How to Retain Customers (Yes, Even the Difficult Ones)

Embracing complaints is a crucial step toward keeping customers loyal.
Busy coffee shop
Although you may not always like to hear it, you can learn the most about your business from negative reviews. (Photo: mavo/Shutterstock)

In today’s fast-­paced, “how many followers did I get today” world, it’s easy to question the importance of steady customers. Just how significant are repeat customers when the entire world is your digital marketplace?

“The best customers are those you’ve already earned,” said Jay Baer, business strategist and New York Times best-­selling author.

Baer literally wrote the book on the power of keeping loyal customers. In “Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers,” he provides a roadmap for keeping customers coming back.

Jay Bear headshot

“Haters aren’t your problem; ignoring them is.” -Jay Baer (Photo: Jay Baer)

Customer retention is crucial, and Baer should know. He’s made an art of studying the science of complaint. Based on data collected from around the world, Baer has identified how, where and why customers complain.

“As marketing gets ever more competitive and difficult, smart organizations put increasing focus on customer loyalty and retention,” Baer said.

He suggested the following smart strategies to create loyal customers:

Understand why loyalty is important

Your entire company should make customer retention a priority.

Because today’s customer communications are public – on message boards and social media – and often in real time, customer satisfaction is paramount. Customer loyalty can literally make or break your business.

“Understand, at the company’s molecular level, that customer retention is critical,” Baer said.

Allocate resources for service

“Stop treating customer service like a necessary evil, and start treating it as it really is – the new marketing,” Baer said.

Spend the time, money and technology necessary to ensure your customers get the best possible service both before and after the sale.

Solicit customer feedback

Use every option available: Internet platforms like Facebook and Twitter or survey forms in brick and mortar stores. Follow up after every sale.

“Be proactive in your attempts to solicit real customer feedback. Don’t just send a link to a survey and consider your bases covered,” Baer said.

Respond to customer complaints

Acknowledge customer complaints as soon as possible.

“Answer every customer complaint, in every channel, every time. Attempt to answer every customer within 60 minutes, regardless of contact mechanism,” Baer said. “Every customer that takes their time to provide your business with ideas and advice is a very valuable customer. The best small businesses try to get more customer complaints, not fewer.”

Apply the lessons learned from customer feedback – especially the negative

All customer feedback is helpful, but you learn the most from negative reviews.

“Praise is overrated and teaches us little,” Baer said. “Complaints are the petri dish for improvement.”

Monitor customer complaints, and use that information to fix the shortcomings in your business that are frustrating your customers.

So what happens if you lose a customer or two? Are they gone forever? Not necessarily.

If an individual customer is frustrated or disappointed, the best way to counteract that scenario is first to acknowledge his or her complaint quickly, and then make every effort to resolve it.

“Research shows that customers who have problems that were successfully resolved are often more loyal than customers that never had a problem. It’s like the customer service version of Stockholm Syndrome,” Baer said.

“The key, especially when faced with complaints, is not to take it personally,” Baer said.

It’s hard to do, especially for small business. But the key is to provide empathy, humanity and a rational response to every customer, every time.

“Haters aren’t your problem; ignoring them is,” Baer said.

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