6 Ways to Multiply Repeat Business

Every company wants to turn a first-time customer into a lifelong  “groupie” for their business. After all, repeat business is the ultimate barometer of success. The customer experience should not be created in a vacuum, but must be incorporated into an overall strategy to increase the percentage of repeat customers. Recently, several retail businesses have reported their disappointment about the number of customers who only purchase once. They say, "We know if that percentage increased, we would dramatically increase revenues and improve profitability."

The best and most effective opportunity for retailers to generate repeat business lies with front-line associates. They can create and build lifetime relationships with customers. We all stop at our local coffee shop to see that friendly counterperson whom we’ll call "Mary," the one who gives us the big smile, knows when we are going on vacation, where we like to travel, if our children had a great experience at summer camp, and what our plans are for the holidays. Once consumers find their Mary, they won't shop price or seek another, more convenient place to get a cup of morning joe.

So how can every enterprise create an army of Marys? Here are six "repeat business" tips:

1. Teach associates to greet people like they would welcome a new neighbor into their home. Communicate to front-line staff how important it is to smile, greet, and connect with customers as people first. If a new neighbor walks into your house for the first time, you would most likely try to find out where they used to live, give them a tour of the house, take their coats, offer them a glass of water, find out if they are allergic to pets if you had a cat or a dog, and tell about your family. If you replicate that same scenario with a customer, it can help create an instant connection.

2. Ask customers if they have ever been in your store before, whether they purchase something or not. If the customer is new, tell them more about your business; the best places to park, your hours, the type of merchandise you carry, how long you have been in existence, other locations, return policies, customer experience philosophy. It will not only provide useful information but also, more importantly, create a dialogue and relationship. Repeat customers should be acknowledged and always thanked for their past loyalty; new customers should be welcomed and provided a different kind of special attention.

3. Always tell the customer you can help them.  People like to feel they are speaking to a person who can help. The help might require asking another associate for advice, requesting more information or even referring a customer to a competitor. It's not important how you help them, but showing the customer you care about answering their question or resolving their problem goes a long way. Saying, "I can help you with that," is an excellent first step.

4. Listen to emotions. Pay attention to what customers are feeling, not just saying. Unless a person is totally robotic, they are happy, frustrated, excited, disappointed, etc. By saying, for example, “You sound disappointed we don’t have your size in stock; let me double-check and get back to you,” you will create a new and beneficial relationship. Have your associates role-play how they would feel if the store just ran out of their size or they needed to return a faulty toaster and the warranty had just expired. How did they feel? Even if you misread an emotion that the customer may have, most likely they will come back with, "I'm not frustrated, but I'm really disappointed." Once again, a dialogue has begun.

5. Have business cards printed up for all associates. It will make your staff feel more important and it's an excellent way to invite the customer to return. The employee can say, "I really enjoyed helping you today. Here is my card with my contact information. Now that I know your tastes, I can let you know if we get something in stock you might like. Would you prefer me to email, call, or text? Just let me know." People like to feel wanted. It's human nature. By inviting the customer to return, it demonstrates that you want to see them again, which is a critical component of the customer journey.

6. Keep in touch. Ninety percent of all retailers fail to show the customer they matter after the sale. That's a big mistake. Just sending daily emails has a negative effect. Brainstorm with your team about the best ways to show customers they are relevant after they leave your store. I really feel special when a company sends me a personalized letter thanking me for my business. Even a nicely worded customized email can show customers they are relevant, important, and appreciated after an interaction has occurred.

I grew up in a retail environment. My dad owned a men's store and I worked there in my early teens. I learned four important lessons

  • To the customer, whether it's your physical store, Web site, or contact center, it is the home of the company.
  • It is more important to listen and learn the customer’s state of mind than find out their method of payment.
  • When new customers enter the store, they are strangers. My father hoped by the time they left, they had become new friends.
  • Keep in touch with customers on a regular basis; they will greatly appreciate it, it shows them you care.

If more retail executives understood why they visit the same coffee shop to see their Mary and taught their associates the concept of "Customers are people first, consumer second," I guarantee the percentage of repeat customers would exponentially rise.

Can you imagine how much more profitable your company would be if you generated a greater number of repeat customers? 

Richard Shapiro is the founder and president of The Center for Client Retention, which provides research, training, and consulting services on improving the customer experience.

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