BY: Daniel M. Savage
Because of a strong correlation between profitability and client retention, nearly every business continuously strives to improve the latter. Client retention becomes much easier when customers recognize that they are, in fact, being well served.
If you sell tangible products, your customers undoubtedly know that they are (or are not) getting what they bargained for. For example, suppose you are a new car dealer. Every day, your customers experience their vehicles in very real ways. They hear the engine, feel the responsive handling, are reassured by strong, even braking, observe good gas mileage, and even enjoy the scent of rich leather upholstery. Their perceptions are reinforced when your service department delivers excellent maintenance and repair service.
If you sell services (intangibles), your challenge is very different. We will use the balance of this article to 1) explore that difference and 2) present a simple, obvious, but often-neglected solution.
What’s different? According to marketing expert Theodore Levitt, “Unique to intangible products (services) is that the customer is seldom aware when he’s being served well. This is especially so in the case of intangible products (services) that, for the duration of the contract, are consumed almost constantly, such as certain banking services, cleaning services, freight hauling, energy management, maintenance services and the like.”
Said differently, the most important thing to remember is this: your customer will probably not know what he or she is getting…until he or she doesn’t. That creates a dangerous situation, because your customer has no recollection of satisfaction, success, and fulfillment…only failure and dissatisfaction. That makes him or her highly susceptible to the entreaties of your competitors.
What’s the solution? Levitt also says, “…in keeping customers for intangibles it becomes important regularly to remind customers of what they’re regularly getting. If that’s not done, the customer will not know. He’ll only know when he’s not getting what he bought and that’s all that’s likely to count, unless, in the interval, he’s been made so regularly and persuasively aware of what he’s been getting all along that occasional failures fade in relative importance.”
That’s just a sophisticated way of saying that common sense relationship management practices can be extremely beneficial when it comes to client retention.
So…pay attention to your clients. Pay even more attention to your best clients, and do it regularly!
Your unique approach will depend on the nature of your business, the relative size and profitability of your customers, your willingness/ability to rank them, their proximity to your company, the opportunity to harness technology for communication and service delivery purposes, and their receptiveness to non-business social contact, if appropriate, to name just a few.
Nothing happens until a sale is made. “What it increasingly takes to make and keep that sale is to tangibilize the intangible, to restate the benefit and its source to the customer, and to industrialize the processes that are involved in doing these.”
Customer service, they say, is dead. Actually, it isn’t. It’s just hiding behind a call center in Manila.