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Focusing on Consistency (Part 1)

When we aim for consistency in our communications, values, messages, images, offerings, and the customer experiences we create, we take another significant step toward developing long-lasting and meaningful customer relationships that will boost our bottom line.

We know that as consumers, we are able to exercise our choices to achieve the most enjoyable and efficient experiences possible. But whenever we are unhappy consumers, how likely are we to complain about it?

Research shows that only a small fraction of customers will inform a company of what they dislike. The majority of silent, unhappy buyers "vote with their feet" and simply don't return. Sam Walton, the late Wal Mart founder, said: "There is only one boss: the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company, from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else."

So, since buyers are unlikely to complain (unless they're very unhappy), we must be extremely careful to ensure that they don't become unhappy about anything in their experiences, or they're likely to leave without telling us why! This article (the first in a series) explains the role of consistency in boosting customer retention and satisfaction.

Inventing Your Customer "Secret Sauce"

What recipe makes any relationship with a product or service stand out deliciously from all of the others? Creating consistent customer experiences is the mantra savvy businesses have been chanting to achieve great prosperity. These companies pull out all the stops to ensure that dealing with their products, staff, and services is so consistently pleasant, buyers will want to become loyal customers.
But that's not all -- pleasantness is fast becoming the minimum experience buyers expect. The fierce competition today requires creating raving fans of customers so they cannot stop telling their colleagues, friends, and family about your products or services. This requires raising the bar even further!

What does it take to go from being a silently shunned company to one that creates raving fans?

Assembling the Filling

The success of this recipe comes from paying close attention to key ingredients. These ingredients pertain to quality, business systems, marketing/sales, customer service, and good common sense. They shape the "touch points" that influence our customers' experiences. For example:

* It's far more cost effective to keep existing customers than to find new ones. Why? Customer retention research shows that once companies have loyal customers, the cost of keeping them is just one-fifth the cost of attracting new ones. The research also shows that companies can boost results up to 100% just from increasing customer loyalty by only five percent! This means that marketing to existing customers consistently is far more cost-effective.

* It's critical not to over-promise and under-deliver. Either we can under-promise and over-deliver or over-promise and over-deliver, but, at all costs, we should strive not to under-deliver. One of the situations that will drive everyone crazy is believing that a product is supposed to be released on a certain date, and then it's not. Or hearing that a service will be rendered per an advertised guaranty, and then it's not. Credibility and trustworthiness evaporate whenever people make promises they can't keep.

Baking the Pie

Common sense tells us to find every possible way to keep our existing customers, and instead of ignoring them, we should market to them regularly. Common sense also suggests that if we consistently deliver on time or earlier, or with greater quality than promised, we will delight our customers!

It may mean telling our customers truthfully that we won't have a product ready to offer until next year (instead of next month). But any momentary disappointment our customers may feel will be relatively minor compared to the confidence they will have in us when we do release on time or earlier.

And it's nothing like the distrust and skepticism we will earn if we under-deliver by coming back repeatedly to say, "I'm sorry, we were wrong; it's really going to be next month!" in an endless stream of broken promises.

With just the preceding two principles in mind, we have a better idea of what we can do to become leaders in our industries:

* Retaining existing customers could entail asking customers, in surveys or during customer support calls, "What do you love about our products? What do you hate? What would it take to make you a raving fan of our company?" The answers will reveal what buyers value most, and any pet peeves they've been dying to unload.

* Over-delivering on promises could entail ensuring that products and services work even better than advertised, and that interactions with customer support exceed all expectations for problem resolution. Since one unhappy experience can sour all other pleasant ones, strive to ensure that the most memorable interactions -- such as the first and last in any series -- are especially positive. On a vacation, if lost luggage, forgotten belongings, or final departure activities are not handled with the utmost care, everything positive that preceded those disappointments may be erased from the vacationer's memory!
In conclusion, the recipe for positive and rewarding customer relationships includes, but is not limited to, recognizing the value of consistency in customer retention and in over-delivering on promises, both explicit and implied. These two ingredients are a few of the ways to plug the gaps that would cause buyers to "vote with their feet." Alone, they might not be quite enough to create raving fans, but without them, we won't create any loyal customers, either.

About the Author :

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of the award-winning "Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance" success program. She helps people "discover and recover" the profits their businesses may be losing daily through overlooked performance potential. Adele is a business consultant and the president of an award-winning chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). To learn more about her tools and resources, visit her site at

Focus on Consistency (Part 2)

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