Five steps SMEs can take to retain customers

Published Oct 17, 2022


Johannesburg – Making a good first impression on customers is of the utmost importance for any business looking to be successful. Once a relationship is established with a new customer, the focus should be on offering high-quality delivery over the long term and in future interactions.

The goal is to be able to not only attract new customers but to keep them. Transactional interactions can turn into lifelong relationships between customers and brands or businesses.

Customer retention is the hallmark of a customer-focused business.

According to Tom Stuart, chief marketing officer of SME lender, Lulalend, there are five practical ways businesses can improve customer retention: managing expectations, ensuring top-of-mind awareness, good communication, implementing support measures, and putting a rewards programme in place.

Stuart explains that top-of-mind awareness is a critical metric in the development of sound retention strategies and goes a long way to determining any business’s potential to generate a profit.

“Being top of mind isn’t only handy, it is also necessary. When it comes to communicating with a potential customer, sales professionals have a 50% better probability of converting the opportunity when a brand has a high top-of-mind score. The more well-known the brand, the more likely the public will purchase their product or use their service,” Stuart said.

In the current challenging economic climate, where consumers are more frugal in their spending, thus creating stiff competition for every customer’s rand, SMEs must adapt and develop creative strategies that engage both potential and existing customers consistently and concurrently.

“No matter how strong a relationship you’ve built up with a customer, don't jeopardise the connection by diverting your attention to focus on the next prospect. Maintain meaningful connections with all customers, even after a sale has been made or a project has been completed,” said Stuart.

In an age when consumers are used to being able to have goods and services at their doorsteps at seemingly breakneck speed, it is important to be able to manage customer expectations, which can be challenging.

It is imperative to ensure that your business’s sales collateral, website terms and conditions, and customer service commitments are consistent. This will provide your customers with guidance in terms of what they can expect in return for their hard-earned money.

Be honest when things don’t go according to plan and act swiftly and decisively to get things right.

Businesses should be proactive in maintaining relationships with customers, even if customers are not reaching out. It is up to businesses to ensure that they maintain open communication with customers.

In highlighting the third point to improve customer retention, Stuart says that entrepreneurs should consider using a communication calendar to manage client encounters and create upsell and cross-sell possibilities.

Stuart said: “It’s important to continually make your customers feel recognised and valued through regular and clear communication. It is simple to roll out promotional offers and proactive customer support solutions to stop them from disengaging – all you need is a database and carefully considered content.”

Customer services technology and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions abound and help to make accurate customer service automated and sophisticated. It can also make the biggest difference in an SME’s continued success and overall profitability.

The final component to ensure customer retention lies in creating a client loyalty programme. For the longest time, these programmes have been perceived to be cumbersome to implement and only possible for large consumer brands to maintain.

That notion has been dispelled by the success of the loyalty programmes of much smaller businesses.

A perfect example is the car washes that offer customers a free car wash after a customer has used their services several times, proving that even the smallest businesses can offer rewards to individuals who have been loyal to their brand.

A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system can assist in identifying a business’s most valuable clients and targeted incentives can go a long way to making sure someone continues buying from a particular business.

“While there are many ways to keep your customers hooked on your business, it’s important to consider the techniques you use to strengthen those relationships. Long-term customers are almost always more profitable and buy more regularly than new ones,” concluded Stuart.

IOL Business