Want to know the best way to increase customer retention? It’s not rocket science. It all comes down to the relationships that your employees have with your customers. If your employees take good care of your customers, and your customers like your employees, chances are good those customers will come back again.
However, building successful customer relationships is easier said than done. Like any relationship, a little effort and patience is required. In fact, it’s not so different than building a relationship with that wonderful and most important person in your life: your spouse (if you have one).
When it comes to relationships, there are a few eternal truths that stand the test of time. And who better to give relationship advice than marriage therapists? I researched the most prized advice from marriage therapists, and strangely their words of wisdom sound similar to advice that many customer loyalty experts dispense. Read on and let me know what you think:
1) Communication is Key. Marriage therapists place a lot of emphasis on communication. They teach that words are very powerful. The words you choose have a much deeper impact than you can imagine. Kind words make your spouse/customers feel comfortable, while criticisms or judgments can make them feel angry or insecure. When your spouse/customers ask a question or make a statement you don’t understand, repeat it or ask for clarification. Choose your responses thoughtfully.
Also, pay attention to non-verbal communication. Make sure your tone of voice and body language convey the same thing. If your spouse/customer is sending you mixed messages, do not assume they have bad intentions. Just ask them what they mean. To develop respect and trust, you must learn to communicate openly and honestly.
2) Respect is a Two-Way Street. In marriages, loss of respect can lead to contempt. Marriage therapists pretty much agree that when this happens, the relationship is doomed. It’s the same with your customers. Dealership employees should always treat customers with respect, while trying to earn theirs in turn.
3) Trust is Fragile. Is your spouse reliable and dependable? Trust is about being able to count on someone, and it’s no different with your customers.
If you want your spouse/customers to trust you, you must be reliable. If you say you will do something, do it. If you cannot do it, be up front and honest about why not. Never leave your spouse/customer questioning your intentions. To gain trust, you must be trustworthy. If you can place your spouse/customers’ best interests ahead of your own, you will gain their lasting trust and loyalty. If your spouse/customers discover that you’ve lied to them, that bond of trust is broken and can be very difficult to repair.
4) Conflict Resolution is Important. Couples with poor conflict resolution skills typically engage in fight, flight or freeze behaviors. They fight and stay mad, sometimes holding grudges for years. They flight by sweeping issues under the rug. Or, they freeze emotionally and shut down. Someone who freezes may go through the motions on the outside, but they have stopped caring on the inside.
If a conflict arises with a customer, it’s important to focus on taking care of the issue and not attack the person. They may be lashing out at you but remember that it’s not really about you personally, it’s about how they feel. Maybe they feel taken advantage of. Maybe they feel like you’re not really listening to them. Maybe they have a lot of issues and something you said just happened to hit a nerve.
But if you let them stay in fight, flight or freeze mode, they will not be a repeat customer. Explain your position without getting defensive, and ask them what kind of resolution would make them happy. Then, if possible, try to make it happen. Once the matter is resolved, forgive and forget. Holding a grudge is unhealthy, both for yourself and for your relationship.
5) Don’t Insist on Being (Always) Right. Anyone who has been married knows that you have to pick your battles. We all know that sometimes, the other person is just plain wrong. But if you insist on proving that you are right and they are wrong, it can escalate the situation. What good comes from that? You may prove a point but now your spouse is mad at you. Sometimes, it’s better to just let them think they’re right, or at least, agree to disagree.
It’s the same with your customers. Remember the old saying, “The customer knows best?” As we all know, sometimes the customer doesn’t know best. Customers can be misinformed or even plain ol’ nasty. If you encounter someone like this, don’t react in kind. You can set boundaries politely and firmly, and you can make your case with facts and drawing upon your experience. But try to avoid telling a customer they are wrong. What does it prove? It may make you feel better but chances are that customer won’t be back.
Developing relationships of any kind can be hard work. But the efforts are rewarding and can make life a lot easier. If you have a good relationship with your spouse, you can go home to a happy household every evening. If you have great relationships with your customers, you will earn their loyalty, trust and repeat business.
What tips do you have for building successful relationships with your customers?
Author: Mike Esposito
Mike Esposito is President and CEO of Auto/Mate Dealership Systems, a leading dealership management system (DMS) provider. During his tenure at Auto/Mate, Esposito has grown the company’s auto dealer client base to more than 1,100 rooftops. Auto/Mate has the highest customer retention rate in the retail automotive industry and is the number one DMS in customer satisfaction. Its DMS was “Designed by Car People, for Car PeopleTM.” Find out how Auto/Mate does business differently at www.automate.com.