How to Manage Customers and Grow your Business

How to Manage Customers and Grow your Business

Understand your Customers
In business-to-business trading, providing a high level of customer care often requires you to find out what your customers want. Once you have identified your most valuable customers or best potential customers, you can target your highest levels of customer care towards them. Another approach, particularly in the consumer market, is the obligation to treat all consumers to the highest standard.

Collect Information About Your Customers
Information about your customers and what they want is available from many sources, including:
• Their order history
• Records of their contacts with your business – phone calls, meetings and so on
• Direct feedback – if you ask them, customers will usually tell you what they want
• Changes in individual customers’ order patterns
• Changes in the overall success of specific products or services
• Feedback about your existing range – what it does and doesn’t do
• Enquiries about possible new products or services
• Feedback from your customers about things they buy from other businesses
• Changes in the goods and services your competitors are selling
• Feedback and referrals from other, non-competitive suppliers

Manage Your Customer Information
It’s important that you draw up a plan about how customer information is to be gathered and used. Establish a customer-care policy. Assign a senior manager as the policy’s champion but make sure that all your staff are involved – often less senior staff have more direct contact with customers.
You can manage your customer records using a database or customer relationship management software..
Collecting and using customer information may require you to register with the Information Commissioner and comply with data protection regulations. For more information on data protection, see our guide on how to comply with data protection legislation.

Measure Your Customer Service Levels
Where possible, put systems in place to assess your performance in business areas which significantly affect your customers’ satisfaction levels. Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which reflect how well you’re responding to your customers’ expectations.
For instance, you might track:
• sales renewal rates
• the number of queries or complaints about your products or services
• the number of complaints about your employees
• the number of damaged or faulty goods returned
• average order-fulfillment times
• the number of contacts with a customer each month
• the volume of marketing material sent out and responses generated
• time taken from order to delivery

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Your customers and employees will be useful sources of information about the KPIs which best reflect key customer service areas in your business. Make sure the things you measure are driven not by how your business currently runs, but by how your customers would like to see it run.

There are important areas of customer service which are more difficult to measure. Many of these are human factors such as a receptionist’s telephone manner or a salesperson’s conduct while visiting clients. In these areas it’s crucial that you get feedback from your customers about their perceptions of your customer service.
Customer surveys, feedback programmes and occasional phone calls to key customers can be useful ways of gauging how customer service levels in your business are perceived.

Customer Feedback and Contact Programmes
Customer feedback and contact programmes are two ways of increasing communication with your customers. They can represent great opportunities to listen to your customers and to let them know more about what you can offer.
Customer feedback can provide you with detailed information about how your business is perceived. It’s a chance for customers to voice objections, suggest changes or endorse your existing processes, and for you to listen to what they say and act upon it. Feedback is most often gathered using questionnaires, on your website, in person, over the telephone or by post.

The purpose of customer contact programmes is to help you deliver tailored information to your customers. One example is news of a special offer that is relevant to a past purchase – another is a reminder sent at the time of year when a customer traditionally places an order. Contact programmes are particularly useful for reactivating relationships with lapsed customers.

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Do your best to make sure that your customers feel the extra contact is relevant and beneficial to them – bombarding customers with unwanted calls or marketing material can be counter-productive. Newsletters and email bulletins allow you to keep in touch with useful information that can be read at a time that is convenient for the customer.

Customer Loyalty Schemes
While good overall service is the best way of generating customer loyalty, sometimes new relationships can be strengthened, or old ones refreshed, using customer loyalty schemes.
These are programmes that use fixed or percentage discounts, extra goods or prizes to reward customers for behaviour that benefits your business. They can also be used to persuade customers to give you another try if you feel you have successfully tackled past problems with your customer service.

Use Customer Care To Increase Sales
Your existing customers are among the most important assets of your business – they have already chosen you instead of your competitors. Keeping their custom costs far less than attracting new business, so it’s worth taking steps to make sure that they’re satisfied with the service they receive.
There are a number of techniques you can employ, including:
• providing a free customer helpline
• answering frequently asked questions on your website
• following up sales with a courtesy call
• providing free products that will help customers look after or make the most of their purchases
• sending reminders when services or check-ups are due
• offering preferential discounts to existing customers on further purchases

Existing customer relationships are opportunities to increase sales because your customers will already have a degree of trust in your recommendations.
Cross-selling and up-selling are ways of increasing either the range or the value of what you sell by pointing out new purchase possibilities to these customers. Alerting customers when new, upgraded or complimentary products become available – perhaps through regular emails or newsletters – is one way of increasing sales.

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To retain your customers’ trust, however, never try to sell them something that clearly doesn’t meet their needs. Remember, your aim is to build a solid long-term relationship with your customers rather than to make quick one-off profits.
Satisfied customers will contribute to your business for years, through their purchases and through recommendations and referrals of your business.

How To Deal With Customer Complaints
Every business has to deal with situations in which things go wrong from a customer’s point of view.

However you respond if this happens, don’t be dismissive of your customer’s problem – even if you’re convinced you’re not at fault. Although it might seem contradictory, a customer with a complaint represents a genuine opportunity for your business:
• if you handle the complaint successfully, your customer is likely to prove more loyal than if nothing had gone wrong
• people willing to complain are rare – your complaining customer may be alerting you to a problem experienced by many others who silently took their custom elsewhere

Complaints should be handled courteously, sympathetically and – above all – swiftly. Make sure that your business has an established procedure for dealing with customer complaints and that it is known to all your employees. At the very least it should involve:
• listening sympathetically to establish the details of the complaint
• recording the details together with relevant material, such as a sales receipt or damaged goods
• offering rectification – whether by repair, replacement or refund
• appropriate follow-up action, such as a letter of apology or a phone call to make sure that the problem has been made good.
If you’re proud of the way you rectify problems – by offering no-questions refunds, for example – make sure your customers know about it. Your method of dealing with customer problems is one more way to stay ahead of your competitors.

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