Retaining loyal customers is critical to growing your business. In fact, according to loyalty guru Fred Reichheld, a 5 percent increase in customer retention can translate to a 25 to 50 percent jump in profits. You earn loyal customers by paying attention to the things that matter most to them.
Loyalty programs alone don't create loyal customers, but they can be effective. They don't need to be elaborate or expensive; they just need to provide value to the right customers. And the best way to ensure their effectiveness is to segment your customers by gathering and analyzing their data.
Here's what you need to know to obtain useful customer data and start focusing on loyalty marketing.
Start with the Data
First, develop one or more methods for gathering data about your customers--their buying patterns, demographic profiles, and what they like or dislike about your products or services. You can use this information to offer your customers products or services that best solve their business problems. Meeting a need is the number-one creator of customer loyalty.
For some small businesses, gathering data can be challenging. Customers interact with you in various ways, such as visiting your website, exchanging business cards with your representatives at trade shows, calling your company with questions and, of course, discussing the sale itself. Gathering data about customers in a consistent fashion, at every point of interaction, can seem daunting. In addition, you need to integrate the data gathered into one central location. This will provide the broadest possible perspective on your customers and give you a solid foundation for dividing them.
Fortunately, affordable solutions are available to help small businesses gather and analyze data. Here are some options:
Hosted CRM systems--Hosted CRM systems enable salespeople, customer service reps and other employees to input information about a customer gathered during an interaction. That information is then automatically available to others in the company for use in subsequent interactions with that customer, or for analysis and marketing purposes.
With a hosted CRM system, the provider maintains all the hardware and software necessary to deliver the CRM tools. Because these systems are often accessed through your web browser, all you need is an internet-connected computer. Some hosted CRM solutions, particularly those aimed at retailers, also provide tools for creating customer loyalty programs.
CRM software--Another option is to license CRM software for one or multiple users. CRM software provides many of the tools that hosted web solutions offer. But CRM software can be accessed without an internet connection, such as when you're using a laptop on a plane. In some cases, you can also synchronize and carry CRM software data on handheld devices, such as a PDA or smart phone, which could be convenient when visiting customers on site.
For more details on CRM, see "Tech Solutions That Help Keep Customers Satisfied."
Customer surveys--One of the best ways to gather relevant data about customers is to ask questions in a brief survey. Your overall goal is to find out how satisfied your customers are and whether they would recommend you to others. This information can be obtained by various means, such as a paper form, a website survey or an e-mail. Try to minimize survey questions to get the best possible participation. Consider providing an incentive for answering a survey--for instance, the chance to win one of your products. Have a plan for aggregating the data collected so it can be sliced and diced in various ways and integrated into your customer database.
In his latest book, The Ultimate Question, Fred Reichheld says you can determine how loyal your customers are by asking just one question: How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague? If the answer is "not very likely," then you need to pay careful attention to the reasons and look for ways to fix them quickly. Companies such as General Electric and Intuit use this approach for both evaluating customer satisfaction and determining how to improve their products. In the case of Intuit, the results helped the company create a new product called SnapTax, targeting customers who found the TurboTax product too complex to use.
Recency frequency monetary value tools--RFM is a technique designed to help businesses determine who their best customers are. This is based on customers' recency (how recent their last order was), frequency (how often they buy from you), and monetary value (how much they spend). Some CRM solutions include RFM analysis tools. You can also buy RFM software.
Spreadsheets--Don't forget that the computer spreadsheet programs you probably already own offer data analysis tools, too. This might be the most valuable data you have.
Peter Alexander is vice president of worldwide commercial marketing at Cisco Systems Inc., the leading supplier of networking equipment and network management for the internet.