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Customer Retention Begins on the Front Lines Your existing customer base can still help you grow. Make sure your employees who deal with them are passionate.

By Andrew Miller Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


As business owners and executives, we intuitively know there are significant growth opportunities through the retention of our existing customer base. We try different strategies to engage our customers in the hopes of building loyalty and trust. We offer them discounts, access to exclusive events, even provide them with sneak previews of our new products. But it doesn't always work. Why is that?

One of the things that many organizations fail to do is to tie employee engagement to their customer retention strategies, and then tie that retention to the bottom line. The reason we want to retain our customers is to help grow our business. So why don't more organizations measure that link effectively? Of course we want customers to be happy and we want to provide quality products and services. That is just the means to an end. Ultimately we want our customers to buy more stuff from us and help to bring us new customers who will also buy more stuff from us.

Related: 8 Steps to Make Customers Love Your Brand

There are three maxims that will help increase retention and ensure that retention directly impacts our bottom line.

Retention happens on the front lines. The most successful organizations recognize that customer retention doesn't happen in the executive offices or on company retreats, it happens with the people who face customers every day. This may mean a customer visiting your store, surfing your website, calling your customer service department, reading about you in the newspaper or even walking into your head office.

The people who have the most influence over whether customers come back are the people who deal directly with those customers. What impression do you give to customers when they interact with you?

Employee empowerment fuels retention. Since retention happens on the front lines of your organization, the best retention strategy is one that empowers your front-line employees to use good judgment that is in the best interest of the customer. These front-line employees are the face of your organization and need to be passionate about what they are doing and the organization they are working for.

Related: 5 Secrets to Increasing Customer Retention -- and Profits

It is very easy for customers to spot employees who are not passionate and engaged in their work, because more often than not, they ignore the customer and don't ask about their needs. Few things are more frustrating for a customer than dealing with someone who is indifferent to their needs and wants. Are you giving your employees the freedom to use their judgment in making decisions that are in the best interests of the customer?

Measure retention, not satisfaction. When I suggest you need to measure retention, I don't mean customer satisfaction surveys or focus groups. High customer satisfaction scores only mean that you are meeting customer expectations, but what if those expectations are too low?

We want customers to feel emotionally connected to our organization and become an ambassador for it. We want them to tell their friends, family, peers and colleagues about the great experience they had with us. We want customers who will keep coming back because they see the value of what our organization can offer them. Are you measuring customer retention and tying that retention to bottom-line results, or merely reporting on how happy your customers are?

I often tell my clients the quickest way for them to grow is through their existing customer base. This might mean offering new products and services to those existing clients, or leveraging those clients for introductions to new prospective clients. Organizations that master these strategies will grow more quickly and easily and they will see customer retention increase.

Related: 15 Tips for Improving Customer Loyalty

Andrew Miller

President, ACM Consulting Inc.

Andrew Miller works with executives from around the world to accelerate financial growth and boost performance. His book, Redefining Operational Excellence: New Strategies for Maximizing Performance and Profits Across the Organization, is now available.

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