The reasons they stick around are the same reasons that you might be able to flip a customer from another vendor. These reasons are also important for customer retention, so listen closely. Ask why when you get an answer. Keep asking why, if it makes sense. Dig deep on these answers – “anyone” can close a sale. The key is closing them and keeping them.

They get started differently

Another difference you might notice between new and long time customers is their maturity as a user with your product / service. I don’t mean that they’re young or old. They might be new users, or they may be long-time users of a particular type of product, whether we’re talking about software, 3D printer resin, garlic, or fertilizer.

What I mean is that some of your customers are new or at least less experienced at using whatever you sell, and others are experts at using whatever you sell. The new customer might be experienced – having switched from another vendor. However, they could be inexperienced, having just gotten started with products / services like yours.

It’s important that you know which type of customer you’re dealing with. The onboarding with these two types of customers almost certainly needs to be different because of the difference in experience and skill / maturity with your product / service. The ability of the sales and support people assigned to these two groups needs to be considered – and you may need to break down the groups with more granularity beyond novice and experienced. A novice support or sales rep assigned to a very mature account might be a good learning opportunity for the rep, but it could be a disaster for customer retention unless you pair them with an experienced mentor for a while.

More than maturity

The differences between these two types of users include more than their product / service use maturity, but that maturity relates directly to the self-described needs of each group. Think about the questions and improvements you receive from customers with lower experience levels vs the requests from mature customers.

Power users tend to ask for more refined features. You have to be careful how you implement these requests. If your product / service becomes so hard to use that novice users get stuck, it can impede your growth. People will gravitate to solutions that are easy to use & simple to get started. Novice customers don’t want to get mired in a swamp, particularly with a new supplier or a new product / service. High maturity customers don’t want a product that’s too simple to serve their advanced needs. It’s a careful balancing act.

A Farewell

Columbia Falls started off the year with a tough loss – the passing of Karl Skindingsrude. It would be an understatement to say that Karl was an enthusiastic promoter of Columbia Falls, her people, and her businesses. It will be tough not seeing him emcee future Night of Lights and Heritage Days parades. Columbia Falls will certainly miss his smile, his enthusiasm, and his service as Columbia Falls’ friendly unofficial ambassador. For me, his passing served as a powerful reminder of where home is.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Categories
customer retention Customer service

Customers for life are often made rather than found

We all want customers for life – at least if they’re good customers. The challenge is finding them, right? Once you know what they look, sound, and act like, you’ll know what to look for. For some, that’ll probably work. For others, you’ll have work to do.

Finding customers for life

Finding customers for life should start with how you find new customers. There’s a decent possibility that you can find more of them by doing a close analysis of the ones you already have. That assumes you can identify which customers have been with you “forever”. A fair portion of them should exhibit similar needs, wants, responses, purchase habits, and other tendencies / similarities.

Depending on the information you have about your customers, it might not be terribly difficult to discern these subset of things that trend for lifetime customers. Having figured that out, you could use that information in your marketing copy and to emphasize where you market (ie: which types of media, which publications / sites / locations). You’d also want to use this information to segment your leads if the critical lifetime indicator data is available for your leads.

Creating customers for life

Perhaps easier than finding customers for life is taking exceptionally good care of everyone and paying attention to the things they appreciate most. Once you identify those things and have observed customer reactions to them, you’ll do more of them – and which ones to emphasize.

Taking extra steps

Recently, I witnessed a family member making calls to financial firms, insurance companies, and similar businesses after a relative passed. Listening to the calls was excruciating to me – not because of the loss of the relative, but because of the incessant frustration they subjected their decades-long customer to after paying these businesses for a very long time. The worst part was that this customer was dealing with accounts, policies, etc involving the person who passed – and didn’t seem to be getting the least bit of empathy, no matter what the result of the call. I heard this sort of thing on call after call – it was rather unbelievable and pretty frustrating even though I wasn’t directly involved. I wondered how a company could possibly do something like that – intentionally – at what was clearly during one of the worst parts of their customer’s life.

After dealing with that, can you imagine that person’s comments to other family members who are considering updates to their insurance, banking situation, etc? Who would they recommend to a friend or family member? Who might they offer a negative recommendation about?

These are the kinds of observations you need to make to not only make someone a customer for life, but to turn their entire family into customers for life. More importantly, how should you do these things differently? Remember that protecting the company on these calls isn’t just about the explicit protection of observable company assets. It’s also about the customer – whose relationship with the company is also a valuable asset.

Things to consider

It struck me that the very best people doing customer service for these companies should be segmented off into a group whose only responsibility is taking care of long-time customers who have just lost a spouse (or similar).

A department designed for this and whose staff is trained solely to deal with those situations (even if by the book) would likely behave a bit different than the average and typical team of customer service reps who are trained to handle a wide scope of situations. They’re often monitored for time on the phone with each customer and/or number of calls handled per day. These are not metrics that you’d want to use when handling someone who recently lost a spouse. Yet that’s exactly what happens if the primary customer service team handles these calls in the mix with everything else they do.

Would an elder law firm handle clients like this in a similar situation? I’m guessing not.

Consider the situations your customers for life will face throughout their lifetime as your customer. Whether they’re buying cars, insurance, web sites, or whatever – there’s a sequence of life events that the customer deals with during that time frame. What can you do to consider those in advance, perhaps reduce their impact, and at the absolute least, do what’s possible to soften the blow and make the customer’s situation better, less frustrating, and memorable in a positive way?

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

Categories
customer retention Customer service

Can you help your customers too much?

Can you help your customers too much? Have you ever wondered where to draw the line when providing support / customer service to your customers? Or how to react when support starts becoming the focus of every waking moment, much less the thing that wakes you up in the middle of the night? Consider the question below. Once again, the context is software, but these business model structural design failures can just as easily face your plumbing firm, Crossfit gym, or mortgage brokerage.

I have a question about supporting my end users of my software. How do you take care of users who call about their printer not working, or they can’t get the software to open up because of a networking error? Do you charge for these things? Do you somehow let them know it’s not your problem but do it nicely? I feel like we are getting way too many calls that have nothing to do with our software. Just today a customer wants to print to a different printer and I asked if it was installed on her computer. She answers “I don’t know how to check that.”

You might be wondering how you’d get into a situation like this. Maybe you don’t clearly define what your business does and what it doesn’t do. Perhaps it happened because we’ll often do “whatever the customer asks” during the early days when you’re clawing for business. In that mode, you’ll do (almost) anything to please a customer & get/keep a sale. Trouble is, you may eventually find yourself trapped because this kind of business model doesn’t scale well. Even if you’re being paid for the help, it can create a large support infrastructure. Is that the business you designed?

Once you’re in this situation, the far more important question is “How do I get out of this mess?

Help! We already do too much.

There is some good news. If you’re being asked to help, it usually means they trust the advice you’re giving them. The challenge with this is that you’re often doing this for free, which is another reason they’re asking you for help. While you could start charging then by the hour for help that is not directly related to what you do, is that the business you’re in? Looking forward, is that the business you want to be in?

Let’s rewind a bit. When you selected a market to enter, did you also consider the type of customers involved? Did you consider what sort of help they would expect? Consumer users need a lot of help. Most of them aren’t tech people. They depend on tech to remove problems, not create them. When the latter happens, it usually coincides with use of other technology, like yours. It’s the nature of the beast.

Your consumer users need your products / services to help them, heal themselves and when that fails, communicate all pertinent details to you as automatically as possible. Anything else creates a situation where you’re buried in a pile of conversations with frustrated users who don’t know how to answer your legitimately nerdy questions that your software should’ve already figured out.

Understandable. It’s not difficult to get buried by consumer or small business support / service. The consumer issues are noted above, and the small business ones aren’t much different. Few small businesses have an IT staff. Some have their brother-in-law the IT guy (translation: maybe a gamer, maybe a real IT person somewhere), and a scarce few actually have a professional firm contracting this sort of help. Even for the latter and most proactive group, this help can be quite expensive. Result: They’ll still try to get you to help before falling back on the external IT group.

So how do you fix it without aggravating your entire user community?

Most likely, you don’t. There is no shortcut here. Admit that you can’t do it any longer and decide what you will do, then communicate the situation to your users. At the very least, you have to communicate it to the ones who are consuming the most time on things that are ultimately not “owned by you”.

What you can’t do: Continue being your customers’ service desk for HP, Microsoft, Dell, etc. There’s too much hardware changing too fast that’s affected by too many things. Remember, this isn’t the business you’re in (unless it is).

No easy answers

This support / service load has a cost – sometimes a substantial one. You have a few choices, including these:

  • Shoulder all of it and raise prices across your entire customer base.
  • Shoulder none of it and take the heat. Probably a lot of it.
  • Choose a solution somewhere in the middle and stand firm on the things you simply can’t afford to do without being paid, if you do them at all.

If your software demands hardware (such as point of sale devices), then choose a very short list to support from specific vendors, certify it with your product – and support it very well with your hardware partners’ help. Make it clear prior to purchase that you cannot support other hardware, unless you’re willing to accept the cost of doing so (You probably can’t).

No matter what you decide, you MUST communicate your decision and new support policies / approach to your users. This is not the time to “get all corporate” in your communication. Be clear and real about it. Small businesses may not like it, but they’ll understand that you have to contain it. Enterprises will likely begrudgingly accept it – knowing that they’ve been getting a screaming deal for some time. Consumers won’t like it, but you simply can’t replace vendor support for every piece of hardware &software ever made – much less whatever you sell. It’s not feasible. It’s time to stand up for yourself – and the future of your business.

Overwhelmed by the enterprise?

Enterprise customers usually don’t need help with printers and other rudimentary things. The exceptions are those with an IT team that’s difficult to deal with. They’ll call you first because you actually help them. You have to be crystal clear (in advance, on paper) about the details of support / service with enterprise clients or the sheer volume of questions can bury your support team. Badly structured pricing of support can create severe pain and impact your ability to support the rest of your customers.

This is the situation “shadow IT” ultimately grew out of. It happens when a department gets fed up with IT & rolls their own solutions. They go to this trouble because they’re fed up with the inability to get help. You might end up being a part of a department’s shadow IT solution. Is your sales process designed to detect how purchasing and support are delivered to internal customers at your prospective customer? If you’re part of a shadow IT solution, your price better reflect the real needs of that department.

As with consumer solutions, a self-healing, self-diagnosing solution will save a ton of time, money, and frustration for everyone. These self-healing, self-diagnosing solutions don’t have to be perfect. If they can handle the most frequently reported issues, it will give your team breathing room to make headway on the rest. “Oh, that’s common sense” you might say. Yes, it is. Does your product do it?

Avoid doing too much for too little

Think hard about the future of what you’re building. How will your team, product, service, delivery, operations, & accounting look when you have 100 or 1000 or even 10000 clients? When you’re scraping for revenue, it may seem silly to consider how your business model will look at 1000 clients. Do it anyway, as it’s much easier to design a model that works at any size while your office is the kitchen table. The investment in time and thought will pay big dividends 9999 customers from now, if not before. You can get by on seat of the pants management when you’re small, but that sort of business model will create pain well before you’re ready to redesign it.

Operations will look different at 10 clients than at 1000, but the business model doesn’t have to. You can do it, but it’s hard to change your business model while 1000 customers are on board. Invest even a little bit of thought up front to make sure things make sense five years from now.

You may not remember 10, 15, 20 years ago when software companies provided perpetual licenses and never charged for support. The boldest proudly offered “lifetime support”. What most customers didn’t consider was that it was the vendor’s lifetime, rather than theirs. Vendors suffers the same shortsightedness. Their business model flipped over when their ninth year sales pace didn’t match that of their second year. Suddenly, they had updates and support to provide to more people every year while revenue slowly dropped off. Their market penetration rose, but their annual revenue didn’t.

Decide what your business model will support and price accordingly. Communicate clearly what you do, what you don’t do, and how you charge.

Categories
customer retention

Two out of three

Recently I spent some time in the town where I went to college. One of the things that tends to happen when you meet old friends from those days is to check out your old haunts and see if how they fare against your (probably) inaccurate memory of them. From the business perspective, it speaks of consistency – but also of gaining return clients. Any college town that hosts a school with sports and other major events is likely to be judged like this on a regular basis.

Still holding their own

The first place is a rather old barbecue place, but not the one I mentioned last week. It was closed for a little bit, bought by a competitor some time later and has remained without significant changes for the last three decades.

It’s a unique place in some ways. You order your meal the same way you did over 30 years ago – via an old school wall phone in each booth. The current owner has a few other local BBQ places under different branding – and all of them are solid locations. More importantly, the current owner of this old BBQ place has kept the qualities that people remember from decades ago. They’ve kept most of the menu, the funky booth ordering phone system, and did so while keeping the food quality at the level of their other locations.

Recognizing and promoting the story of this old place and the memories people have for it wasn’t all that hard to do – but someone had to recognize the value of retaining these things and execute them well. Keeping all of that intact despite having a multi-location barbecue business with different branding is a good example of understanding what makes customer retention and return visits happen.

Fresh face, old place

This place is unrecognizable compared to the original. It’s on the same site, but the original building was torn down back in 2015. The new place is bigger, brighter and frankly – a serious improvement. I worked at this place back in the early ’80s while I was in school. The business has changed hands at least once since that time and there’s a lot of water under the bridge. However, this place also had a lot of long-time customers and, of all things, is “famous” (if not memorable) for the old building’s iconic blue metal roof.

Customers remembered it so much that when the new building went up with a silver metal roof, you might say they received “a little” feedback about it. So much feedback, in fact, that they changed the color of the roof on the newly constructed building and included a reference to the roof (and its color) in the new name of the business.

Best of all, when you walk in the door, you see a large photo of the original building on the wall, along with another large sign next to it that tells the story of the business. While all aspects of the business have moved forward and improved substantially, they’ve remembered their past and helped their customers do so as well.

No mas

Unfortunately, not all of the old haunts in my alma mater’s town are showing the life that the previous two displayed. Many are closed, replaced by new things and / or new buildings. While the loss of some of the more revered ones is sad, after 30 plus years, you have to expect it.

One of the old joints now has numerous new locations, but has closed the original location on the college’s main drag / hangout street.

Unfortunately, the resemblance ends there. While the menu is largely the same, not much else is. The food’s gone downhill, even from our last visit two years ago. The service? Missing. Locals now comment that it has become a BYOF (bring your own food) restaurant because the food and the service are so bad.

The lesson?

The lessons in all of this come down to a number of things:

  • Knowing why people love your place, even if it wasn’t (and still isn’t) perfect.
  • Knowing why they come back to a place you recently bought.
  • The importance of the story that existed before you were involved – so that you can respect & leverage it, even if you need to make big changes.

Talk to your customers. They’ll tell you what you need to know. Don’t make it harder than it really is.

Photo by greatdegree

Categories
customer retention

Horseradish & the pursuit of perfect

Last week we talked about what it takes to be the perfect place. Not really “perfect”, but something that feels perfect. Thing is, perfect is quite often different for each person. That’s why it helps to decide who your ideal customer is and zoom in close to eliminate who they aren’t, AND more importantly, zoom in super close to determine who they are, what they do, who they do it with, and so on.

When you zoom in that close, you’re far more likely to notice the small things that are important to them. Whether you look through a telescope or a microscope, you have to pay very close attention to what’s in view in order to know what to do next, what decisions to make about what’s important and what’s not.

Under the microscope

When examining something under a microscope, you’re looking at tiny little things, but in the context of the viewing area, they’re still important despite their size. The same goes for little things that your ideal client cares about.

While the lack of those little “insignificant” things might be ignored by your ideal client, the situation changes when those insignificant little things exist. It might not make sense, but here’s what happens: That little insignificant thing isn’t expected in most situations, so it doesn’t count against the business that doesn’t provide whatever that little thing is.

However, those customers are always looking for those little things. They might not be disappointed when they don’t find them, but their sensitivity to their presence is always high. When that tiny item IS present, everything changes. The ideal customer is looking for it and the presence of that item, no matter what it is, is transformational.

It changes their opinion. It changes everything because it changes the lens they see that business through. Suddenly, that business “gets” them. It understands them. They know that this business understands the minute little things that “fussy customers” are looking for.

You don’t miss what you don’t care about

Like a rest area on the highway, people who aren’t looking for them don’t miss the ones that don’t exist. Even when one appears after many miles, they won’t necessarily appreciate it if they don’t use it. Likewise, those who have been waiting for that rest area are thrilled to encounter it, even though it’s only a rest area.

It’s a bathroom and maybe a place to have a picnic and walk the dog.

Even so, it’s what you want, when you want it. You can probably name a few examples of this kind of appreciation that you have in your world.

Horseradish

Here’s a simple example: horseradish. Years ago, I stopped into a barbecue place for the first time with a couple of friends. This place had a special take on things. All the walls in this place were lined with three rows of various hot sauces, barbecue sauces and the like. I had never heard of most of them, but I surely tried a few.

That, however, was not the thing that brings me back to this place. Their barbecue is excellent, but even that is common in the southern midwest.

What brings me back every time is the fact that in addition to their barbecue and vast array of sauces is, of all things, the cole slaw. While this is not uncommon given that you can get into downright religious arguments about cole slaw (acidic, on the sandwich, on the side, etc), what’s different about this place is that their cole slaw contains the perfect dose of horseradish.

Yes, horseradish. That’s it. I drove by this place today, as I happened to be in the same town for the first time in 16 months.

Of course, I haven’t quite perfected this touch on my own, as simple as it might seem, so that makes it even more of a draw. Anytime I’m in this town, I MUST visit that barbecue place (For those hankering for detail, it’s Buckingham Smokehouse in Springfield Missouri).

This is a perfect example of a trivial little detail that raises your business’s game above others every time. Do I have high expectations of them as I do every business I return to? Sure, but that detail is what pulls me back.

That is how a tiny insignificant thing can pay off.Photo by mbtphoto (away a lot)

Categories
customer retention Customer service

This place is perfect.

Have you ever said “This place is perfect” after spending some time in a store, restaurant or other business? What made that place “perfect”? Many times, it’s little things.

Sometimes, it’s about the things you might normally forget. Other times, it’s about things you simply don’t expect. Or a lack of the things you’d normally expect. No matter which one creates the perfect experience, seek out these things.

Odors or fragrances?

At times, it’s about cleaning things that will never stay clean. I was walking down a New Orleans sidewalk a few blocks down from Bourbon Street on a recent Saturday morning. Across the narrow cobblestone street from me, a man in a waiter smock was mopping the sidewalk. Not sweeping it, MOPPING it. If you’ve been in any “party zone” area of town on the morning after, you know he was making sure today’s customers wouldn’t smell anything left by revelers who happened to pass by after his restaurant closed.

Strong, unpleasant odors have a way of making a sizable first impression. Mopping the sidewalk was one way to make sure that that morning’s customers didn’t get the wrong first impression as they entered the restaurant. Imagine if you were part of one of the groups entering the restaurant that morning and were accompanied by your best client, or someone who would be – if they said “Yes” at that lunch. Or perhaps you’re meeting someone to pop the question. Suddenly, a simple mopping job on a sidewalk takes on a different level of importance. Mopping the sidewalk has transformed from a chore into something much more important.

When did you last sweep and mop (or at least hose down) the sidewalk in front of your place? What could a “little” change to the experiences of entering your business mean to your customers? Maybe you should ask them. They might surprise you.

Surprising experiences

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped at a highway rest stop in eastern Idaho. A state facility, not a Federal one. Ever seen a spotless highway rest stop? During the summer? On any highway? I have. I was floored. It was perfectly clean and smelled like anything but a highway rest stop, particularly one along a busy highway. Spotless, yet not antiseptic, or smelling of mildew. Shockingly perfect. We’ve all been in heavily used rest stops that were nothing like that one.

Something as mundane as a highway rest stop is still memorable weeks later because someone who takes their job seriously has done more than simply clean the place.

What little improvement or consistently higher-level attention to detail in the mundane work around your place could produce that kind of surprising experience?

Mea culpas everywhere

The reverse of these little things that create perfect experiences often happen when we forget why we’re in business, who we’re serving, and why. You may have seen recent advertisements where Facebook, Uber, and Wells Fargo grovel for your forgiveness. Maybe they’re legitimate, maybe not. The trouble they have to overcome is that many people still aren’t sure if their apologies are real. Likewise, you still aren’t sure they’ve truly learned a lesson from their mistakes.

These are the questions you never want to create in the minds of your customers. It takes a great deal of time and effort to re-earn lost trust. When a woman no longer feels safe doing business with your company, you may never regain her trust. This isn’t solely an Uber issue, but their safety issues make an ideal example. You can create unsafe or uncomfortable situations in almost every business. Even woman-owned businesses have to reconsider situations they may not personally be concerned about, as customers have experienced things that they may not have had to deal with.

Finding what makes yours perfect

By now, you may be wondering what sort of little touches or improvements would make your business perfect. Look back at your customer service logs, complaints and suggestions received. Taking the perspective of a customer, review the ones that seemed petty, tiny, “little and unimportant”, or similar. More often than not, these situations tend to provide clues to finding angles to approaching “perfection”. They may not be the keys themselves, but they’ll often point you in the right direction. The key to creating so-called perfection is wanting to.

Categories
Competition customer retention

Growth, market size and renewal rate

Everyone I talk to wants to grow their business. Yet in the last ~20 years, I can’t recall a single growth conversation that included their renewal rate or the size of the market that remained, until I asked.

How big is your market?

It’s the question that often provokes people to look away and give a laser beam stare at a fluttering leaf on a distant elm tree as they think about what the number is and/or how they’ll figure it out.

For example… “So how many programmers, accountants, cities under 20,000 population, dog kennels, or whatever are there right now?

In other words, how big is your market? If everyone who actually should be your customer was your customer, how many customers would you have?

If your customers buy $30,000 industrial drills, you’d better know how many companies use a tool like that, how many each of those companies would typically need, and how many companies still need that kind of drill. You’d also better know who in China is making a knockoff to clone the one they bought from Samsung, who already knocked it off.

Renewals matter

The other troubling question affects some businesses and not others. That is, “What’s your renewal rate?” In other words, for a service you sell on a recurring basis (or a product that requires “refills”), what percentage of your customers buy their next purchase from you?

Lots of people know. Lots of people don’t. As you might imagine, I think you should know.

Imagine that you run a company that makes $200,000 a year. You’re in a recurring sale business model where your product or service requires “refilling” on a regular basis.

So, you want to have a conversation about growth. If you want to get to $600,000 by the end of 2025, a major impact item on getting to that number is “How many people want / need what you sell?”. The other is how many customers can you keep of the ones you get. Of course, we need to determine if your market will support that number, but there are always ways to deal with that – market expansion, reaching beyond the edges, looking for markets whose needs mimic your market’s needs, and many more.

It goes deeper than knowing the numbers. You need to know why they renew. Why they don’t. Growth depends on renewals in these businesses.

Are you part of the 92%?

Customer service is a good example of an area that can transform renewal rate. Most of us are in an alternate reality zone about how much our customers love us. The quote below speaks directly to that, even though customer service is only one place that causes you to lose renewals.

According to research by Bain & Company, when asked, 80 percent of companies say they deliver “superior” customer service.

The customers’ perception of the service level was very different.

Only 8 percent of customers felt the companies delivered “superior” customer service. – Joey Coleman, Never Lose A Customer Again

What do your customers think?

When leaving you is easy

Your highest chance of losing a customer is in the early going. The first 30, 60, 90 days.

Early on, they get their first exposure to your product, service, support, billing department, documentation, deployment team and so on. They haven’t yet developed a commitment to you. Your products & services haven’t become an integral part of what they do. As such, the friction to replace / discard your stuff is low.

At this point, the decision has low political cost, despite the embarrassment / reputation loss someone will take for approving the purchase. However, if their entire company is being on-boarded like they’ve never experienced before, the political cost increases substantially.

Given that knowledge, what can you do to make it incredibly easy (“frictionless”) to adopt your products / services in the first 30, 60, 90 days? What can you do in that timeframe to help new clients make your stuff such an integral part of their business that no one dares stop it?

That’s what good on-boarding does. It starts working on your renewal rate on day one, when most others think “sold = done”.

Most companies aren’t good at this.

There’s so much headroom available above the average that you have lots of room to play with. Competitors tend to not be exposed to these changes. Even if they find out about them, they frequently think they’re little more than frills and puffery.

Just what you want.

Categories
customer retention Customer service Getting new customers Small Business

Reviewed your public internet access lately?

Last week, I was in Chicago for a seminar. As you might imagine, public internet access is important to business travelers. My hotel had internet, but browsers and Outlook both objected when I attempted to connect to any secure site or resource. When I switched to the wifi hotspot on my phone, those issues disappeared. When I reached wifi at other locations, those issues didn’t reappear.

Verdict: hotel internet was misconfigured, broken, hacked, or some combination thereof.

Reporting the problem

I reported the problem Monday afternoon to the front desk and to the hotel’s customer service account on Twitter. By the time I checked out early Friday morning, the problem still existed. It took their corporate Twitter people 28 hours to respond, despite the fact that they’re a substantial global hotel chain – or perhaps, because they are.

I noted to the Twitter reps that I didn’t expect the front desk to be network experts, thus I was reporting it to them so they could get the hotel property some corporate-level network help. This didn’t happen – at least not yet.

Their response was to contact the hotel manager. Based on his post-checkout email to me, he had no idea what I was talking about. As previously noted, I didn’t expect him to. Even better, they accidentally forwarded me the internal corporate support team email with the case number and all the contacts, all while leaving this hotel manager hanging out in the breeze to figure it out on his own.

So how does this affect you?

Public internet access quality matters

I don’t want to turn this into a geeky network security post. I mention it because there’s a lot at potential risk when networks offering public internet access have problems like this.

When your customers connect to a secure site from your wifi & that network is misconfigured, it may simply prevent use of the network. If your business is frequented by business customers, fix this quickly as you don’t want them to leave and decide never to return.

You may not think this is a big deal, but business customers do – especially if they’re on the road a good bit. Don’t think of them as one person who “isn’t even a local“. Think of them as all business travelers (or tourists) as a whole. There are sites and mobile apps out there that guide people to businesses with good internet. If your internet is bad and your coffee and croissants are awesome, many of these folks will go elsewhere.

If a regular traveler finds a spot to settle in for an hour or two of work and that spot is dependable, they’ll never forget it and they’ll return every time they’re in town. BJ’s Coffee in Forest Grove, OR comes to mind immediately for me.

If your network is hacked, the risks go well beyond repelling customers. Worst case, the bad guys can “see” your network traffic and send it to a place where they can store and review it. If they have what appeared to be in place at the hotel I visited, they can gather logins, passwords, credit card and other account numbers and so on.

While it’s not a good idea to use the same network that you offer to your customers, if you do so & it’s hacked like this, info on the cards you run could be at risk, even if you passed PCI-DSS certification a few months ago. To be sure, this depends on the hack, your network config & other things. The details aren’t the point.

The risk these situations expose you to …. that’s the point.

Add “network health” to your regular checkups

On a regular basis, you probably check in with your lawyer, doctor, CPA, and a couple of other advisors. You do this to reduce / avoid risk, maintain good health (physical and/or financial) and keep yourself out of trouble.

I suggest adding “network people” to that list.

Ask them to help you lock your network down without making it impossible / annoying to use (there is a balance to be had). Ask them to show you what to check and how to detect when something is “not right” so that you know when to call them for expert help. This landscape changes often. Your network and the equipment, customers and data that touch it are assets. They need protection too.

Photo by Giuseppe Milo (www.pixael.com)

Categories
customer retention Employees Habits Small Business

What’s a lifelong career lesson you depend on?

I graduated from college with a BS in Computer Science back in 1982. The timing was unfortunate. Interest rates had gone through the roof, cratering hiring, so the tried and true 1980s “every programmer graduate can find a job at an airline or oil company” situation was gone. My school’s BSCS was a very new program and really was more like a general engineering degree (lots of calculus, plus diff-e and more math, several physics courses, etc) with some programming courses tacked on. There wasn’t much resemblance to what most would consider a classic BSCS curriculum, but it didn’t matter too much back then.

My first job after college was at Ross Perot‘s Electronic Data Systems (EDS). Skipping forward several months, I came out of their training program, which everyone went through regardless of their degree. Didn’t matter if you had a CS degree or a history degree, you went. After training, my first mentor was a guy named Randall.

My first serious career lesson

Randall was few years older and had become a rising star in that area of the company. He was easy to look up to. He was smart, a bit of a jokester and someone people came to when they needed solutions to tough challenges. You could see what that meant to him and others. Unlike some in the tech space, he was happy to teach and provide access to resources to experiment with and learn from.

35 years later my strongest memory of Randall is a conversation that had a massive impact on my business life. It became a lifelong career lesson.

One day when I was tinkering around with something that probably had nothing to do with my job at the time (like an IBM mainframe virtual machine), he stared me down and said (paraphrased) “If you want to go places and move ahead (in this company), always be willing to take on new things even if you know nothing about them, then do whatever it takes to learn what’s needed.

It was years before I realized that his advice had become a consistent theme across that all the work situations I’ve been in since that time. It’d repeatedly been a door-opening differentiator. Thanks Randall, your advice that day was the most valuable thing a boss / co-worker / peer ever gave me.

What about “Business is Personal”?

I didn’t say there could only be one lifelong career lesson. “Business is Personal” is a business foundation, while Randall’s advice became a personal mindset & perspective.

The seeds of “Business is Personal” grew out of watching my photographer clients about 20 years ago. The level of personal touch that these folks maintained in their business was something much different than I’d ever seen. They thought about their relationship with their clients very deeply and used it to not only improve sales, but to create clients who stuck with them through each of the seasons of life.

In true “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” fashion, my business life turned a corner thanks to these folks. I suddenly saw every business through a different lens.

As an employer and business owner, “Business is Personal” took on a litany of nuances, year after year. It became the foundation of my consulting and writing because it has a broad application and touches so many parts of the business. It not only became a foundation for running a business, but it’s also a filter for businesses that I’ll do business with.

Ripples

Some non-traditional (for me) work eventually exposed “Business is Personal” as a nuanced connection between businesses, their employees, and the local community. Acquiring, caring for and retaining clients stabilized and helped grow those businesses and make them more resilient.

That stability ripples across families, schools, and quality of life in a community, impacting job creation and retention, crime, local funding, tourism, etc. Yes, it’s Economics 101.

That said, when explaining the “obligation” to get better at sales, customer service and marketing to a business owner as a means of impacting quality of life in their community, rather than “just a way to make more” – the big picture jumps out at them.

I’m curious what your core career lessons are. Have you thought about it? Have you thanked those who first instilled them in you?

Categories
customer retention Customer service Small Business

Unmet needs

A small group I belong to was recently asked by a member of the group to identify some “unmet needs”. The context was “any business” and his question related to a course on self-reliance that he and his wife are participating in. This friend and another in the group are in the fitness and weight loss industry.

My suggestion for him was the lack of effort most gyms make to get (and keep) members engaged and training at their gym. Most gyms scan a barcode membership card or have some sort of sign in process.

Despite this, if you don’t show up on the normal days you’ve showed up in the past, you’ll hear nothing from them. If you don’t show up for two weeks, you’ll hear nothing from them. If you don’t show up for three months, you’ll hear nothing from them. As long as you keep paying the bill, that is. So that was an example of an unmet need for his course.

To be sure, self-motivation is a lot of this, but a short text or email to say “Hey, are you still alive? We haven’t seen you in three months” might be the kick in the tail feathers that they need. Or maybe life has been hectic and they need a little push to get back in the habit. Regardless of the reason, none of this happens in most gyms.

So that prompted more thought on the subject, which is why we’re discussing unmet needs today. There are at least three kinds of unmet needs:

  • Those you know of and haven’t satisfied
  • Those you know of and refuse to address
  • Those you don’t know about

Unmet needs that you know of and don’t satisfy

Using the context of the gym, what does your gym to do set itself apart from the others? Does it miss you when you don’t show up for an unusually long time? If you’re a persistent daily user, does it miss you when you miss a single day?

These kinds of things don’t pertain solely to a gym. Does your oil change place miss you when you stop going there, or when you’re a month later than usual? Do they even notice? What about your dentist? Your dry cleaners? Your beer store?

These things aren’t limited to retail. They’re only limited by how much attention you’re paying to your customers. Are they “suddenly” spending twice as much or half as much as they have for the last five years? There’s a reason. Maybe it affects you, maybe it doesn’t.

Unmet needs hide in places like this.

Unmet needs that you refuse to address

Refusing to address certain needs is OK. Even when the need is there and legitimate, there may be any number of reasons why you’d want to avoid it. Maybe it’s none of your business, even though it’s in context with the products and services you provide to your clientele. Maybe this need is too costly to meet. Meeting it might require invading the privacy or “personal space” of your customers. Perhaps meeting this need might even annoy your customers, despite the fact that they know they need it.

Give yourself the latitude to say no, even if you’d rather say yes (to the income).

The ones you don’t know about

This one always reminds me of the famous Rumsfeld quote about unknown unknowns. In other words, there are things we don’t know that we don’t know about. Have you ever heard of the citric acid cycle? It’s also called the Krebs cycle. I suspect that for most people, it’s an unknown unknown. IE: It’s something we weren’t aware of the existence of, plus we don’t know anything about it now that we’ve been told it exists.

These are the things your customers will tell you if you listen closely. But… don’t wait until they tell you. Ask them. “Is there anything that we aren’t doing for you that you wish we would take care of?” Notice that I didn’t say “Is there anything we can sell you that you don’t already buy from us?” That’s a different question. It’s about you, mostly.

“Is there anything that we aren’t doing for you that you wish we would take care of?” is about them and their unmet needs – and probably unspoken ones at that. Ask questions that make it about them.

Photo by Joris_Louwes