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10 ways to delight and retain your customers print Print

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The golden rule for business success? Convincing your customers that they are more important to you than you are to any of your competitors. Here are some tips, ideas and a case study on how to delight your customers so they will not only stay with you, but buy more from you as well.

Why delighting your customers is crucial

Most businesses spend a lot of time and money trying to win new customers, and not very much on keeping the ones they already have. But that can be the wrong way around.

10 ways to delight and retain your customersIt’s generally accepted that it costs a lot more to acquire new customers than to get an existing customer to buy from you again.

What’s more, the longer you keep a customer, the more they spend with you. How much more depends on the type of business you operate, but research shows that reducing the loss of customers by just 5% can boost profits by 25% to 95%*.

One more point: delighting your customers can become your competitive advantage. One of the challenges in business is to create a competitive advantage that your competitors can’t copy. They can copy your products or your pricing - but the one thing they can’t copy is the experience your customers have when they do business with you.

That’s why it makes good business sense to focus on delighting – and keeping - your customers. The whole idea is to keep in contact with your existing customers, to build goodwill and positive word of mouth, and to prevent the chance of your customers being lured away by the competition. Not all of these ideas may be appropriate for your business, but there should be something for everyone in this list.

1. Be thoughtful

This sounds simplistic, but the fact is that small things can make a big difference to the way your customers think about you. Going the extra mile for your customers – carrying heavy parcels to their car, opening doors for them, taking the time to explain how a product works or check that a job has been completed to their satisfaction – doesn’t take much effort. But because it doesn’t happen very often, people notice it.

Make thoughtfulness a part of your culture, for example, by encouraging your staff to perform at least one ‘act of kindness’ every day.

2. Do the unexpected

Another way of going the extra mile for customers is to give them unexpected small rewards. After all, who doesn’t love getting a surprise?
For example, if you’ve sold a customer a laser printer, you could send them a free toner cartridge refill after three months with a note saying: “You’re probably close to running out of toner, so we’re sending you this first refill with our compliments. Thanks for your business – we really appreciate it.”
Or, if you’re a panelbeater, you could give customers a small tin of touch-up paint after they’ve had their car repaired.

These kinds of gestures won’t cost you much, but they can repay you many times over in customer loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals.

3. Keep your customers informed

No one likes being kept in the dark. That’s why it’s important that you and your staff keep customers informed any time they do business with you - especially if promises can’t be met. For example, if something has delayed a customer’s order, contact them as soon as you know about it to let them know. Try to compensate in some way; for instance, through a free delivery or some extra product or service. The gesture will often more than compensate for the late delivery in the customer’s mind.

Even if there is no problem, customers appreciate being kept up-to-date – for example, an email or call to let them know when their order has been despatched or confirming that it will arrive when and where they requested. It reassures customers that you care about giving them a great experience.

4. Thank your customers

Isn’t it nice to be appreciated? It’s important to take the time to thank your customers for doing business with you. A good way to start is simply ensuring that your staff say ‘thank you’ after every sale. For higher value products or large purchases, send a thank-you note – preferably within two days of the customer buying from you. A hand-written note always makes a good impression, but a simple email can do the job too if that’s not practical.

5. Add value

Build deeper relationships with your customers by adding value to their business or personal life. For example, you could send a regular enewsletter with relevant tips or insights relating to your product or service. If you own a wine shop, you could consider a monthly enewsletter featuring a wine of the month, with interesting information about its region and a couple of recipe suggestions to pair that wine with.

Make sure the content is short, useful and entertaining to ensure that customers look forward to getting it. Any sales messages should be very low-key to ensure customers don’t see it as simply another sales pitch. If you have a social media presence, your newsletter should complement it – for example, you can use engaging content from your Facebook or Twitter channels and include it in your newsletter.

Another way to add value could be to provide free training for your product or service – for example, if you are a garden centre, offer free seminars about what to plant at different times of the year. You’ll delight your customers as well as creating new opportunities to sell plants.

6. Reward loyalty

No one likes to be taken for granted, so show your customers that you appreciate their loyalty. Here’re some ways to reward them:

  • invitations to exclusive preview nights for upcoming sales
  • exclusive customer-only discounts 
  • special anniversary offers – for example you could send them a note with a special offer on the anniversary of them first doing business with you. Or, if appropriate, send them a birthday card with a special offer.

7. Offer related or complementary products

Amazon has a lot of success by offering related products (‘customers who liked this also like this…’), so how about borrowing this approach in your business? Try sending an offer for a product or service that is related to something the customer has bought from you. Recognise their previous business by offering a discount or a special deal.

If you don’t have any complementary products or services, find a business that does and offer their products (and work with them to offer your products to their clients in return).

8. Find the ‘wow’ factor

Delighting your customers is all about finding the ‘wow’ factor. Put yourself in your customer's shoes and ask yourself “If I were dealing with this business, what would be an outstanding experience for me? What would keep me coming back and make me tell others about this business?”

Sit down with your staff and brainstorm ideas about what an outstanding experience would look like. Do some market research to find out what customers expect from your business, what they actually get, and where the gaps are. You may find that some ‘wow’ factors are quite inexpensive to deliver.

9. Under promise and over deliver

In business – and in life – perception is everything.

Let’s say a customer orders a product that usually takes three days to deliver. You quote a three-day delivery and the goods arrive on time. The customer gets what they expected – but nothing more.

But what if you quoted a five-day delivery? That way, if the goods arrive in three days as they normally do, you can contact the customer and arrange for early delivery. The customer gets more than they expected, and their perception of your service goes up.

Here’s another example. When quoting for a job, it’s common to underestimate how long it will take or how much it will cost, because you want to win the job. But when you exceed the original quote (as happens frequently), your customer feels ripped off. A better approach might be to estimate more accurately so that your final price is the same or (even better) less than the quote. The customer’s perception is that they’ve got real value for money and that you’ve tried hard to keep costs down.

10. Turn negatives into positives

All of the above ideas can help you delight your customers, but it’s a fact of life that all businesses deliver negative customer experiences from time to time. If your staff fail to deliver exceptional service it’s disappointing, but instead of chastising or punishing them, sit down with them and ask them what they think can be done to provide better service. Focus on the problem, not the person. It may be that there are blocks that prevent them from delivering exceptional service, and this is an opportunity to identify and remove them.

Here’s a case study to show how seeing negative experiences as opportunities to improve your service can completely transform a business. It’s a few decades old, but the lessons still apply today.

In the mid-1970s Jan Carlzon was brought in as Chief Executive to turn around the loss making Scandinavian Airlines. Carlzon decided the key step was to deliver exceptional service to its main revenue source, the Business Class passenger.

Carlzon saw that for each flight each Business Class passenger had a number of brief but critical encounters with the airline staff, such as possible delays at the check-in counter, quality of service on the flight, whether the plane left on time and possible baggage delays at the other end. He realised that since Scandinavian Airlines carried 10 million passengers a year, if each passenger experienced at least five encounters on each flight, that offered the airline 50 million opportunities a year to turn the business around!

By concentrating on delivering excellence during these encounters, Carlzon was able to make the airline profitable again within one year.

Final note

Delighting your customers is a winning tactic. Many of these ideas require the use of a customer database, a topic covered in more detail in our article, Why databases are a valuable asset. Remember to comply with the Privacy Act and Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007 by first asking your customers if you can contact them.


*Multiple effects of business plans on new business ventures – Burke, A; Fraser, S and Green, F; Journal of Management Studies Vol. 47 Issue 3 pp. 391-425, May 2010

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