It is an old marketing maxim that it costs roughly five times more to obtain a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. This seems so absolutely sensible that it almost does not bear repeating. Yet every one of us can cite dozens of examples – from our own experience – where this does not seem to be true. Businesses that spend heavily to attract new customers can sometimes seem oblivious to the needs of customers they already have.
Businesses that operate in the virtual world face special problems when it comes to improving their existing “customer care.” Online shoppers may not receive the visual and “in-person” clues that let traditional shoppers know they are important. To help online merchants build a better shopping environment for their valuable existing customers, the BBB offers the following tips:
- Always say “thank you.” Most of us have placed an online order at one time or another. And, we almost always receive an e-mail acknowledgement of that order. But how many times have you received a follow-up e-mail after the order has been delivered? This second e-mail can not only thank the customer for his or her patronage, but can also ask the customer to let you know if he or she has experienced any problems or has any suggestions to make their next shopping experience better.
- Reward loyalty. Companies in the travel industry recognize this with “frequent flyer/driver/guest” programs. Give your better customers advance notice of sales – or special sale prices available only to “gold” customers – or “points” that repeat customers can earn toward discounts or gifts. These can help encourage and retain repeat customers.
- Forge a customer bond. Since you will never get to meet your online customers the way you can meet customers who visit your physical place of business, finding substitute ways to build a bond with online customers is critically important. Some online merchants have created regular monthly or quarterly newsletters to keep in touch with customers. The best of these are more than just electronic marketing brochures. Often written by the owner or manager of the business, they strive to create a personal relationship. The point is not what the site is marketing, but how you can help the customer connect – and remain connected – with your business.
- Do not get too creative. Your Web site is your storefront. Customers get used to the way your site is laid out. Avoid changing your site just for the sake of change. Unless the changes really enhance the ease of the customer’s shopping experience, you may frustrate your best customers.
- Find a way to reward referrals. One of the best types of new customers (and the least expensive to acquire) is a new customer referred from an existing customer. Find a way to reward existing customers for making the referral.
- Solicit problems. A customer who has one unsatisfactory experience with your business may become a former customer. Do not wait for a customer to tell you they have a problem. Actively seek out customer problems and suggestions. Provide ways for your customers to let you know how you could have done a better job. Then, meet or exceed their expectations!