by Sally Bouorm | April 1, 2014 10:51 am
By Connie Sue Centrella
Trust and loyalty drive business success, yet many retailers forget to ask themselves some of the following important questions: Is there any value in trust? How much do customers trust them? How important is it to connect with customers on a regular basis? Are their customers loyal? Do customers think they are loyal to them?
Before the season kicks into gear, take the time to reflect on what really makes a business successful—its customers. Customers support the future of the business; conversely, without them there would be no business. That said, how confident is the retailer that their customers will continue to do business with them? After a big sale, does the customer comeback for aftermarket products and services?
Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to where they shop for various items, including pool and spa products. It is a competitive market and a swimming pool and spa specialty retailer’s competitive edge is their ability to connect with customers and build loyalty. Manufacturers are building brand loyalty, but this does not necessarily ensure repeat business. For retailers, the business is the brand; therefore, it is important to constantly and consistently build brand loyalty with customers.
According to research, only 20 per cent of customers provide 80 per cent of a retailer’s profits. This figure represents loyal customers. These customers love the business and support its efforts. Loyal customers frequent the same retailer and recommend it to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. They also provide feedback on how products and services can be improved. They are emotionally connected because they trust the retailer and are willing to forgive them should a mistake occur. When it comes down to it, there are three main influences, which inspire consumers to become loyal customers. They are: attention, competency, and caring.
A cardinal rule to building a successful customer service-based business is to make customers feel important and recognize their contribution by showing appreciation for their business. They, like anyone, want mutual respect. There is nothing worse for a customer than being ignored. Therefore, challenge staff to pay close attention to the needs and wants of customers at every encounter and during every task they perform—from answering the phone to how they communicate during a service call. It is also important to be able to identify customers who patronize the store or call in for service regularly.
Another factor is maintaining the customer database. This information is essential in staying connected with customers, while also furthering the ability of building a loyal customer base. Failing to do so can result in reduced revenues because customers will feel neglected. Therefore, all staff members should be trained to show appreciation and attention.
Some examples include:
Gaining customer trust comes from the ability to deliver knowledgeable service. This is why it is important to commit to continuing education for both retail and service staff. Industry knowledge base can be broadened by attending trade show seminars, taking online and classroom courses, and reading professional publications. Ensure staff members are trained on specific products—from new energy efficient technologies to easier water treatment methods.
Customers also want to feel like they made the right decision in purchasing products from a particular store. Competency also plays a factor in this as it can be felt by what is said over the phone, by how the website appears, and by what happens during a service call. These things can make or break a business; therefore, efforts should focus on building trust—not adversity.
Turning loyal customers into business advocates is an ongoing process. This is what drives the business as well as motivates its staff on a daily basis. Customer care should be shown at all times. Give loyal customers attention, acknowledge their patronage, and reward them with value.
Further, responding to service concerns in a timely and thoughtful manner is also part of this equation. Although professionalism and customer service brings customers through the door, recognition and relationships is what creates a loyal customer. That said, it is important to make the extra effort to keep these loyal customers engaged to ensure the future of the business.
Some examples include:
It is worth the time to take a good look at the business’s customer base. To do this, perform a SWOT analysis—a structured planning method used to evaluate a business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This method is helpful in assessing why customers buy from one particular retailer or prefer to go elsewhere.
Keep in mind; it costs less to keep a current customer than to find a new one. Therefore, analyze the strengths which satisfy loyal customers and weaknesses to identify areas which may be driving customers away.
One way this can be done, for example, is performing a brief online survey, early in the spring, requesting input on how to improve customer service. Involving customers gives them a sense of ownership and belonging. It also helps them feel as though they are contributing to the business’s success. This approach can be taken one step further by creating a Facebook page where customers can share their experiences. Do not forget the raves and review section on Google as well. Social media provides businesses the opportunity to listen and share, whereby staying connected with customers and showing them the business values their loyalty.
Take time to go over the responses from the survey and assess any weaknesses in customer service. Be sure to shop the competitors as well. What are they doing differently that may threaten the business? Do customers feel they are appreciated when they call or visit the store? What areas of service need improvement? Customers will notice those businesses that identify these weaknesses and make changes to better their retail experience. This gives the retailer a competitive advantage that sets them apart from other businesses and Internet resellers. Essentially, it comes down to the abilities of one company over another.
Customers are loyal to those who share the same values. Implement a strong community spirit; engage customers in the business; and ask them how they can be better served. Create a strong team spirit, and inspire staff to support these same values.
The customer’s perception of the business is all that matters as it is the prevailing factor between success and failure.
Connie Gibson Centrella, MBA, is a professor and program director for the online Aquatic Engineering Degree Program at Keiser University eCampus. She is also the director of education for Team Horner as well as a sustainability officer, having been certified in the principles of ‘green’ and sustainable business practices. Centrella, an industry veteran with more than 40 years of experience in the aquatics field, is a five-time recipient of the Evelyn C. Keiser Teaching Excellence Award ‘Instructor of Distinction.’ She is also a former pool builder with extensive knowledge in pool construction, equipment installation and manufacturing, and a National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) certified pool/spa operator instructor, having trained more than 1,850 pool service technicians, retailers and instructors worldwide in the past 10 years.
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