Revenue, customer retention, and customer acquisition rates are three great measurements of how your business performs, but those numbers can’t tell you how your business should change if they’re not where you want them to be. The backbone to any service business is customer satisfaction, and the best way to understand what your current and future customers need is to engage with them directly.
Outside of reviews and onsite conversations, customer interaction is typically limited. Business owners need to seek out their customers and use tools like email campaigns, social media, mail-in surveys, and post-service phone calls in order to gauge customer sentiment, and these actions can be misinterpreted by customers who feel over-advertised to.
Post-call interaction is one the most important parts of customer retention, but most business owners either screw it up or avoid it entirely. If you’re looking to build customer loyalty, use these techniques to build an effective post-call system that will double your referral rates.
How Communication Builds Loyalty
Everyone wants to feel special, but it’s hard to make customers feel special when the service you provide is standardized. Outside of jobs that require custom work or design services, your biggest tool for developing loyalty is your communication system.
By going out of your way to identify who your customer is and how you’ve previously helped them (which is easy to do with digital customer management tools), you’ll make your customers feel valued. In large markets where most businesses feel distant and impersonal, this can be a powerful tool for service businesses looking for word-of-mouth marketing and consistent referrals.
The way you communicate with your customers, however, can influence how they perceive you. Most customers can tell when you’re using an auto-fill form or a generic letter to communicate with them. If you rely on cheap communication methods that are clearly “cut and paste,” it will make your business look inauthentic, and they’ll be less loyal.
The important thing to keep in mind whenever you’re trying to improve your customer relationship is that there are no shortcuts. You can’t trick them into liking you or recommending your services. But if you show them how loyal you are to them by offering discounts, remembering their name, and staying engaged post-call, you can earn their loyalty in return.
Post-Call Communication Timing
If you want to leave a lasting positive impression, you need to time your customer communication carefully. If you barrage them with messages and interrupt their life, they’ll remember you for all the wrong reasons. But if you only communicate with them when they have a problem, chances are they won’t remember who you are or why they should choose your business over your competitors. A well-timed email, letter, or phone call, however, can create a long-lasting positive impression that will lead to significantly higher referral rates and better customer sentiment.
Depending on the kind of service you provide, time your follow-up to take place within the week (for smaller projects) or within the month (for larger projects). If you provide large-scale contracting or installation services, or operate in the B2B space, consider a six-month timeline. The idea is to give the customer enough time after the service call that they don’t feel harried, but not before they forget what was done and why they had a positive experience.
Overall, the timing of your communication and the method of communication depends on your goal. If you’re just looking to create a positive impression and you’re not looking for feedback, a letter or postcard a week or two after the service call is ideal. If you want to “check in” and solicit informal feedback, an email is an easy way to open a channel without pressuring them to respond. A phone call can be a powerful tool for soliciting specific feedback, but the immediacy of the call can be a turnoff for some customers and the timing is more delicate; no one likes it when their dinner is interrupted.
What To Say, What To Ask
Most customers won’t fill out a survey if there isn’t a reward at the end of it, and the goal of post-call communication is to engage with the customer’s emotions in order to create a sense of loyalty. In order to receive effective and accurate feedback without giving away an iPad every time you want to hear from your customers, you need to ask situationally-specific questions while offering insights into how their feedback will improve the services you offer.
The opening portions of your post-call interactions should always identify the customer, highlight unique details of your relationship with them, and reinforce the value that your relationship with them creates. Going in cold or with generic language is an easy way to be filed away as spam, be it mentally or digitally.
When soliciting feedback, phrase your questions in the context of the specific services you’ve provided that client. Open questions that address the service as a call (how can we improve our customer service? What’s one thing we can improve on as a company?) are easy to write, but produce poor results. Most customers don’t have strong opinions or ideas on how other businesses can change their operations, especially when they’re happy with the services they received.
Whenever possible, present options instead of open-ended questions. Don’t turn to your customers for brand-new ideas; they don’t know your industry as well as you do. Instead, use your post-call process to vet or test options that you’ve already considered or to diagnose issues you’re already aware of. This will improve the quality of the answers you receive.
If you do incentivise the feedback process, which is an entirely valid way of encouraging engagement, make sure the incentives you offer match the demographics you’re reaching. If you operate in a niche where recurring services aren’t common, you may need to use a drawing or raffle instead of a discount or free service visit to encourage engagement. Keep in mind, though, that a high-value incentive may result in lower-quality feedback.
Following Up On Your Follow up
Over-communication can sour customer relationships, but there is value to following up on communications in order to confirm customer feedback. If you make adjustments to your business model or workflow based on customer feedback, acknowledging the customers who helped you make that decision is a great way to ensure long-term loyalty.
If you’re sending customers automated followups or discounts, make sure they can opt-out. Some customers enjoy and utilize things like monthly coupons, while others will find it frustrating or wasteful. Making it easy for those customers to opt out is good for customer sentiment (and better for the environment, too).
Whatever you do, don’t respond to negative feedback in anger. It’s easy to let customers get under your skin when they aren’t happy with the services you provide, but the last thing you want to do is turn a post-call conversation into a running argument about what you did or didn’t do. Keep your interactions civil, and remember to put your business above your own pride. Their feedback might be hurtful, but it can still provide insight into what you should or shouldn’t do as a business.