Customer Retention on the Web

Your business is nothing without its clients. Whether you are a service provider or a retailer, you won't survive unless consumers or other businesses are interested in your offerings and are willing to pay for them. In a difficult economy, your sales personnel fight a constant battle with competitors to obtain new customers and retain current ones. The Internet makes it easier than ever for clients to jump ship for better offerings or a better price, but retaining customers is still, and always will be, critical to sustaining a business.

Achieving customer satisfaction that keeps clients coming back to your site entails much more than selling a good product or service. As such, here are tips for your customer retention efforts.

1. Only put your best people on the front line - Let's face it, not everyone is well-suited to interact with clients and provide great customer service. Unique personality traits are required, such as positive attitudes, great listening and problem solving skills - and only people who possess them should be in contact with your customers. So, assign responsibility based on each employee's core competencies.

2. Know what your customers want - Client feedback is one of the keys to successful business. Knowing what customers think about your products and services and making improvements, perhaps based on their suggestions, should be part of your strategy. Also, don't underestimate the value of negative feedback. Letting clients know and see that you are taking their thoughts into consideration shows you truly care and increases the chances they will stick around to see those improvements. Thankfully, businesses can leverage social media to obtain feedback and can also track review sites like Yelp to gauge customer satisfaction. A brand advocate should be appointed, from within the organization, to reply to reviews left on these pages. By taking sincere interest, you'll find what works and what doesn't.

3. Think relationships and sales will follow - When business is slow and the sales team feels pressure to improve numbers, it is easy to focus on new sales opportunities that arise and forget about developing real relationships with buyers. Even when the interaction occurs remotely, customers can sense when a salesperson is impatient to close a sale and, even if they purchase now, they may think twice about returning. Concentrating on what's best for them, even if it means admitting one of your products doesn't fulfill a need, can make a more lasting impression.

4. Connect without overwhelming - An important aspect of keeping your customers is reminding them you are there when they need you. Keep in touch periodically when you have relevant news for them, just don't overdo it. Product updates, deals, improvements and helpful tips for using your products in new ways are several types of applicable reasons. If you don't already have these materials consider developing a content marketing plan to support their development.

5. Track, track and track - Keeping records of your customers - purchase history, call notes, feedback - and tracking sales trends is vital to customer retention. This information helps you understand customers better and helps you plan customer retention strategies. Depending on your size and needs, consider either a contact management or customer relationship management (CRM) tool to track these relationships more effectively. (See sidebar for a Master List of CRM platforms.) One or two extra sales can often return your technology investment, while giving sales managers and field reps a productivity advantage they need.

6. Be there 24/7 - It's all about presence. Whether through social media, email or your website, organize your business so you can answer customers' and partners' questions and keep processes rolling while out of the office and after business hours. Your team should be able to access client information remotely to provide whatever a customer needs ASAP. The recent boom in mobile devices and cloudconnected services is helping businesses be available 24/7 for customers - your business should be no exception.

7. Audit customer experience - Lastly, put yourself in your clients' position and make a list of all the ways their overall experience with your company can be improved. Something as simple as noting that a specific customer likes their product to be delivered on Tuesdays can make a positive difference. Cater to your clients in ways that will make their lives easier and their experience more gratifying, and they'll gladly cater to making your sales processes more successful.

About the Author: Brandon Balsley is a small- and mid-size business technology evangelist with Sage North America. His team builds and supports contact and customer management, Social CRM and mobile sales systems for more than 3 million customers worldwide.