Magazine Article


The Delicate Balance: Regular Customers Versus the Quest for New Customers

A local hair salon offers a 20-percent-off coupon on all services for new customers, but not for existing customers. A dry cleaner offers a discount for laundering shirts only if an order for dry cleaning other clothes is prepaid. An appliance store advertises free delivery and disposal of old appliances for new customers. A photo store gives 20 free digital prints for new online customers only.

What kind of a signal are these stores sending to their existing customers? What type of customers do these types of offers attract? How can you keep your current customers happy and attract new customers without giving away the store? In my experience, in order to attract new customers, the best place to start is with your existing customers and your product and service offerings.

Start With a Great Product

As John Scully, former CEO of Apple Computer, said, "Great marketing starts with a great product." You have control over several things that pass through your store. First, you control which products you sell. Are they the best or just the most profitable? Are they recognizable brands to your customers, or must they be sold? Do you change brands that you offer regularly, or do you continue to sell the same brands for years? Be more concerned about your loyalty to your customers than to your suppliers. You are your suppliers' customer, so they should have the same philosophy with you—their customer. The good suppliers do.

Create a Usable Customer-Service Policy

Reexamine your shop's customer-service policies. Is the customer king? Does your entire customer-service policy focus on the customer, or are customers just a necessary evil for your business? Put customers on the throne and keep them there.

Get into your customers' heads. Customers come into your store because they need help or assistance buying a product or service. If they can figure out what they need and can serve themselves, then they will go to the big-box store down the street. They are buying your expertise, not price. Research shows that when consumers are asked why they bought a product, price is the eighth factor. Seven other factors are ahead of price in the consumer buying decision. Work on the first seven, and price will go away. Make service number one, put the customer first, define "first," then live it every day. If you do not have a good customer-service policy, or want to revise your existing one, read the book Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service, by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. It discusses the process of creating loyal customers by building a solid policy of service practices.

Make Customers Ambassadors

Use your new customer-service policy to take care of your existing customers. Maintain contact with your customers through mailings, personal phone calls, and emails for private sales and unadvertised promotions (always ask permission first). Have them invite a friend to your private sale.

Reward customers for referrals. This can be as simple and inexpensive as a bag of candy mailed with a handwritten thank-you note. What might their first reaction be? Hopefully, something like, "How nice of them to do that!" They will be likely to refer your store again. Have you ever referred a store or business because they treated you well?

Treat Them Well In Your Store

Treat your customers like guests in your house. Be sincere, not cursory. Engage customers in a conversation, with open-ended questions like, "How can I help you?" Not: "Can I help you?" Ask them if they need help carrying their purchases to their car. I heard a clerk in an office superstore ask a customer that. That was unexpected. Then again, in the same store, at a different time, one cashier complained to another about a customer. In one shot, these two clerks took away the sincerity of the first clerk. Make sure all your employees live and breathe customer service with consistency.

Establish Customer-Service Benchmarks

Set standards for your organization, and then track them. Create simple benchmarks to track customer satisfaction. Inexpensive mail or phone surveys conducted by a market research company can reveal a tremendous amount of helpful information.

Monitor your competitors' activities. How do they treat their customers? What is the atmosphere and attitude in their store?

Stay abreast of trends in the marketplace. Make sure that your products are always on the cutting edge. Specialty stores are the havens for cutting-edge products catering to the early adopter who is willing to pay a premium for the latest and greatest products.

Get Involved in the Community

Getting involved in the community through charitable organizations, chambers of commerce, and rotary clubs increases your shop's visibility. Getting involved is also a good way to give back to the community that serves you. Plus, giving back creates fruitful public relations opportunities that let the world know that you support your community.

Create Events

Run events in your store to attract customers. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Show the latest technology—invite manufacturers' reps to demo their latest products, answer questions, and help your customers buy their products.
  • Hold hands-on seminars teaching customers how to frame their own photos and artwork using framing materials from your store.
  • Run tours for local scout troops. Scout troops are always looking for businesses that show how things work, how to create products, and how to educate young minds—the customers of tomorrow. Photo and imaging centers are ideal for this, highlighting the digital, chemical, and magic that photography offers.
  • Create young ambassadors that will talk about your tour for weeks afterwards. They will also talk about their tours at the dinner table with their parents.

All these little things add up to getting new people into your store. Achieve a balance between satisfying your regular customers and getting new ones to expand your sales and profits. Choose the right vehicles to attract customers looking for the value that you deliver, not the lowest price in town. Low-price shoppers are only loyal to the lowest price; they do not see value in service or information. Create your customer-service policy, live it every day, and watch your business grow.