One of the best things that can happen to you is to have a repeat customer. Repeat customers are generally happy customers, and happy customers means happy business.
Now these points don’t apply to every one of you out there, but the concepts are similar. I’ve experienced them from both sides of the fence i.e. as a business (Gadgitech Ltd) offering a service and as an client outsourcing or procuring services. I believe that these points apply to both contractors and businesses whether you are operating online or not. So take a look and tell me what you think.
So why do customers come back? There are a number of reasons and here are just a few key ones that I use as guidelines for my business.
1. Offer Unique Services
It’s awesome if this is one of the reasons that you have repeat customers. It means that you are in a strong niche and you should exploit it to the fullest. Like all unique services, it’s only a matter of time before others figure out that you are making money and want in. So the more you innovate and exploit your area, the better for you. It means that you will be ahead of your competition when they do start popping up and you have already set yourself up as the benchmark by which others could be rated by. So I stress, don’t let this get to your head and become complacent, continuously adapt and ensure your service is at the top of its game.
If you are starting off and don’t yet have a service to offer, I would suggest that you research research research. Do some keyword research using tools such as the Keyword Planner available within Google Adwords. Take a look at Google Trends to see what people are looking for. Google has recently introduced historical search trends as well so you can see what people are and have been doing online. If you are a contractor, have a look at sites such as oDesk and search through the available contractors to see what people are offering and what they charge; which is another bit of invaluable information.
Some of us are lucky enough to be in a very niche niche but for the majority out there, a unique service may be a little out of reach. But not to worry, competition is good. In these cases it is best to understand the market you are in. It’s not just about offering a service, unique or not. It’s about knowing who else is doing what you are doing and then making your offering that much better. Even the smallest advantage you can offer your customers will make a world of a difference.
2. Create Value for Money
Almost everyone out there that is going to use a service (both free or paid for), is looking for value for money. You may ask, why did I include free services? Well, if you think about a free-to-read blog offering advice in some arbitrary subject, the value for money component is determined by assessing the amount of reading that a visitor has to do in order to learn something that they didn’t know previously. If someone reads for 10 minutes and gains nothing new then the value for money is deemed low. Whereas someone who reads for 5 minutes and learns something new, then that would be regarded as better value for money. Get the picture.
Ensure you price your services correctly. Yet again, this is where market research comes into play. This can be anything from picking up a phone and trying to request a price list from a competitor to a web search or even simply using the service yourself.
For example, I used a free web based picture resizing tool which at first I thought was great. This was when I was very actively into Strong Whispers and was publishing articles by my writers almost every day. Everything was great until I started getting annoyed with the how buggy the service was. A bit of research showed that there were other services out there that could do what I needed but I needed to pay a premium. So I thought, why not create my own. So I did. I put together a specification and employed a developer to create FastPicSizes.com. It works great for me and probably does for someone else too so I thought why not share it with the world. Someone out there may find it useful. It is not my core business but I think you get the picture. That is one way to get into a good niche – find a poor or lacking service or product and just make it better (call it evolution). Google did it, they made searching better. Facebook just made a better MySpace. These are large corporate examples but I believe that the concepts are the same for you and I.
3. Higher Quality of Service
This ties in somewhat with the previous point but I thought I’d mention it separately to stress the importance of not just offering but delivering services but ensuring you offer quality. This is what will ultimately set you apart from your competition. It will also help you determine your price point. If you are the best quality service out there, you don’t have to be the cheapest to gain a customer base. As a client I can tell you that low price is not always the deciding factor. Try not to cut corners because this will come back to bite you in the end – in the form of a lost customer or potential lawsuit.
A good example is Amazon.com. Their success is built on ensuring that the user has the best possible shopping experience when deciding on what to buy. Jeff Bezos must have tried to buy something online via Ebay for example and found that what he received was not as expected or the quality was not great or not as described. By allowing customers to quickly and easily review their purchase and then allowing subsequent customers to view those reviews, they immediately placed customers in the driving seat and had just made online shopping a very tangible experience. Initially started as an online bookseller, they are now one of the most powerful online retailers out there.
In short, offer the best quality that you can possibly and should morally provide. Offer elegant solutions to complex problems and attempt to innovate where possible.
4. Admirable Work Ethic
I love working with contractors that have a good work ethic. So what is good work ethic? To me it is a combination of the following:
I mention this first as I rank it quite high and think that it is very very important. I am generally an impatient person and need to know what’s happening like yesterday! Assume your clients are the same. It only takes 5 minutes to provide them with a project update. Ensure your updates are precise and to the point. There is nothing worse than a long winded note with not much detail and raises more questions than it answers.
If there is a high impact issue, then you really need to get in touch. Sometimes clients are more amenable to a delay or a change in plan if they are kept in the loop early on. I know I am.
It takes a bit of experience but be sure to provide realistic time estimates for key milestones. You may not be that good at it at first but as you acquire more projects it will get better over time. This works both ways, understanding how to estimate a project’s timeline helps you assess the costs more accurately. After all, you want to make a profit. Start simple with a spreadsheet. Break it down into as many steps that you can think of and then allocate an estimate of how long it would take to complete each step. It can be as simple as that but will make a world of a difference to you and to your client. You don’t need to give every detail to the client because they are probably not that interest in the tiny details. Show them a high level overview of what is to be done and how long you estimate it will take. It also helps justify the project pricing.
Also, remember that in most cases everything does NOT go according to plan. So if you are offering a fixed price service ensure that you have a contingency in place. There is nothing worse than making a loss on a project due to unforeseen circumstances.
Sometimes the customer is not always right. Customers generally know what they want. But not always do they know the best way to go about it. Personally, I really don’t like ‘YES’ people. I don’t want someone to agree with everything I do, because I know that not everything that I do is the right way to do things. Especially so as a client, because as a client I am outsourcing to someone that is more specialised than I am in that particular field. I would expect some sort of feedback/advice and would welcome critical objections. It has to be done tactfully though. You really don’t want to insult your client. Keep in mind that the client is generally not as specialised as yourself and may need a bit of advice or a helping hand to ensure they have a better end product. And feel free to stand your ground if you can substantiate a decision. Ultimately the customer will decide but it is better if they make an informed decision.
Be prepared to jump through hoops to get the job done. If you commit to a project, then ensure that your deliverables are met without prejudice. I understand that clients can be tough, some unnecessarily so, but as long as they are not being abusive, there is no reason not to deliver.
I’ve found over the years that there are lots of problem finders in this world. It’s a great talent and very common. What’s not common is an individual that identifies a problem and comes with a solution. I look out for these people and try to keep them close to me as they are a rare find.
So ensure that you do what it takes, are persistent and have put in the effort required to get the job done right. It is not a time to procrastinate!
5. Great Support
One sure bet way to ensure your customers are happy is to offer a great level of support throughout the process as well as after. This generally boils down to a quick response time, good communication and fast problem solving skills. If you are good at what you do, the problem solving should be a piece of cake. The other two takes a bit of motivation and discipline. Gaining a long standing customer should be motivation enough.
The way I approach support is to provide an acknowledgement within one hour (during extended business hours 8am to 11pm). Most of the time the first response is within a few minutes. I then aim to resolve the issue ASAP. Generally the issues have been resolved within a few hours. I use tools like Webex and Skype to communicate with my clients and understand the issues. It is invaluable as it allows easy diagnosis of the issues at hand. Some of the support work is covered by support contracts but some are not but that does not concern me. My reputation concerns me more and I have great relationships with my clients so am more than happy to support them pro bono.
Compared to my competition I am a tiny company. But they can’t match me on support. I think of myself as the best in my field when it comes to support. My customers acknowledge this and my business continues to be successful because of this. So you can see how important good support can be.
I have worked with companies that offered excellent products and terribly poor support and as a result had lost a number of contracts. Some of those companies eventually went bust and poor support was part of the reason. Don’t end up in that trap!
Striving to align yourself with what I’ve discussed above can do no harm. Do it in small steps, change your work ethos and I assure you, the people that you provide services to will notice. You will build a relationship and a reputation. In fact, I employ these guidelines in everything I do as a service provider. I have happy repeat customers and am glad to say that some of my business comes through word of mouth recommendations by my long standing clients and I am honoured that it does. I am evidence that this does work!
I’d love to hear how you strive to gain repeat customers. Drop me a note below and share it with the community.