This is a revised version of How to build a customer database of loyal customers?, which we updated to include new solutions plus links to even more resources. (Hey, things change.) Enjoy!
When it comes to retaining customers, good customer service is table stakes and lowering your prices is a no-go. So how do you keep customers coming back when the competition is waiting to snatch them away with better prices or a brighter marketing campaign?
How to Build a Customer Database of Loyal Fans
- Get on board with the idea of customer retention.
- Get your database in order.
- Under-promise and over-deliver.
- Make it easy for customers to reach you.
- Ask for—and act on—customer feedback.
- Stay in touch.
- Upgrade your customers to contract plans.
- Build a customer-friendly website.
Keep reading for details on how to put each of these steps into action.
1. Get on board with the idea of customer retention.
You’re used to the hustle of finding new customers—your email marketing is like a well-tuned engine, and if you’re a bigger company you’ve got marketing and sales staff whose job it is to bring in new customers. So why bother working to retain them?
If that’s the attitude you have toward customer retention, it probably shows. You’re likely ignoring strategies like service reminders, follow-ups after visits, and regular reach-outs to existing customers. So here are some convincing stats from Bain & Company that will motivate you to change your non-retention ways:
- A 5% increase in customer retention produces more than a 25% increase in profit.
- As return customers buy more and more from you, your operating costs associated with serving them decline.
- Return customers are more likely to spread positive word of mouth about your business (and maybe even leave good reviews).
- Loyal customers are even willing to pay a premium to work with you, rather than having to start fresh with a competitor.
More profits, less expense, and free advertising. What’s not to love? Keep these facts in mind to stay motivated as you work on your customer retention plan.
2. Get your database in order.
Retaining customers is a lot easier easier if you systematically grow and maintain a custmer database. Record not just their service records, but every interaction a customer has with your business—including their survey feedback and online comments. More info on this key data that you’ll want to include in your customer database is coming up later in this post. (And we have to brag here that Commusoft boasts an intuitive customer database that will help you keep your customers happy and on board.)
3. Under-promise and over-deliver.
Imagine you go to an ice cream shop that advertises a “Monster Sundae” with posters featuring a giant bowl heaped with delicious goodness. Then you go to the shop, plunk down your cash—and are given a tiny bowl with a couple sad scoops of melting ice cream. Yes, the ice cream shop has your money, but they’re not going to be getting any more from you—ever. (Not to mention you’ll tell all your friends about the lackluster experience, and leave negative reviews online as well.)
In the same way, as a field service business manager your first instinct might be to promise the world just to get a customer to sign on—but when you can’t deliver on your promises, that customer is 100% sure to move on to a competitor.
Set the right expectations. Instead of overpromising, be candid about what you can and can’t offer; customers value truthfulness. Then, when the customer has signed on, blow them away by delivering more than you promised. For example, make it a habit to respond to emergency calls in 30 minutes, but state on your website that the maximum time is two hours.
(By the way, some weather forecasters do this, too. It’s called the wet bias, where they exaggerate the probability of precipitation. If viewers think there’s only a 5% chance of rain and then it does rain, they get upset. If they think there’s a 20% chance of rain and it doesn’t rain, they’re happy.)
4. Make it easy for customers to reach you.
Whether it’s private customers, landlords, or corporate clients, everyone’s busy and everyone appreciates convenience. Provide a variety of channels for customers to contact you: Some prefer to pick up the phone, others use email and, increasingly, people like to be able to book services online since it makes them feel they’re in control. Keep a record of how customers like to be contacted in your customer database so you can always provide the most personalised service.
5. Ask for—and act on—customer feedback.
Customer attrition (or churn, as it’s sometimes called) can be avoided by simply listening to your customers.
According to an article from McKinsey on listening to customers, though, ‘Many companies struggle with collecting, analyzing, and acting on feedback’. They may only gather customer comments through sales channels, which means they’re missing out on loads of customer feedback they could be tapping into. Or they may simply not relay feedback to the employees who can actually do something with it. (For example, you may know customers are complaining about the time it takes to complete a repair, but are you sharing this with your engineers?)
Let’s solve those problems right now. Here are some effective ways to start using feedback to help you retain customers.
Use customer feedback surveys to ask how you’re doing in various areas (such as response time, scheduling, repairs and maintenance, and so on.). SurveyMonkey is a good platform for creating surveys and analysing responses, and it’s also free for up to 10 questions and 100 responses.
Ask for reviews.
Send follow-ups to your customers after a job is completed to ask how you did and request reviews.
Get your Net Promoter Score.
Ever get one of those pop-up surveys that simply asks you to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely you are to recommend the business to a friend? The purpose of those surveys is to help the business figure out their Net Promoter Score—a number from -100 to 100 that shows how strong their customer relationships are.
There’s some calculation involved; SurveyMonkey explains the Net Promoter Score here. (They also offer a Net Promoter Score survey to customers on certain paid plans, or you can find NPS services that offer a free trial.) Knowing where your field service business lands on the scale can give you a good idea of your customers’ general sentiments about you.
Monitor social media for mentions of your business name.
Log into social media and start listening. This is called social listening, and it’s a great way to find out what people are saying about you when they think you’re not around. (Brandwatch has a nice list of 15 free social media monitoring tools.)
Monitor review sites.
Keeping on top of the reviews on popular review sites will not only let you know now how you’re being rated by customers—it will help you respond to your reviewers and convert haters into fans.
Automate your Googling.
Reach out to customers who are at different stages of working with you—both new customers and longtime customers)—and ask for their candid feedback. You might even offer a thank-you gift as an incentive for them to help you out.
Share what you learn.
The final step is to share customer feedback with the right members of your staff. Customers love how friendly your engineers are? Tell them to motivate them to keep up the good work. Customers have a problem with how services are billed? Let your accounting staff know and help them come up with a solution.
Respond to customers who are having issues with your services, fix problems that are a recurring theme in your customers’ comments, and look at trends over time to see where your business has improved and what areas need closer attention (like response times, time to completion on jobs, or the friendliness of your engineers).
If a customer is unhappy about something, it’s better to know now than to let the problem fester. Be ready to go the extra mile to make sure a profitable (or potentially profitable) customer is happy with your service.
6. Stay in touch.
It pays to keep in touch with customers between jobs. You do this not with pointless advertising spam, but by being a trusted advisor.
For example, if a new type of boiler or insulation technology is on the market, be the first to inform customers who might be interested. You can also write on topics of interest to your customers in your blog, and then share the post with them through email and social media. (By the way, we have a free post on how to choose a boiler that we created just for you to swipe and share with your customers.)
For landlords and corporate customers, be the first to provide practical advice on any new regulatory or compliance requirements. This approach is often called content marketing—you build a reputation as a company that has its finger on the pulse of the industry and that helps customers stay on top of things.
The key to doing this well—with the right amount of information for the right customers—is to use your customer database to keep a record of communications and track responses.
7. Upgrade your customers to contract plans.
An incredibly useful way to increase the lifetime value of loyal customers is to upgrade them to contract plans.
Contract plans are where customers sign up for a monthly or annual subscription plan for you to take care of their boiler or cooker (private customers), properties (landlords and estate agents), or industrial equipment (corporate customers).
These contracts lock your customers in to your field service company and provide recurring revenue—but we have to admit, they’re a hard sell unless you already have a proven track record of service excellence. All the more reason to put the previous six tips into play!
In an article on the Software Advice site about upselling and cross-selling, author Craig Boroski recommends that businesses use customer cues and context to know when a customer would be better off with a more expensive service (like a contract); you’re more likely to have success with a customer-centric approach than blindly trying to upsell everyone with a pulse to your contract plan.
8. Build a customer-friendly website.
A big part of retaining customers is creating a business website that’s easy to navigate, lets customers quickly schedule service, and offers helpful information.
If you don’t have a website yet—or if you do but it could use some upgrading—download Build a Better Website: A Complete Kit for Field Service Businesses by clicking the banner below. You'll get guides on blogging, SEO, and more, plus a helpful website-building checklist.