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Updated Oct 26, 2023

Want to Keep Your Customers? Be Proactive

Build the habit of cultivating customer relationships and staying attentive.

Leslie Pankowski headshot
Leslie Pankowski, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
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Editor Reviewed
This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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Long-term and repeat customers are critical to the health of any small business. Loyal customers provide companies with stable revenue and allow leaders to confidently plan for the future. Considering how vital customer retention is to a business’s survival, it should be a daily practice, not a once-a-year effort. 

How can you keep your customers from leaving?

To improve your customer retention rate, you must plan, prepare and implement customer retention strategies. To prevent customers from leaving, take a holistic approach to customer care that includes the following practices: 

Track customer life cycles.

When companies develop a new product or service, they consider its life cycle – from launch, to maturity, to revision or phaseout. Customers also have life cycles that need planning and nurturing to thrive. 

The kind of service, support or engagement your customers need may change over time. Listening and learning about their business needs will help your company serve customers more effectively. 

“Having regular interactions with customers will result in more relevant engagement consistently optimized by your business,” said Rita Tochner, head of operations at TrialJectory. “What this allows is a complete picture of your client, a 360-degree view as dynamic as the individual, showcasing trends and giving actionable insights to enhance their customer journey.” 

To truly know your customers, look beyond marketing demographics and seek out information on their favorite social channels, propensity scores, household composition and other metrics.

Determine how customers want to be treated. 

Customers may have different service expectations from your company. Instead of following the golden rule, consider the platinum rule: Treat others how they would like to be treated, not how you would like to be treated.

Scott Stratten, co-author of UnSelling: The New Customer Experience (Wiley, 2014), recommended asking three questions to determine exactly what your customers want: 

  1. What would you like us to stop doing? 
  2. What would you like us to start doing? 
  3. What should we continue doing? 

The answers to these questions will help you figure out key issues in the customer experience and provide a starting point for improvement.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Learn customer service lessons from luxury brands to help you create ideal customer engagement policies and standards.

Give employees the tools to deliver excellent customer service.

Some small business owners and leaders focus on managing customer relationships and interactions without considering their employees’ customer dealings. 

Consider the following best practices when you’re determining the resources employees need to provide excellent customer service:

  • Implement service policies. Set expectations, policies and standards for all employees to follow when interacting with customers. Instead of restricting employees, these standards will set them up for success by giving them a road map.
  • Customize service practices by position. Consider various customer service practices for different employee positions. Your expectations for your administrative assistants and front-office employees may differ from your expectations for your client management team. Every employee plays a role with customers, but it should align with their job description and function.
  • Train employees on customer service. Offer effective employee training, scripts and time to employees when you’re implementing new customer engagement practices and customer service solutions.
  • Give your service teams the power to solve issues. Empower customer service teams with the authority and tools they need to solve customers’ problems. 

Why do customers leave? 

All long-term relationships have rough patches. Friendships, romantic partnerships and family relationships need time and attention, especially when one person voices frustrations or wants another to change their behavior. Customer relationships also need time and attention; if you don’t nurture them, you may risk a breakup.

Here are some common reasons customers abandon relationships: 

Customers leave if they’re treated as acquisitions.

Businesses that rely on many customers may worry more about generating sales leads than on retaining current customers. This strategy can make current customers feel like an afterthought, especially after they’ve been wooed with promises of top-notch service. 

Customers may get frustrated if your company is guilty of these bad practices: 

  • Poor communication: Customers will grow weary of inconsistent contact, infrequent customer communication and unreliable access to answers.
  • Lack of updates: Customers will feel ignored if you don’t share company updates and newsletters or don’t invite them to company events.
  • Failure to mention staff changes: Customers will feel blindsided if you delay or forget to notify them when key employees leave or change roles, especially if an employee had direct contact with a customer.
Use an email newsletter or email marketing contact list to communicate regularly with customers and alert them to news, special offers and events.

Customers leave when businesses don’t listen to concerns.

Ideally, your company will be proactive about addressing issues or mistakes. 

“If we see [an issue] happening multiple times over, it is a chance to reach out, communicate, engage and fix,” Tochner said. “This type of dialogue between the company and the customer is important because it creates a level of trust and appreciation, opening the door for a much more loyal, mutually beneficial relationship.”

But even when companies get the amount of client contact right, they may not listen or react to customer concerns with a sense of urgency.

“Take their feedback, and regardless of what you do, thank [the customer] and share it with your team,” advised David Niu, vice president of innovation at Limeade. “Close the loop. [Show them] you’re not just paying lip service but you’re doing something about it.” 

Responsiveness and gratitude go a long way in proving you’re truly committed to customer satisfaction, Niu added.

Did You Know?Did you know
The best marketing automation software can help you send campaigns to inactive customers and offer them incentives, thus increasing your chances of retaining these customers.

Customers leave when businesses don’t adapt.

The only constant in business is change. Companies evolve throughout their life cycles, and customers do, too. When companies have regular interactions with customers and listen to their needs, they are better prepared to grow and evolve with them.

Instead of treating customer relationship maintenance as another item on your to-do list, companies should keep tabs on customer satisfaction by collecting feedback regularly via customer surveys and taking the time to analyze and learn from the feedback, Niu said. 

“One question we ask on a consistent basis is, ‘How likely are you to refer us to a friend or colleague?'” Niu said. “Over time, if a client rates [this question] a 9, [and] then it becomes 8, 7, etc., something is [not right] in [their] mind. You need to talk to them immediately. When they tell us reasons why they’re not happy, we have a blueprint to make them more satisfied.”

Without regular feedback on customer satisfaction, companies can miss the signs that their customer service and engagement are no longer meeting their clients’ needs. Feedback is a gift and will inform your company’s customer retention practices going forward.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Customer loyalty programs are an excellent retention strategy that brings the business valuable data to help serve customers better.

Being an active service provider helps you keep customers

The keys to customer retention are in your hands. Your company has access to all the information you need to provide excellent service that keeps customers happy and loyal. Customer retention practices look different for each company and type of customer, but they are all built on a foundation of active engagement and feedback.

Nicole Fallon contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Leslie Pankowski headshot
Leslie Pankowski, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
Marketing expert and small business owner Leslie Pankowski has spent nearly 30 years guiding companies through their advertising efforts. Her consultative services include market analysis, audience analysis, media proposals, campaign effectiveness and more. She is skilled at using data analytics to drive business decisions, developing strategic partnerships and drafting communications plans. Pankowski has taught marketing concepts and best practices to the next generation of business leaders at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business (from which she holds an MBA), the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College and at Marymount University. She is also passionate about business leadership and talent management and has served as a consultant for the executive staffing company vChief.
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