June 18, 2012

Just as with other relationships, it’s easy to take customers for granted – especially those you’ve had for a while.

It’s important to remember that feeling of gratitude you had when you first started your business and your very first customer paid you.

best customers for granted?

You knew then that you would be a success, that you had something people wanted and that they would choose you over the competition.

That’s the key: They choose to buy from you.

Whether you sell to individuals or businesses, people have more options every day. Keeping their business is a matter of rising to the top when they consider their need for your product or service.

Stay in first place by periodically asking your customers their thoughts about your business and ways you can serve them better. The first step is to figure out what you want to know. You can ask customers to rate your service or products, of course, but think beyond that to find out their impressions and feelings.

Is spending time at your business a pleasant experience or an endured necessity? Do they have favorite items or offerings that you’d better not discontinue? What do they appreciate most about your company – your reputation, consistency or friendliness?

Who are their favorite employees? Don’t discount the influence of relationships and pleasant interactions on customer loyalty. The method you use to ask your customers how you can better serve them will depend on your type of business.

For example, a professional services firm that works intensively with clients over a long period may find it most useful to just have a conversation about how the relationship is working. This conversation can pull in thoughts about future client needs and may lead to additional assignments.

Service or retail businesses with large volumes of customers have many options. Surveys can be done on site or later, and the method that works best will depend on your customer base and their technical level of proficiency.

Comment cards on restaurant tables or at the cash register are still quick and easy. Their content is relevant because it reflects an immediate experience.

Companies such as Survey on the Spot have created online surveys that can be accessed via mobile phone or iPad on the premises. However, you still need printed materials to promote the surveys.

Survey links can be provided at point of sale directing customers to an online survey through Survey Monkey or another service, although asking customers to do a survey later is tricky. National retailers are using this method in tandem with cash contests to drive responses.

Your customers will need sufficient motivation to remember to complete the survey. Perhaps you can give them a discount coupon or freebie if they respond. If you have a lot of repeat customers, consider offering loyalty program bonuses to those who give feedback.

Repair or home improvement businesses can benefit from follow-up surveys after a service call. This survey will let you know how well your technicians are performing, not only in doing the work but in how they’re handling customers.

You can also gauge interest about other possible services or needs. Methods include providing a survey link at the end of the service, having someone make a follow-up telephone call, or sending a letter with response envelope. Make the survey short and simple to encourage response.

Customer feedback will never be 100 percent. But you may be surprised how many will respond to your survey. Most people will appreciate your attempt to keep their business. That alone sets you apart – and in first place.

This article was originally posted on June 18, 2012 and the information may no longer be current. For questions, please contact GRF CPAs & Advisors at marketing@grfcpa.com.