02 October 2007

A.S.K. for Referrals

Ask almost any businessperson and they will tell you the most effective method to get more people to become new customers is through word-of-mouth. Very satisfied customers will gladly recommend a business or professional practice to others. People who are referred will be more inclined to act on that recommendation, and if they are pleased with their choice, the process continues with them referring the business to others.
As important as word-of-mouth is to a business, you would think that business owners would spend as much, or more time and money building their business through referrals as they do through advertising. However, most have no plan or method to encourage referrals, but leave it up to happenstance to get more customers to walk through their door. They have a conceptual understanding that one must have a good product that is valued by the customer, and they would even agree that good customer service skills are important to encourage people to return; however, they spend little time, energy, or effort training their people to A.S.K. for referrals. This acronym stands for Attention, Seek, and Keep.
You must gain the attention of your prospects in order for them to have the intention to buy from your business. An advertisement had a herd of zebras with one of them standing out because it had different-colored stripes. Against the sea of black-and-white zebras, the multi-colored zebra commanded attention and the headline stated: “In the corporate jungle, identity is everything.”
Ask: Have I identified my best buyers who have the need and ability to purchase what I sell? How do I attract their attention and get them to visit my business? What is special or unique that differentiates my business from the competition?
If your company blends into the other herd of zebras, then it will be tough for people to find your business, or have a good reason to tell others, or return in the future. Your organization will basically become a commodity business that offers similar products, similar mediocre service, and competes primarily on price.
Once you have grabbed the attention of new customers and attracted them to your business, the next hurdle is to seek to understand the needs of your customer and how you can best meet those needs. They have made the effort to visit your business and the ball is in your hands. Are you going to fumble it or make a touch down?
Seek first to understand your customers and their needs before trying to sell them something they may not need. Internally, your business should match the message you communicate in your marketing message. A new customer was interested enough to visit because of an ad or the recommendation of a friend, now you must live up to that recommendation and learn what attracted them to your business. The best way to do this is by asking questions.
I visited a new business on island and instead of seeking to understand my needs, they played the game of hide and seek. I walked around looking for a product while employees looked busy or hid out in the back. I purposefully did not ask for help because I wanted to see their reaction if I just wandered around. Not one person acknowledged me, nor asked if I needed help. This company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building this new place and stocking it with inventory, but they obviously did not spend much training their people to seek and serve their customers. By contrast, Starbucks spends more on staff training than they do on advertising. They understand the value of service and what positive word-of-mouth referrals can do for their company. The businesses with the best customer service will have employees who seek you out instead of playing hide and seek with you.
The third phase is critical to grow your business: keep all your best customers. Every business has attrition. You have little control if someone passes away or leaves the island. However, the major reason most people stop visiting a business is because of an attitude of indifference on the part of the management or staff toward the customer. They felt like the business did not care if they continued as a customer, so there is little loyalty. They are easily swayed to go to a business with a lower price, or where there is a special promotion.
In this phase, it is often the little things that make a big difference to your customers. Simple acts of courtesy and respect demonstrate that you value the relationship and make them feel important. It is important to stay in contact with the customer between visits. Send a newsletter, email, letter, or call if you have time. Send a birthday card or special occasion card to them to let them know you care.
If customers do not return, contact them and find out the reason. Provide an incentive to return, or learn from their comments to improve your business. You can have more customers if you simply ASK.

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