Know Your Customer: 4 tips for increasing your customer retention rate

It’s much
easier – and more profitable – to keep an existing customer than it is to
land a new one.

believe me? Just look at the numbers.

Research tells
us that most North American companies lose half of their customers every five years.
We also know that as little as a five-percent increase in customer retention can increase
profits by a whopping 75-95 percent. While this percentage can vary by industry, the
overwhelming increase in profits is caused by three major factors:

  • Lower costs – selling
    to existing customers is between five to fifteen times less expensive (and takes far
    less of your time) than acquiring a new customer;
  • More referrals – satisfied
    customers are only too happy to refer you to their friends and colleagues, further
    reducing the time and cost of landing new business; and
  • Greater revenues – every
    time you lose a loyal customer, you also lose the revenue stream they generated until
    you can find a new client to take their place.

key to keeping your customers happy is to find out precisely what motivates them, what
is most important to them and what they want most. Then, simply find the product that
gives them what they want at the best value.

The following
are four of the best practices used by some of the top firms in the country to increase
their customer retention rates – and maximize their profits.

Measure your current status

very effective technique I discovered a couple of years ago is the third-party interview.
Customers often won’t tell you to your face the things you most need to hear, especially
if it involves a criticism of your product or service. However, they’re not nearly
so reticent – or so flattering – when an independent third party asks them
for their feedback.

If you want
to know what your customers are really thinking, consider hiring a professional consulting
company or telemarketing firm to conduct customer-satisfaction surveys on your behalf.

2. Confirm
the criteria for success

Determine what’s most important to the parties involved – and make sure your
definition of success is consistent with that of everyone else.

Sales people
often take action based on what they think is important, rather than what is
truly important to their clients. To be certain you understand your prospect’s
real challenges, ask leading, open-ended questions that allow them to reveal their real
needs. For example, you might begin a conversation with something like:

when I speak to executives like yourself, most often they tell me that although their
business is going great, they have concerns about (name a problem your product addresses).
Is this a problem for you?"


when I speak to executives like yourself, they find our products are able to solve
problems in one of three areas: (specify the three key issues your product addresses).
Are these problems ones that you can identify with?"

This process
helps you determine which product features or benefits you should focus on. The key is
to pick a few serious or common problems that your product can solve. That way, you’re
almost guaranteed that your prospect will say: "Yes, that’s a problem
for me, too!"
Then you can follow-up by asking them to be more specific about
the problems they’re facing.

Remember: as
a general rule, a sales person should talk only 20-30 percent of the time, and spend
the remaining 70-80 percent of their time listening.

Know your customers

serve your good clients well (and to decide which clients deserve the best service),
you have to understand their strategic direction, how they operate and who makes their

Your salespeople
can collect this information by writing up detailed account plans for your top 30 percent
largest or most profitable accounts. These plans should include a review of the client’s
industry and revenue projections as well as information on how you are positioned in
their industry, the threats to your position, your most recent customer satisfaction
results and plans for expanding within the account and building and maintaining executive

You can also
ask your salespeople to review the plan with your executives to get additional insights
on how to maximize the opportunities presented.

Ask questions

sales people uncover specific problems first, and then align their products as solutions
to those problems. So what are the right questions to ask your prospect?

Those that move
the prospect from an intellectual position of knowing they have a problem that
needs to be solved, to an emotional state of trusting you to solve that problem
for them.

The right questions,
in other words, are those that reveal true buying motivations and get the customer engaged
in a conversation. Unfortunately, many people are often vague when asked what is most
important to them.

To help clarify
exactly what your customer needs, avoid non-specific inquiries and focus instead on probing
questions that will establish exactly what is expected – questions like:

  • What are
    your top three priorities defining the success of this project?
  • Specifically,
    what is most important to you?
  • When you
    reflect on this project, what needs to be in place for you to feel that it is a complete
  • What does
    success on this project look like for you?
  • How will
    you do that?
  • How will
    you deal with that?
  • What plans
    have you made to handle that?
  • How is that
    working for you?
  • How do you
  • What have
    you done to fix that?
  • When you
    say (insert vague word here), what do you mean by that?
  • How will
    you use that to your advantage?
  • How will
    your toughest competitor react to that?
  • Is that what
    you really want?

your prospect still has trouble being specific, make some suggestions to help them. If
they really don’t know what they want, start by asking them what they don’t want.
Explain that your questions will help you better serve their needs, so they can take
their own business to the next level.