Next Caller Q&A Series
Richard Shapiro is Founder and President of The Center For Client Retention (TCFCR).
His firm provides consulting services to elevate an organization’s capability to retain customers and generate repeat business. He is a leading thought-leader in the areas of customer experience and loyalty and has a wide network of social media followers.
As an influential force within the customer relationship market research industry, Richard has been interviewed by The New York Times, the Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, Newsday, The Today Show, ABC World News Tonight and CBS News as an authority in this field.
Richard is on the corporate advisory board for Comunilife, Inc.’s Life is Precious™ program that supports social services for at-risk Latina teenagers who are contemplating suicide. He is also Chair of the organization’s annual fundraising breakfast.
His first book was The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets of Repeat Business. His second book, The Endangered Customer: 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business, is being released in early 2016.
Who has been your greatest mentor and what has been the most important lesson he or she has taught you?
I learned everything about customer service, the customer experience and how to generate repeat business from my dad. When I was a teenager he had a men’s clothing store and during the busiest holidays of the year, I worked behind the cash register. I saw how he treated all customers, as people first, customers second. He taught me the importance of creating and building relationships from the very first interaction. He was and will always be my greatest source of inspiration.
What do you feel are the key differences when considering acquiring customers versus retaining customers?
Step one is the acquisition of the customer through marketing and social media. Step two is the true beginning of the customer journey that should never end. If your company wants a high percentage of repeat customers there must be a strategy in place. The customer experience journey begins with creating a relationship and then maintaining it. Your staff must continue to show customers they are relevant, appreciated and important after the sale.
How does your approach differ when working with companies of vastly differing sizes and structures, or conversely, why is it fundamentally the same?
When I consult with companies I emphasize that the strongest loyalty is created when an associate in a business builds a personalized relationship with a specific customer. This is critical no matter the size or structure. Understanding the concept in a retail transaction is perhaps the most obvious but it’s an equally critical component for a contact center or ecommerce site. Assign small teams of representatives to handle specific issues so the customer feels they are dealing with a personalized entity within a large corporation. Ecommerce sites can have personal shopping advisors to maintain that human-to-human communication and connection.
You wrote this month about “hitting the panic button” for businesses whose customers are being threatened by new technologies. What are these new threats and how are they affecting the way companies do business?
Competition is fierce and fueled by innovative technology that is newer and better than it was the month before. There is an unpredictability that has commerce on edge. The shopping mall was born in the late 1960’s and 70’s and brought the demise of the neighborhood store but at least there was fair warning. Today, start-ups like Uber, Via, and Lyft have developed almost overnight threatening the taxi industry in major cities. Third party sellers like Amazon, Google, Orbitz, etc. are cultivating the relationship with customers. The manufacturer or hotel property no longer has direct contact. There is more global activity than ever and with mobile connectivity competitors can reach out to your customers and provide offers than can’t be refused. Companies need to reboot how they cultivate the customer by creating and nurturing a personal relationship. Relationships are the glue, the bond and the link between customer satisfaction and retention. And, they need to do it now.
You discuss connecting with customers and an example that you have given of failing to do so is sending “Do Not Reply To This Email” messages. What are some other examples and how can companies improve in this regard?
I believe companies should destroy their manuals of scripted responses. Customers value personalized communication because it is personal. Do not reply emails, Dear valued customer letters and the daily barrage of emails featuring sales are the opposite of personal and reinforce the anonymity of the customer. I recommend that ALL customer communication open with a welcoming paragraph, provide detailed information specific to the customer’s issue, concern, or buying history, and close with a thank you and an invitation to return. A personalized letter, signed by a senior executive can go a long way to show the customer they matter.
What do you think will be the most transformative changes in customer service in the coming years and what types of companies do you believe will be best equipped to survive?
For the last decade companies have continued to show high profits by cutting costs at every turn. There are virtually no more budget items to be slashed. Companies must focus on repeat business. Customer service, customer journey, customer experience are just concepts without teeth if there are no protocols for execution. You can’t change what you don’t measure and organizations must include measuring their success in customer retention. Organizations cannot depend on accidental repeat business; it is critical to create a strategic plan with the word and actions of relationship at its core.