Customer Retention Beyond Holiday Shopping

As a business owner and co founder of Aeon I spend a lot of time studying people in many different situations.   From a doctor with his staff, to a small shop owner having a conversation with his son or daughter.  I study consumers / clients as well as the business owners who serve them.  I do it because I am truly interested in people, and because I am intrigued by the subject of communication.

As one would imagine I pay close attention to the way that business owners speak with patrons; that particular cycle of communication.   From greeting to send off it is quite interesting to watch.   There seem to be as many small businesses as there are personalities, yet the handling of prospective clients / patients / customers within the sales cycle varies substantially.  I’m talking primarily about how business owners handle a prospective client / patient / customer from the time they enter until the time those individuals leave.   This specific point in time will more or less dictate how well a business owner retains his or her patrons.

In the many years I have spent consulting it has become easy for me to see why some business owners are successfully marketing and selling their products and services while others are not.   With regard to customer retention, universally; with those who are unsuccessful it comes down to a basic ingredient that is mostly overlooked.  That basic is what I refer to often as the ‘make a friend’ stage.  And though there are too many variables to list in terms of one’s philosophical know-how on how to get that started, the business owners who are successful in this area make it a point to make a friend early on in the sales cycle.

Now we’ve seen what can happen when business owners draw fixed conclusions regarding ‘making that friend’ and what happens to customer retention when a business owner has pre-conceived ideas and doesn’t think this area is important.   There are those business owners that seem to eliminate the need (In their own mind) to make that friend.   It’s tragic to hear and even worse to watch it happen again and again.   Few things can be more depressing to witness, especially when I’ve seen the success that comes from paying close attention to this area.   I’ve seen so many businesses where customers come in, they poke around and they leave without buying anything.   Why did it happen?  In over 90% of those cases it was because no one in the store engaged that customer / client / patient.   The store owner or sales person didn’t make a friend!

I’ve heard many different things over the years.  The most common thing I hear from unsuccessful business owners in particular is:  “They just want the best price.  They don’t care how nice your place looks, or if you’re friendly, they just want the best price!”   Man, is this a DEATH sentence!  While there is some small bit of truth to the statement, most of the time prospective patrons will not purchase products or services if they don’t like you, or the vibe they get while paying a visit to your place of business.  Again we come back to the all-important point of “What makes you different from everyone else with similar products and services?” If you don’t know the answer to that question you are probably in trouble right now as a business.

You’ve heard the saying:  “People buy YOU, not what you’re selling”.   Well it’s true.  People can get a fishing rod or reel anywhere, including Walmart.  They buy from the old fishing store on the corner because the owner is a Gloucester man and he has great stories, wears a fisherman’s hat and smokes a pipe outside the store on an old chair he got from a boat he used to own.   He’s that interesting chap who makes a point of looking at your hands when you come into the store to see if you’re a long time fisherman too, or just a beginner.    People buy from him because his store looks like a set from a Jaws movie and the shop owner has only 4 1/2 fingers on his left hand.   More importantly people buy from this store because the shop owner is genuinely interested in his patrons, he asks a lot of questions in order to get to know his patrons, and he knows ‘fishing’ probably better than anyone within a 100 mile radius.  Do you see?  This shop owner is different than Sport Chalet because they don’t have that personal touch.  They may have all the products the mom and pop shop has, but there isn’t some kid behind the counter who more than likely has limited knowledge of fishing equipment and knows only what he’s read in a catalog or what he’s been taught in his sales training meetings.   Not to knock what large chain sporting goods stores do, but business with corps has become so impersonal lately that to me one would be better served to shop online.

So how small business stands out is by making it blatantly clear to customers /clients / patients WHAT makes them different and why someone should choose them over a Sport Chalet, or Big 5.   Consumers buy the experience, the personality and those that engage them.  On a side note I wasn’t at all interested in English Literature until my 8th grade English teacher came in dressed like Shakespeare.  He changed my mind about learning English.  And I started paying attention because he got my attention.  He was also sincerely interested in his students and you could feel it.

Here is a great example:   Phoenix Fishing Supply located on 16th St. & Camelback, Phoenix, AZ.

When you enter the store you immediately get the feeling that the owners are interested in YOU.  With them it really isn’t about the money.  It’s about your experience in the store and YOU being comfortable while visiting.   They engage their customers but don’t pester them.  They ask questions that show they care.  It’s not cold, stuffy and corporate and you really get that they are interested in a relationship with you.  THIS is what I’m talking about!   They separate themselves from competitors by creating a relationship that is so vital in business today.  They actually sell themselves unintentionally; as a result they have a very high level of customer retention.  They’re much more personal than the large chain stores and customers return because Phoenix Fishing Supply knows them personally; they take the time to maintain those relationships.  They make friends.  In my professional opinion this is one of many reasons they have been so successful over the last 27 + years.

When you look at their Google Review Page,  you get a good idea of why they are an authority in their line of business.   And once you’re an authority it is that much easier to dominate .

So get cracking!  Make some friends!  Forget about that sale for a little while and make sure that your new customer / patient / client knows what makes you different than everyone else in your field.   Make sure they know that you’re their friend before any business transactions take place and you’ll reap the rewards for years to come.  Don’t skimp on this area.   Be a friend before you get into pricing.  Create agreement and engage your patrons and you’ll see your bottom line increase.  It takes time to create ‘customers for life’.  But you’ve got to take that ball and run with it.  No one else can do that for you.

I look forward to your comments, suggestions and observations from applying this important information.  Until then I hope you flourish and prosper beyond your expectations!  I’ll see you up the line.

Have a great holiday season!

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