Operating a successful business doesn't rest solely on the products you sell. Just as important is the relationship you build with your customers to ensure their return.
Many of your customers may utilize your services only once or twice a year. That's why building customer loyalty is important to ensure repeat visits. Every interaction, whether it's by telephone or in person, is an opportunity for you to showcase superior service and differentiate yourself from the competition.
In today's competitive marketplace, customer loyalty is difficult to build. Products and services are becoming similar. To build customer loyalty, your company must remain in the forefront of your customers' minds and provide outstanding customer service to garner allegiance.
So, what can you do to make them want to return and/or recommend your company? What steps should be taken to ensure they have a memorable experience that will motivate them to increase their number of rentals? The answer is simple: Provide them with “legendary” customer service by building strong relationships.
Just like you, customers want to go to a place where they feel comfortable, where “everybody knows your name.” It just won't be enough to take an order and politely say, “thank you.” Doing the bare minimum by responding politely will result in the bare minimum — and it certainly won't help you increase your sales or build loyalty. Customers expect to be treated politely. That's why you have to do more than that. It takes work to build solid relationships with customers. This can be accomplished with a few simple preparations.
- Learn the customer's name and company name
Whether it is on the phone or in person, get the customer's name and use throughout the interaction. Everyone likes to hear their name. It is very difficult (impossible) to build a relationship without knowing someone's name. If you can't remember his or her name, then politely ask for it. It is okay to refer to your customer by their first name — it will make them feel comfortable. Listen to how your customer pronounces his or her name and never mispronounce it.
- Proper body language is key
If meeting face to face, come out from behind the counter to greet the customer. Shake hands and welcome him or her to your store. Maintain eye contact. These little gestures make a person feel comfortable and in a welcome environment. The more comfortable they are, the more likely they are to return.
Keep in mind that most communication experts agree that only 7 percent of what we say is verbal and the remaining 93 percent is nonverbal. Consciously think about the way you're standing, what you are doing when the customer is speaking to you, if your arms are folded or they're in a relaxed position and if you are maintaining eye contact. Don't fold your arms or fidget. Focus on the customer.
- Utilize your database
Most rental companies have a database that includes the name of your customer, his or her business and their purchasing history. This will help make the interaction more personal and help build that solid relationship. Any notes you would like to add about past conversations or facts about their business also should be kept in this file. Then, when the customer walks in your door or calls, you will easily be able to access their information and personalize the interaction.
- All customers are important
Even if a customer only comes in once a year with a relatively small order, make sure he or she is receiving the same superb customer service as your customers who have frequent large rentals. The effort in treating all equally will pay off in repeat visits or possibly increased sales or word-of-mouth referrals. You are building your reputation as a leader in customer service, effectively differentiating yourself from your competition.
- Focus only on the customer
This seems simple enough, but there can be plenty of distractions occurring around you while you're talking to the customer. Maintain good eye contact. Do not be distracted by incoming e-mails or phone calls that may occur as you attend to your customer's needs. You must remain focused on the customer and the transaction, and train your staff to do the same.
- Be sincere
Engage in friendly, polite conversation. Always maintain an air of respectfulness toward the customer. While you want them to feel comfortable, you don't want to overdo it. A customer will be able to sense if you're being fake or over the top. Make certain they know you appreciate their business.
- Be proactive to determine your customer's needs
Show initiative and ask probing questions. What is the customer seeking today? Is there something else that should be taken into consideration when the order is placed? Could the customer benefit from additional purchases? What might benefit your customer in the future? These probing questions may trigger the customer to rent additional products or utilize other services you may have. All of this, of course, leads to customer loyalty and ultimately greater revenues.
- Remain engaged in the interaction
Ask questions about the customer, and listen intently to his or her responses. Mention any facts you know about the current business climate. Be yourself and engage the customer in a conversation while taking the order.
- Determine if the inside sales opportunity can be turned into something more
Is this a transactional sale that can be handled by an employee at the counter, or should an outside salesperson respond? Typically, a person with sales experience is better able to develop and maintain a relationship with the customer. Keep this in mind to better direct who on your staff should handle the order. Always be thinking about the best way to handle the customer's needs.
- The phone is an important sales tool
Deliver superior service and maintain focus even when the customer can't see what you are doing while speaking to him or her on the phone. Answer the phone quickly — don't let it ring and ring. Speak clearly and politely. Remain focused on the call and don't be distracted about what is going on around you. For many of your customers, their only interaction with you is over the phone — make it a great one!
- Consider a strong marketing campaign
Create a campaign in which you can keep your customers informed about business developments. This enables you to stay in front of your customers during the periods in which they aren't utilizing your services.
Be proactive instead of waiting and assuming that they will return. Send direct mail pieces explaining all of the benefits to them should they continue to do business with your company. Keep them apprised about any new offerings, sales or services and provide details you may know about the state of the industry. Try to send direct mail pieces every month or two. A consistent campaign will be most effective. It is also effective to conduct a telephone campaign to reintroduce your business and capabilities/products. Be proactive!
- Deliver what you say you will deliver
If you promise to deliver a piece of equipment on Friday, deliver it on Friday. If you promise to deliver excellent service, deliver excellent service. Be timely. Make sure the customer's order is complete and correct, and provide them with outstanding customer service so they will be sure to return.
- Follow up
You are not finished with a customer once the order has been fulfilled. Call them to make sure they are completely satisfied with what you have provided. Become a resource. If they are not happy with the order, make amends. If they are satisfied, they will remember that you took the initiative to contact them. Make sure to ask them if there was anything else they needed that was not provided during the initial order. Also, make certain they know you appreciate their business.
- Invest in training
Customer service and sales skills do not come naturally to your staff. They need to be trained in these skills, and the skills should be reinforced. There is a huge return on your training investment when you build a culture that encourages customer loyalty.
Following these comprehensive steps will allow your company to remain top-of-mind with the customer. Customer loyalty does not happen by accident — it is something you always have to work on. Remember that the effort put forth in building legendary customer service will build unwavering customer loyalty, referrals and the potential for increased sales.
Barry Himmel, senior vice president for Dublin, Ohio-based Signature Worldwide, has provided training for equipment dealerships across the country. He is a frequent speaker at industry events and has written numerous articles on training. More information is available at www.SignatureWorldwide.com.