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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Turn Your Customers Into Company Ambassadors

How to Get Referrals from Long-Time Customers

By Wendy Connick

Treat your customers well, and it will return to you tenfold. People who discover something exceptional - like, say, a company that sells a great product and gives them terrific customer service to boot - want to share their discovery with the world. Anytime someone mentions widgets, your customer’s face will light up. “Hey, I bought this great widget a month ago, and the sales guy actually helped me set it up – AND he sent me a Starbucks gift card the next week. Plus I got free shipping!”

Of course, the opposite is also true. If your customer gets poor service or otherwise has a bad experience with your company, they’ll tell the world about that, too. Mediocre customer service will usually leave no impression at all on a customer’s memory.

You can generate enthusiasm in your customers and turn them into your own unofficial sales team simply by giving them outstanding service. That means providing them with a quality of service that’s much greater than they expect to receive. Sure, this requires a lot more effort on your part… but if every customer brings you eight new customers, isn’t it worth it?

In order to get your customers going, you’ll probably need to train them a little bit and get them thinking about your company. After you’ve closed the first sale to a new customer, don’t just forget about them. Make a point of contacting that customer a few days later and “checking in” to see if everything is okay with their new purchase. 

At this point, you can prime the pump by asking for referrals. If you simply come out and say “Do you know anyone else who needs a new widget?” they’ll probably say no. A better approach is to ease into the subject by talking about their purchase. You want to ignite their enthusiasm. Ask how well it works compared to their old widget, or if they are enjoying specific features. Then pop the question: “What do your friends think of it?” (Or if it’s a B2B customer, ask “What do your colleagues think of it?”). 

Hopefully the customer will say something like, “I showed it to my buddy Steve and he thinks it’s the coolest widget he’s ever seen.” Now you can pounce by saying, “That’s great! I’d love to talk to Steve and see if I can set him up with a widget of his own. What phone number can I reach him at?”
Any time you get a referral from a customer, let them know how much you appreciate it – regardless of whether or not you actually made a sale. Send a thank-you note at the very least. If you can, include a premium – a small item with your company’s name on it. Don’t limit yourself to the usual coffee cups and pens, either.

Keep yourself and your company at the front of your customer’s mind by getting in touch with them periodically. A good CRM can help by reminding you when it’s time to touch base with a customer. You can even use the CRM to build email templates and use them for routine contacts. Once your system is in place, keeping in touch is just a matter of adding a few custom tweaks to the email and hitting Send.

When the holidays roll around, send a token of appreciation to every single customer. This can be as small as a free e-card or as significant as a personalized gift. You’ll probably want to send something a bit more substantial to your best customers, especially to customers who sent their friends and colleagues to buy from you. However, don’t send a gift that’s more valuable than what the customer purchased from you over the past year – otherwise it seems more like a bribe than a gift!

By keeping in touch, you keep the customer thinking about your company. And by regularly asking about referrals, you teach them to think of the people they know as people who can benefit from your service, just as they themselves are benefiting. From there it’s only a short step to a customer who actively hustles for sales on your behalf.

Needless to say, if the customer does call you with a problem or question, answer promptly and be as helpful and courteous as possible. Remember, bad customer service will have the customer bad-mouthing you… average customer service won’t inspire any particular reaction… but great customer service will create great word-of-mouth.

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