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Building Customer Loyalty

It is cheaper to keep an existing customer than to find a new one. Here are tips on building customer loyalty.

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Building Customer Loyalty  

A fundamental, though often overlooked, rule of business is that it is cheaper to keep an existing customer than to find a new one. But developing a loyal client base comes at a cost: It’s more than just handing out promotional items and sending client birthday cards. It has everything to do with developing personal, long-term relationships and providing quality service.

Here are four key areas to focus on that can enhance customer loyalty.

Communication
From traditional phone and website contact to email and instant messaging to social media, dialogue needs to run both ways. It is not enough to sit back and wait for your clients to come to you. While you’re waiting, they may be courted by your competition.

Be proactive and maintain frequent contact with your existing customer base. Make sure they know that the purpose of your contact is not for the purpose of selling or up-selling, but rather to focus on their needs and goals and to provide reassurance during challenging economic times.

It is important to listen intently. Not only will this make problem solving easier, but it will project an image of empathy and concern. The only way to embrace your customers’ problems as your own and to help solve them is by listening intently and putting yourself in their situations. Listening and engaging in meaningful dialogue may also enable you to uncover additional financial needs. Without the immediate need to sell, you can uncover what clients will want in the future and have answers on hand when they need them, as well as proactively offer guidance.

Customer Service
The key to memorable customer service is people, not technology. Customer service is your direct link to customers, as well as a way to help them meet their needs and concerns. Let your clients know that you are always available to meet face-to-face and that they don’t have to rely on voice mail to contact you.

That said, technology can help make the customer service experience more efficient. Most queries don’t require an instant answer — an email or a phone call returned by the end of the day or the following day may be fine for most people. In the modern world, online two-way conferencing or instant messaging could be equivalent to an office visit.

But remember, the personal touch always wins out. If you know the significant lifestyle issues they may be facing, such as a promotion or job change, health concerns, or children approaching or graduating from college, you can be more proactive in addressing their needs. Send them handwritten notes, thank-you cards, and birthday cards. Consider setting up a rediscovery meeting to focus on their current needs, wants, goals, and concerns.

Business Performance
From a business perspective, treat others as you would like to be treated. Project an image of professionalism and reliability. If you say you are going to do something, then do it and do it on time. Nothing sends a worse message than a missed deadline, except maybe sloppy service.

Always let your clients know that you are completely flexible if their plans change. And let’s be honest, plans change all the time. Let them know that whatever changes occur in their lives, you can help address them.

Listening to your clients and anticipating unmet needs tie in with having product awareness. If nothing sends a worse message in business than a missed deadline, probably nothing sends a better one than knowing what customers may require before they do. If you know what your clients may want, you can anticipate demand by customizing strategies to their needs.

Your brand and your business are inextricably intertwined. Clients should associate your brand with strength and capability in addressing financial needs and solving problems. Everything you do should project that message.

Customer Incentives and Reward Programs
Customer incentives and reward programs can be important, but they should never be the driving force of a business. Instead, they should be the “icing on the cake.” Customer incentives, appreciation events, and reward programs may give clients a financial reason to work with you, but they don’t supersede the strong bond that develops between advisor and client.

Customer loyalty is earned. While it may start with the personal touch and end with a gift certificate to a local coffee shop, the connection between those two points is always through human interaction on the back of professionalism and a focused, values-driven business philosophy where the customer comes first.

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