3 secrets to turn your customers into lifelong advocates

When you plant a rose seed, you put it in the earth. Then you water it, again and again. When the time comes, the plant rises slowly above the earth. You still water it. Later, it blossoms into a beautiful rose. You still water it. Then, more rosebuds appear from the same plant. You still water it.

Imagine, if you will, that your relationships with your customers are like rose plants. To get long lasting, fulfilling and profitable relationships, you have to “water” them from the moment you plant the seeds, not just later, when they start to blossom.

The art of customers.

I’d like to tell you about something which I call the art of customers. For that, I’d like you to meet Pete (not his real name).

Pete works in a store in my neighborhood. When you walk in, Pete sees you because you walk by his desk. On his desk lies a megaphone. When a returning customer walks in the store, Pete picks up the megaphone and says “Hi (first name), welcome back!” If he doesn’t remember your name, he’ll simply ask you. People laugh. Kids get a real kick. With every megaphone “announcement”, the collective mood in the store elevates. Even those who weren’t greeted seem like they’re having a better time!

I don’t know much about Pete. I don’t know if he understands mathematically that customer retention is the life and blood of any business. What I do know is that he genuinely feels the desire to welcome his customers. People like him remind me of the art of customers.

The art of customers isn’t about screaming out loud that we have the best prices, the best products or that we’re the best place to buy them from.

The art of customers is about making the people who already bought from you feel respected, appreciated and acknowledged.

Whether you do it with a megaphone, with automated journey emails or in any other way, customer retention and loyalty starts with treating those who already bought from you with respect and appreciation.

Unfortunately, many businesses do the opposite, inadvertently. They work really hard to make the people who didn’t buy yet feel respected, seen, heard and acknowledged. Then, as soon as these people buy, they’re given less attention and care than they were given prior to buying. Strangers get treated better than insiders.

One reason for this is that we, humans, have a tendency to focus more on what we don’t have instead of building momentum with what we do already have. Whether it’s due to fear of missing out or due to fear of looking in, we chase the next new customer instead of building a fulfilling relationship with the customers who already bought from us.  

I say to you, focus on the customers you already have, and you’ll gain even more customers. Use your water for the garden you already have and your seeds will multiply, instead of saving your water for the garden you didn’t even plant yet.

Now, I’d like to share with you the 3 secrets I promised to keep your customers and turn them into lifelong advocates. I call them “secrets” simply because from what I’ve seen, they’re not widely acknowledged yet, but you decide if they work for you or not.

Secret #1:  The moment when customers decide if they’ll buy again is right after their first purchase.  

According to the peak end psychological theory, the end of the buying experience is a moment of high emotional intensity for your customers. They’ve given you their business, their time and their money and they look to you to acknowledge them right now. This is the moment when customers decide - subconsciously or consciously - if they will buy again from you. By the time you show them another offer, their minds have already been made up.

In my opinion and based on my marketing experience, the way you treat people right after they've just made a purchase from you is your sales pitch for their next purchase or their referral, even if you're not technically asking them to buy or give you anything yet.

Just like you sit down to create a plan to get new customers, I encourage you to sit down and create a plan for an amazing post purchase experience, step by step, email by email and message by message. I promise you, what you say or do right now does matter to your customers.

Secret # 2: Thank your VIP customers in meaningful ways, and they’ll become your lifelong partners.

As a rule of thumb, according to economist Pareto, 20% of customers give you 80% of sales. The 20/80 percentages vary somewhat from business to businesses, but without a doubt, there's always a small group of people who generate a large chunk of sales. I've seen this in both small businesses and in multi billion dollar businesses.

What I find even more fascinating is that when you take a closer look at your data, you'll notice that within your top 20% customers there's a tiny group of people who give you a big chunk of your total sales and profit and who bring you lots of referrals.

Most businesses are surprised to see how much sales and referrals they get from just 1% of customers, but it really is true that you have a group of highly valuable customers in there!

Imagine, if you will, how these VIP customers think and feel.

After they buy more and more, they'll develop feelings of trust, loyalty, and a deeper connection to your business. Naturally, they want to be acknowledged and thanked in meaningful ways. If their loyalty is not returned by your business, they may eventually feel disconnected and unappreciated, because from their point of view, they have given to your business more than your business has given to them.

In my opinion, showing your respect personally to these people is the right thing to do, regardless of whether they’ll reciprocate or not.

However, from what I’ve seen, if you thank them in meaningful ways, if you go above and beyond for them, they too will go above and beyond for you, remain your loyal customers and become lifelong partners for your business.

I encourage you to create a well planned out VIP customer appreciation program.

That being said, I encourage you to do this privately. Yes, you want to offer your best customers extra perks and attention, but you can do so without making your other customers feel like they’re getting less from you.

Just like you don’t give your expensive birthday gift to your partner in front of the friend who doesn’t get a birthday gift from you, you don’t need to personalize your attention to your VIPs in front of the customers who don’t get the same perks. Don’t flaunt your candy unless you can offer a piece to everyone, right?

Secret #3: Loyalty is an emotion.

I admit, I may have been the last person on earth to learn this. When I started my career in direct marketing I thought loyalty comes from rewards points or membership programs, but the truth is that loyalty is something your customers feel. Therefore, if you want loyal customers, you have to connect with them on an emotional level.

There’s a difference between showing emotion and connecting emotionally with people. Showing emotion stops people in their tracks but doesn’t necessarily connect long term.  Instead, you’ll want to build a long lasting emotional connection.

And I’ll tell you the first time when I truly internalized the importance of connecting emotionally with customers.

One evening, back in the day, while I was working for a company that sold luxury products, I was invited to a dinner with several high profile clients. It just so happened that one client and I were the first ones to arrive, so we had some time to chat. This one client, a remarkable woman, was a loyal customer to our company. During our conversation she told me something that I clearly remember to this day. She said:

“It’s unbelievable how much work and preparation goes into each of your products. To me, each product is a unique work of art.”

It was this last part, “a unique work of art” that stuck with me to this day.

It was true that a lot of preparation went into making each of our products, but the reality was that our products were produced in as large numbers as those made by any other company in that industry. So, they certainly weren’t unique works of art.

But my client’s perception was different. She looked at the product she bought not as something you use or consume - even though she certainly used a lot what she bought - but as something you hold and cherish, something unique, that gives you as much fulfillment as a work of art would.

I realized in that moment that what she was buying was not a product, not a logo, and not a status either.

Instead, she was buying a feeling that deeply resonated with her, a feeling that added more meaning to her life.

She was buying the fulfillment that comes from owning a product that she perceived as a work of art. Because of this fulfillment she felt, she was strongly connected to our products and our brand, and she was willing to pay a premium price and refer other clients to us.

I remember that moment so clearly because I realized then that we always have a choice in business:

...to create a transaction or to create an emotional connection.

Creating an emotional connection will make it easier for you to get customers, to keep them, to earn their loyalty and to charge the prices that you want to charge and that have enough margins in them to allow you to grow.

On the other hand, creating transactions without creating an emotional connection erodes your profits quickly and makes it harder for you to sustain your business over the long run.

Of course, just because loyalty is an emotion, it doesn’t mean an emotional connection is all it takes to sustain customer loyalty and retention.

Martin Luther King said we need to have a tender heart and a tough mind and I believe that’s true in business as well.

You also need to use your business resources intelligently, put extra care and attention in the moments that your customers do notice (not haphazardly, in every customer interaction), set yourself up for scaling your relationships through direct marketing best practices and use your customer data intelligently.

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With lots of love,

Mihaela.

Mihaela Akers