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IN THE TRENCHES: Hang on to your loyal customers before it's too late

by Ron Pelger | November 01, 2009
Were you ever given an exceptional sales pitch when shopping for a new car, television, computer or other item? How about for a specific service such as lawn care, pest control or auto maintenance? How do presentations come across to you when seeking a supplier, equipment or a specialized vendor? What kind of pitches do salespeople give you to get your business? And once they get in the door, are all those golden promises fulfilled?

I browsed through some business publications and made it a point to read the stipulations, obligations and commitments companies included in ads to acquire business. Needless to say, there was an ample amount of boasting about their quality and services.

Phrases such as "people you know and can trust," "highest level of support," "we don't just talk, we act," "dependable, quick and efficient" and "faster, easier, superior service" were just a few of the many pledges made to lure prospects. Are all those commitments honored, or will a company get snowballed down the road after it buys in on the deal?

There have been many stories from individuals regarding their experiences with people and companies that became lax in standing behind promises they made prior to obtaining the business from them. After the deal was secured, they paid little attention to the customer. As this careless practice continued, customers were left walking out the door. When customers don't trust you, they'll never return. And the word of mouth will more than double the loss of current and future customers for that careless company.

H. Gordon Selfridge, founder of Selfridge's department store in London, authored the famous phrase, "The customer is always right." Those very words have been echoed throughout the business world for years, but does every employee really understand their meaning? Some do, but certainly not all.

With today's economic challenges, customers everywhere and in all industries are re-examining their association with suppliers, retailers and services. The day of the devoted customer is fleeting, as customers want more attention, action and better value for their money. If you don't give it to them, they will leave you in an instant and get it from one of your many competitors.

Retaining regular loyal customers should be the top priority at your company. It costs five times more in advertising, special giveaways and other promotions to acquire a new customer than to keep a loyal one. You should be making it easier on your regular customers to do business with you rather than giving them reason to check out your competitors.

A Harvard study revealed that 68 percent of disgruntled customers quit their suppliers and switch to other sources because they feel they were mistreated. Does it make sense to lose customers when they are extremely hard to find during a slow economy?

Mistakes that suppliers make with their customers
Slipshod facility. You get what you see. If a distribution center or wholesale house is messy and unsanitary, a customer perceives it as though that is how product will arrive from you.

Overcharging. Exorbitant pricing is dangerous and puts a retailer in a non- competitive position resulting in lost business for both parties.

Poor quality. Cheap product will not build repeat business from shoppers. Lack of knowledge. Buyers or salespeople who do not know facts about their products send a message of distrust to customers.

"We can't." Using the word "can't" is the easy way out for a supplier who doesn't want to go an extra five yards for a customer, and which will eventually come out on the losing end every time.

Out of stocks. Not accommodating customers with product they order is the same as the customers not having a reliable supplier. Retailers can't sell from an empty wagon.

How retailers turn off shoppers
Dirty stores. Dirt and food do not go together. Since it's about people eating healthy, wholesome food products, they won't tolerate shopping in unclean stores.

Messy checkout counters and carts. Asking shoppers to place their food in sticky, stained and soiled carts and on filthy checkout counters is a definite turnoff.

Dim lighting. A store with ceiling lights that are burned out, flickering or dim certainly lowers the shopping mood of a customer. The next step is asking them to use flashlights to read labels.

Unavailable shopping carts or hand baskets. There may be plenty of carts scattered all over the parking lot and baskets piled around checkouts, but customers should not have to hunt for them in order to do their shopping.

"I don't know." "I don't work in that department." "I just started here." "It's down that aisle somewhere." These are negative employee statements. Who hired them? Ever hear of training?

Chasing customers out your door is easy to do as indicated by some of the previous examples. Customer retention is an absolute necessity these days -- more than at any other time. Just remember that the reliability of your product or service is the main ingredient in holding on to your current customers. The prime 20 percent of your customers generates 80 percent of your sales.

(Ron Pelger is the owner of RONPROCON, a consulting firm for the produce industry, and a member of the FreshXperts consortium of produce professionals. He can be reached by phone at 775/853-7056, by e-mail at or check his web site at