Win those customers back!

   Don’t let proven clients slip out the door after a gaffe — reel them back in

Losing your roof just before the busiest day of the season could have spelled doom for Mary Sue McIntosh and M&M Floral — but through pluck, hard work, and a refusal to bow to the fact that that her store was roofless, they persevered and managed to get through the reconstruction intact.

Dan Hiestand
   For M&M Floral, the timing could not have been much worse.
   This past winter, just 10 days before Valentine’s Day — the busiest time of year for a flower shop — a windstorm blasted Whatcom County, causing significant structural damage to the Bellingham store’s display area.
   The damage also meant customers could not use the front door of the building, and had to access the business via a side door. Fortunately, owner Mary Sue McIntosh said she had insurance that covered the damage — insurance that would have allowed her to take a break from the business while repair and reconstruction occurred.
   Usually, when combined together, these are ingredients for a recipe called closing.
   Not for McIntosh.
   "People give up too easy," she said. "With my insurance, I could have taken the time off and then started up again. But that’s when you lose. You have to keep going."
   And keep going she did. Instead of dropping customers and profits, McIntosh stayed in business and beat the odds.
   "We put ‘open’ signs up and people came in. It didn’t slow them down," she said.
   Following the February storm, the store was closed for just two days in June while construction crews installed a new roof. It even remained opened for four days without a roof, she said. Most importantly, she said, customers didn’t stray.
   "It just amazed me," she said. "I don’t know myself if I would have walked in. But here they came. We were laughing one day. We said we should have hard hats out there and pass (them out)."
   In the end, the 16-year-old company kept its customers, and even improved its front display area.
   "We didn’t lose anything," she said. "We didn’t go backwards and we haven’t gone backwards yet. You always expect that you are going to have a little bit of a bump, but we really haven’t."
   Winning customers back — or in this case not letting them go — after a challenging event can be hard work. The fight for a customer’s business after they seemed to have been scared out the door — whether by poor customer service, a natural disaster or a poor reputation — can be the difference between business success and failure.

Keep the customers you have
   Ed Sykes, 48, is the president of The Sykes Group in Virginia Beach, Va. Sykes is a motivational speaker who works with major corporations, government agencies and school systems to make those organizations more productive. He is also the author of an article entitled, "Ten Customer Service Secrets to Win Back Customers."
   According to Sykes, one of the smartest things any company can do to retain and win back customers is to focus on satisfying the customers it already serves as opposed to seeking out new clients.
   "It’s far easier to sell a customer that you already have than to gain a new customer," said Sykes, who has been working in the business-training industry since 1981. "There are a lot of costs associated with (targeting new customers) also."
   These expenses may include a larger sales force and increased marketing campaigns, he said.
   "It takes time to establish a relationship; why take all that time to do that when you have customers right in front of you that you need to take care of?" asked Sykes.
   However, in some cases, retaining customers can be easier said than done. An incident of bad customer service must be repaired quickly and efficiently, he said — and always with a smile.
   "When the customer walks through the door, there may be five or 10 employees in the establishment, but none of them say hello to the customer," he said. "It could be as simple as saying, ‘hello.’ I had a situation yesterday when I was looking for a new vendor to handle my mail. The first thing (the vendor) said was, ‘We’re glad you came in here. We want your business.’ How many times do you hear that anymore?"
   He said a lack of customer service is all too common.
   "I think people take it for granted," he said. "You bring in a new employee. You train them on how to sell the product, or what the product does, or the company policies. But you spend very little time on, ‘What is our customer all about? Why do we want to keep our customers? And what are the techniques we can implement to keep that customer?’ It’s a real shame, because companies are losing (lots of money) each year just on those simple techniques."
   And when there is a customer-service issue, companies and employees should open their ears, he said.
   "Listen to what the customer is telling you each and every time, because that will be the solution that you give them," he said. "Let them know: ‘We appreciate your business, and we’d like to do more. What can we do to gain your business?’ A lot of times, companies forget to say this."

Word on the street
   Giuseppe Mauro, 53, owner of Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant in Bellingham, faced a different kind of problem when it came to winning customers back: His former Commercial Street restaurant was destroyed in a fire on Dec. 20, 2004. Last September, he opened his new restaurant on Cornwall Avenue.
   During his hiatus, Mauro said he worried about losing customers.
   "You’re going to lose some clientele after a year," he said. "Fortunately this is a small town, and so people talk and people hear what is going on. Because we built up a nice reputation (and a new building) … we’ve been able to almost double — if not more — the business."
   To aid in the effort of winning back customers, he said he used some advertising and kept in contact with former customers via an e-mail list he compiled at his old restaurant. Last November, he held a grand opening at the new establishment that included food, drinks and an opera singer.
   The most important part of his comeback, though, was the power of word of mouth.
   "My customers were extremely loyal," he said. He said he was also able to hire back 80 percent of his former employees, which helped with the transition.
   "That was a really big plus," he said. "Because when you are opening a business, if you have all new employees it’s really hard."
   Treat customers well. Employ good marketing strategies. Adapt to customer needs and persevere. The recipe for winning back customers is not complicated, said Sykes. However, whether a business is battling a bad reputation or re-opening after some time away, it all starts with the customer, he said.
   "Get back to the customer — whether in the newspaper, Internet, or by calling them," he said. "Say, ‘We’ve listened to you. We heard what you’ve said and we appreciate your valuable input. Based on that input, this is what we are going to do.’"
   For McIntosh, there is no doubt her business would have struggled mightily had she not been open for her customers.
   "I would have lost big (had I closed down)," she said. "You can’t stop. Even if you have to put a little hut outside and pass a flower out to everybody that drove by, at least they would know you are still there."

Ten customer-service secrets to win back customers

By Ed Sykes
   Let’s take a look at the 10 secrets that will not only win back your customer in any situation, but have them referring new customers that will add more money to your bottom line.

1. Smile
   Nothing can turn a hostile situation into a positive moment faster than a sincere smile. A smile that says, "I want to help you." It communicates that you are positive about the interaction with the customer. A sincere smile enhances the communication process so that you can find the solution faster.

2. Introduce yourself as the solution creator
   Make sure you introduce yourself, find out the customer’s name, and let your customer know your position and why you are there. This lets the customer know you are taking responsibility for finding a solution.

3. Listen
   Customers want to tell their side of the story and feel like they are not only heard but that you listened to them. Mentally take a step back and dedicate yourself to actively listening to the customer’s story with an open mind so that you can find a solution.

4. Be sorry for the right reasons
   Be sincere in your concern for the customer and say sorry the correct way. When saying you are sorry, say exactly what you are sorry for.

5. Give your personal assurance
   Let the customer know you will personally create a solution for them. It could be as simple as saying, "I’m taking personal responsibility for this."

6. Ask them what they want
   One of the fears that we have when trying to satisfy the customer is that we think they want something out of our reach. Ask the customer, "What would you like me/us to do?" or "What would make this situation right for you?" You will be surprised that in most cases the customer will ask for less than you were expecting.

7. Use statements of conviction
   Say the following to gain the confidence of the customer:
   "We’re going to do something about that!"
   "We will make a change right now!"

8. Present a clear plan of action
   Make sure the customer knows what you are going to do to correct the situation for them. Ninety-five percent of making things right for the customer involves making them aware that you are taking action to make a difference for them. Explain to them the actions and timelines you need to take to make things right for them.

9. Move quickly to the solution
   If you applied steps one to eight, you are ready to give the customer the solution they wanted for a win-win situation. You can confirm the action is agreeable with the customer by saying the following:
   • "Would this be agreeable for you?"
   • "Is this the solution you were looking for?"
   • "Will this make things right for you?"

10. Ask for the business
   If you did everything right this is the perfect time to ask the customer to come back and do business with your organization. You showed that you were professional, caring, sincere, positive, and proactive. Why wouldn’t they do business with you again?

Ed Sykes is a professional speaker published in the areas of leadership, change management, customer service and teamwork.



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