Wednesday 6 January 2016

To Retain vs Regain? That Is The Question...#Brands Need To Ask #BrandRelationships

Brands looking for more bang for their buck need to adopt a retain rather than regain approach to marketing and sales.  

Personally I find a short-sighted brand vision and marketing strategies to be just bad business. A big part of good business is common sense and understanding selling a bundle of positive experiences rather than a bundle of products is good for the bottom-line. If you have the smarts to also tap into the reach and influence of some of your "brand champions" who share their positive experiences then you have tapped into marketing gold. Their true reach and value can be hard to put a dollar amount to, but if you're a brand, know that I'm always looking and listening for examples of brands that do just that. 
Those are the brands I want to do business with. 

It may sound old fashioned to speak of long-term relationships, intrinsic value, personalized service and brand loyalty, but I'm of an age where I remember what really good customer service looks like. With that age also came the disposable income, financial literacy, klout and influence to give me enough real purchasing power to impact a brand's bottom line.  Whether brands focus their marketing to my teens, my siblings' toddlers, or my parents in the end I'm the one making or influencing purchasing decisions so eventually you'll need market to me. If long-term relationships, acknowledging my value, having positive purchasing experiences and loyalty are important to me, then the smart brand will make it important to them as well. Don't get me wrong, I know I am but one person, but there are many "but ones" out there and we talk ... ALOT! 

It costs way more to regain me as a customer than to retain me as one, and although I may forgive I do not forget. 

Since the bottom-line is so important it seems a short-sited numbers only game is not good for business, the bottom line or the customers. Maybe I'm too old to understand the "new math" but it just doesn't add up. This approach creates customers who jump from brand to brand looking for the cheapest deal. Loyalty is to the deal, perk or incentive, not the brand, and without those incentives they're quick to move to another brand and the next deal. Rewarding clients for their newness rather than loyal patronage, leaves long-time loyal customers feeling resentful and forced to leave and come back as a "new" customer just to get equal perks. Might a better way be to focus on fair and competitive pricing, a user friendly and positive purchasing experiences, finding innovative ways to reward brand champions and long-term patronage, and building strong customer relationships. Intrinsic value aside, even if I'm not the biggest account over a period of years my contribution to a bottom line adds up.  

I don't want to speed date a brand I want to build a relationship.

I like when Brands use the reach and power of social media to share long-time clients stories. Want to build brand loyalty? Make me feel special. Speaking from personal experience, if you reach out to a client, tell them you value their business and then ask them if you can send them a product to review with no strings attached ... they will never forget. I would rather read about that experience with a brand or product than just more tech reviewer listing specs in a language most of us don't understand. I rarely take the time to read what an "influencer" has to say unless their engagement is genuine and their content speaks to me personally. I couldn't care less about someone attending yet another exclusive event I will never be invited to, sharing pictures of all the goodies in their their loot bag. I'm interested in the 5  W's and the how this product or brand might be a good fit for me. 

I'm one of those people who actually believes it when you say "Dear Valued Customer" right up until you give me reason not to. 

Several years ago I ended a 15 year relationship with my cell phone provider. This provider was not the cheapest, or even the best provider but due to our long-term relationship I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and continue in what I felt was a comfortable relationship, dare I say partnership. 

A long time ago, in the time of big phones and pagers lived a man who started a relationship with a cell provider. Over the years his needs changed but his provider did not. Every couple of years he'd call his provider who would offer a "free" phone, and in exchange he continued to keep his service with them. We're not talking about the most expensive or newest phone but a nice phone; one that would make his wife happy and we all know that a happy wife makes for a happy life. For 15 years they co-existed with no mention of contract. For 15 years the cell service provider said we appreciate your loyalty and business and would like reward that with a nice phone in exchange for your continued loyalty and business. For 15 years he said thank you by continuing to keep his overpriced service, and speak fondly of this relationship when others enquired. Had he been on facebook his status would have read 
"In a Relationship".

Until one day he called and to his shock he was told (rather rudely) he would have to sign and lock into a contract, and that was the ONLY way he would be getting a "free" phone. Gone was the gentleman's agreement that they provide good service at a fair(ish) price and the occasional "free" phone and he keeps doing business with them. He felt betrayed and that the trust that had taken years to build had been broken. The rules, ones they had set, had suddenly had been changed mid-game, and without notice. Apparently these new rules left no room for discussion, and a 15 year relationship was no longer a criteria for determining a customers worth. They simply did not understand signing their contract in no way benefited him, and other providers offered the same or a better plan for less. So after 15 years he was disposable. Thinking maybe he didn't explain it well, his wife suggested he try again. So he sent an email asking for a new phone as he had always gotten in the past and got the same response; not without a contract. At his wife's insistence he made one last courtesy call in an effort to retain a relationship clearly the provider had no interest in retaining. 

Not surprisingly he changed providers and opted for a better cheaper plan that included a new phone. A short time later he received the finalized separation agreement aka his final bill with a $50 charge for cancelling his contract (which didn't exist) without notice. He called asking to see a copy of said signed contract or agreement that outlined these charges. What? they couldn't find one? The only contract was the original one from 15 years prior, which had switched to month to month with his service plan grandfathered in more than a dozen years prior (since the first "free" phone). 

Interesting to note: During this call he was asked why he left and why he hadn't spoken to them before switching providers, apparently they might have been able to do something to reward his years of patronage and make it worthwhile for him to stay with them. Umm ... Too Little, Too Late. I'm of the mind if one has to resort to ultimatums to get a brand's attention it's unlikely to result in a positive purchasing experience. 

Over the years he spent thousands of dollars for services with this brand. Because of this short-sightedness not only does he not do business with them, he makes it a point not to ever do business with them again, since clearly they're not a good fit. Like him, I want a relationship of mutual respect. I want a brand to take the time to get to know me and look at my history to match products to me that are a good fit not just the latest promotion. I want a brand to respect my request not to be contacted with endless marketing calls, mailings, and emails. I want a brand to understand how hard I work for my money, how valuable my time is, and that I have a budget and priorities. I absolutely want my past patronage to count for at least as much as new customers if not more
The practise of offering new clients a bonus to switch that doesn't extend to loyal existing customers is like a very loud very bright spotlight-loudspeaker combo broadcasting you don't want my business. 

It will always cost more to win me back and regain me as a customer than finding strategic ways to retain me as a customer

My value is not simply in the bottom line of my current monthly expenditure. The cost or gain of keeping or losing my patronage is always more than just a dollar amount and it will always impact the bottom line. You just have to read my Bio to know I'm a sharer, and although I rarely resort to speaking negatively about brands on social media if asked (FYI I get asked a lot) I share both good and bad brand interactions and experiences. In the past it was mostly with close family and friends, but in more recent years my influence and reach has expanded by way of my blog and social media. A brand's actions show me if they see me as more than just a number or a contract. They give me insight into the people behind the brand, and what the brand truly stand for. I want to know who I do business with so I specifically look for these actions and for consistency in service and messaging in-store, on-line, by phone and on social media.  

Today a friend sent me a private message about a brand experience. This situation and the solution may not have been black and white, but what was clear is this was an opportunity for this brand to distinguish itself from the others and be better. Like me, this friend believes in building relationships, not just accounts, and knows the true test of a brand's integrity is how they deal with and resolve issues that arise. I wish I was writing a very different post about how a brand recognized an opportunity and chose to be better; and about a brand that saw the bigger picture and intrinsic value a relationship with person might offer, but sadly wishing doesn't make it so. 

Yep, just me Cathy thinking out loud in a very wordy post about relationships.

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