Businesses work hard catering to new customers. The bank you’ve been going to for 10 years never gives you a toaster does it? Existing customers are often taken for granted, but that’s something you really can’t afford to do in the industrial HVAC business. Your company’s success depends on loyal customers, not one-and-done customers. Why?
A high customer retention rate and strong sales to that loyal customer base mean greater profits, because according to a 2014 SCORE survey, securing a new customer is six to seven times more expensive than keeping an existing one. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) web site reports that 91 percent of unhappy customers will never buy again from a company that has displeased them and will also voice their dissatisfaction to at least seven other people.
Loyal customers bring you not only their continuing business, but they provide positive word-of-mouth advertising that can lead to new business.
If you’ve struggled to keep customers, here are some strategies to implement:
- Follow up. Checking in shortly after your company has installed new industrial HVAC equipment at a manufacturing facility or completed HVAC maintenance service is an extension of good customer service. Aside from being a gesture of goodwill, it is an effective way to find out if anything about your service made the customer unhappy. Not all customers will take the time to call and complain, but if you call them and ask how satisfied they were with your service, they’re likely to be truthful. Timely follow-up can help you nip a problem in the bud before a customer has time to badmouth your company for a mistake you weren’t even aware of. Getting customer feedback through follow-up can show you where mistakes are being made and help you avoid them in the future.
Following up with customers helps them get to know you better too, and people like to do business with people they know. When you follow up, customers will realize they are important to you. Follow-up helps build long-term relationships with customers, which means a greater return on the initial investment of time and money you put into landing them as customers in the first place.
- Be proactive. To maintain a loyal customer base, you have to take care of them. Don’t assume that someone who purchases from you once remains “your” customer forever. Maybe you’ve lost touch with customers you worked with in the past. Following up immediately after service isn’t enough. You want to show you’re with them for the long haul. Take time to look through your records. Who haven’t you talked to in a while? Who is due for a system upgrade or maintenance? Was there a need you saw during an install at a customer’s industrial facility that you didn’t mention at the time, but would like to talk about now?
You may think you are bothering customers by calling. But maybe you’ve saved them a phone call. Maybe there’s some aspect of their industrial HVAC system they don’t quite understand but never got around to asking you about. Maybe personnel have changed since the last time you’ve done business with a particular company and the new person doesn’t know who to call with HVAC questions. Maybe they’ve changed their product line or production method and want to prevent new air quality issues.
Taking the initiative to call customers sends the message that you don’t just sell systems and abandon them. You’re showing the customer that you understand their industry and operation and you took the time to look around their facility and think about their specific HVAC needs. Maintaining relationships in this manner could also open the door for additional opportunities. Perhaps as a result of keeping contact with clients you get the inside scoop of an expansion to their commercial and/or industrial space. You quickly position yourself to become the front-runner for the new job and may even be able to avoid getting shopped around in the process.
- Always respond. You appreciate customers taking your calls, so extend the same courtesy and take their calls. No matter how large or small a problem or question seems, be sure you respond to a customer call in a timely manner. Customers who know their contractor has their back are more likely to be loyal. That same SCORE survey reported that 67 percent of customers have hung up because they could not talk to a real person. That 67 percent is not likely to be loyal. And remember, it’s more profitable to keep loyal customers than to spend time and effort generating leads, prospecting and turning those leads into new customers.
- Make sure everyone is providing great customer service. No one likes to deal with difficult people and there’s no recovering from outright rudeness. So make sure everyone on your team is knowledgeable, friendly and delivering outstanding service.
Because you can’t be everywhere at once, you might want to have your employees use a service checklist and give a copy to your customer so they know what is being done and can let you know if something isn’t right. Again, when you have time, call on customers to see how their dealings with others in your company have gone.
- Ask for formal feedback. Customer satisfaction is critical for any company’s success because it breeds loyalty. But how do you know customers are truly satisfied? Even if employees are tripping over themselves to please customers, there’s no way to know for sure if the extra efforts are effective unless you do one more thing: Ask! A brief follow-up phone call is great, but maybe you’d like the formal feedback of a customer satisfaction survey. Strong relationships are built through dialogue and surveys can get that ball rolling. How you gather information from customers is up to you. When a customer is signing a contract for your services, ask permission to send a survey via email or snail mail at a later date to ask how satisfied they were with the service. If you mail a printed questionnaire, be sure to include a postage-paid return envelope to customers.
Both good and less than favorable survey responses can help you improve your industrial HVAC services.
- Keep in touch via old and new media. Create a presence on social media and share information that is relevant to your industrial HVAC business. Engaging customers who are online followers in dialogue helps foster a relationship. And don’t forget old-fashioned snail mail. Some customers respond better to low-tech communications. Send their equipment a birthday card, create flyers for special deals, or mail friendly reminders for scheduled HVAC check ups.
- Create a loyalty program. Ask customers at the time of sale if you can add them to a loyalty program email list. As preferred customers, loyalty program members would receive special offers from your company. Make sure these rewards are only for those in the program to make them feel appreciated. Some ideas for loyalty programs: give program members a 5 percent discount on the next year’s service agreement or reward customers who renew service agreements before they expire. Other suggestions: offer a price guarantee so loyalty program members can lock in service rates for the life of their equipment, or offer credit toward new HVAC equipment purchases or new services. It’s all up to you and what you can afford to offer.
To build a loyal customer base, an industrial HVAC contractor must be loyal to customers. That means putting effort into building and maintaining relationships. But no, you don’t have to give away toasters. Leave that to the bank.