Kudzai M. Mubaiwa
I spent some days of my past week in the city of progress, Gweru, and on one occasion I took a cab. As we were moving, I started conversing with the driver on local economic development, as I always do in any town or city — starting with the question: How are people here making money. It emerged that most had found their way into the mining value chain, either as direct participants or secondary beneficiaries through selling goods and services to those with mines.
We discussed the impact of the shutting down of large companies in shoe and glass manufacturing and major mines too, on livelihoods.
After a reasonable conversation, I politely asked him about his experience in the transport industry.
It emerged that he had only picked me up at my lodgings to help a friend, the usual establishment transporter, who had an emergency to deal with. He ended that communication with a simple statement, “we never disappoint clients, we believe in repeat business, that is why I am covering for him”.
Whilst things are challenging in Zimbabwe, the temptation is high, and in fact it seems natural and logical, to want to look for more money by looking for new customers. Not many small business owners consider investing a bit more in the existing ones. All long-term business success requires one to build up customer loyalty. Everyone needs anchor clients that are the assurance of revenue every year. There is no better time than now to review the quantity as well as quality customers one has. Go back to the basics of customer-centric service make them important, after all it is them that put money in your pocket.
You must appreciate that repeat clients are always cheaper than new ones, in a sense you already secured them, new clients would require a notable budget to secure them, and even so you have no guarantee of a return on your investment.
It is repeat customers that have become default ambassadors; they will already be satisfied with your product or service and will willingly, without your prompt, share their happiness with family and friends. Over time and multiple purchases, trust is established and their spend will be higher. To ensure your business secures repeat business you want to think around these perspectives.
First, do the right thing from day one. First impressions matter, details matter as there will be need to build up rapport. Be sure you understand the specifics of the order and deliver exactly as required.
Follow up shortly after checking for satisfaction and offering additional help if required. Companies that guarantee after purchase support will always fare well — be that distinct one by budgeting for it. The happiness of a customer after transacting is important, and when it is used, make sure you respond with urgency — preferably on the same day.
Have a clear internal service agreement for response time-lines and ensure your team is well versed in the products.
The more you interact with present customers, there more you will know about them. It sounds very basic but it is important to store your customer details in a file — organising it such that you have details of the name of the person/s you deal with, their telephone or mobile number, email address and physical or postal address.
Note the products they have purchased, timing, quantity so that you can see their trends. Also record their personal preferences with respect to your products and their general life data such as age, gender, geographical location and even social interests. It will make it easier to relate with them and to custom make events or gifts for them.
With technology this is easy to capture and save. The information you will store will also guide you when sending out alerts for new stock or products — you can personalise the content in relation to past purchasing behaviour.
You can also reach out to them as existing customer with bespoke special offers — a percentage discount or buy two get one free type options specifically for existing customers.
Customers will feel valued and happy that their patronage of you is rewarding. Even better are more personalised actions such as hand written letter, complimentary gifts, customer events like cocktails and drinks for purely social reasons — where you do not sell anything but just interact with a view to knowing them better. You can also surprise them with tickets to sporting or arts/musical events.
Little things go a very long way in making clients feel appreciated. You can also add value to them by sharing information such as tips and blogs related to the products they buy from you.
Engagement can be achieved easily by merely asking for feedback on products sourced from you, as well as checking on them periodically to see if you can serve them better or solve any of their issues.
The relationship ought to be nurtured for mutual benefit, not just a one way continuous stream of adverts and sales pitches.
As a business also demonstrate that you are worth the patronage by improving yourself and strengthening the brand. Be visible, be known and be the default provider of your selected product or service.
Aim to be the first company that comes to mind when a specific product is required, or at the very least be one of the top five names.
Participate in industry wide events, sponsor some, send your people in as volunteers, be an active participants in associations.
Also leverage the internet to maximise online presence, being mindful that engagement is the currency of social media.
Be deliberate in ensuring that your platforms enable and allow engagement of any nature — complaints, compliments, queries, requests included. A website is a must — it should be clean and classy with a customer forum. Online newsletters work well, customers can sign up for periodic updates, even social media groups and channels are a huge thing now.
These efforts must be re-evaluated at the very least on a half yearly basis to ensure they are still relevant. Be up to date with what competitors are doing and beat them at their own game.
Customers can be very fickle in a dynamic environment as ours, oft they will chase the best possible quality for the least possible price.
Never, ever take your existing customers’ loyalty for granted.
It also helps to bring in external people to occasionally test your systems — rather than look at it from management point of view, review your customer experience to establish what is working or not.
Indeed the customer is always right — what they want is what you must offer, so that you can always take their money and stay in business. This year, aim to secure anchor clients and repeat business.
No business is too big or too small to need it.