Customers, Maslen on Marketing

Customers or cannon fodder?

I have been e-banking with a certain high street bank for a couple of years. I log on to my personal home page and see details of my account. When we moved to Salisbury, we took out our mortgage with the same bank. Lo! and behold, the next time I logged on to my home page, our mortgage account was up there too.

I hadn’t asked them to do it. I didn’t have to complete some dreadful online form. It just happened. They thought about what they could do to make my life easier. How great is that? So let me ask you a question.

Do YOUR customers know that they are your customers? And if they do, do they enjoy that status?

Maybe they just completed a transaction some time ago and, while they might OWN one of your products, don’t actually feel a bond with its provider. This is particularly important if you do most of your sales and marketing remotely, through direct marketing or e-commerce, for example.

Keeping your customers (happy)

Customers are hard enough to come by, heaven knows, without their leaving you as soon as they have what they want. No. What we need – all of us in business – is lifelong customers.

People who love our products and way of doing business so much that they’ll always come to us. And for that to happen, you need to build a relationship with them that transcends the mere exchange of goods for money.

So what do you do to make your customers feel valued? How do you let them know that you care about them? Here’s what not to do.

Do a database selection on ‘anyone who’s bought something in the last three years’ and write them a letter that starts, “As a valued customer.” [I think we’ve been here before – Ed.]

That’s not treating people like customers: that’s treating them as direct mail cannon fodder.

I once did some work for a company who had so enraged their (dwindling) band of customers with over-mailing that 25% had actually made contact with the company asking them to cease and desist.

Seven ways to treat your customers right

Here are a few things you might do instead:

1 Send them a thank you letter when they place their first order. And make it personal. You could do worse than start by saying:

Dear Miss Brodie,

Thank you for placing your order for our crème-de-la-crème educational software. I am sure it will help you produce even better results when your girls sit their A levels next year.

2 Send them a thank you letter every time they place an order. If logistics prevent you sending it separately, then at the very least you could include it with the order. This is also a good time to make them a further offer, perhaps for a related product, or an extended subscription.

3 Ask them for their opinions. In person. Everybody likes this. It makes them feel important and gives them a nice little stroke. You also get invaluable feedback on what you’re doing well and what you could be doing better. And please, don’t let’s kid ourselves that market research surveys do this. They’re impersonal, anonymous and mechanistic.

4 Send them a newsletter. But make sure you give them something genuinely valuable. A glossy four-page A4 newsletter is great if it tells them stuff they want to know. Or if it entertains them, makes them laugh or gives them something to think about.

One that tells them how excited your chairman is about a new acquisition is unlikely to engender anything more than a feeling of weary cynicism. And rightly so. Bear in mind that nowadays, email newsletters (rather like this one) are cheap, simple to produce and direct.

5 Invite them to an event. Perhaps you could organise a party or reception for customers who have been with you for five years. It’s amazing what good you can do with a few bottles of bubbly and some attractive people wandering around dispensing trays of canapés.

6 Include them in your PR efforts. Perhaps you could research a case study or two. Or trawl through the customer letters you receive, looking for someone telling you how great you are. (they do exist, believe me.) They will LOVE seeing their name in the papers – or even better – on the telly. And other customers will feel better as a result.

7 Go out and meet them. If you’re a direct mailer, you can spend your whole career without ever meeting one of your customers. They are reduced to wraiths, inhabiting your database but not your consciousness. Get to know what they look like, what they sound like, what turns them on and off.

And my point is?

If you’re lucky, around one in a hundred people you mail will eventually become a customer. That’s too fragile a percentage to treat merely as data.

Make your customers feel that you care about them and you have a better chance of keeping them. You don’t have to spend a lot of money (though it can help). You do have to think. Hard.

If you’re finding it difficult, the easy answer is to imagine what YOU’d like you to do.

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