5 Customer Retention Strategies to Keep Your Customers Coming Back
The five strategies in this article will help improve customer service for your residential HVAC, plumbing, electrical, or other home services business, and help you build a personal connection with your customers. Before we get to those strategies, though, let’s talk about who your customers are, because your customer retention plan depends on understanding your customers’ feelings and reactions toward your brand.
You might serve customers from many demographics, but every contractor can put their customers into one of three categories:
1. Your promoter customers – loyal, enthusiastic, and galvanized, these customers have been wowed by your company and are active advocates and evangelists for your brand
2. Your detractor customers – disappointed, angry, or feeling a sense of duty, these customers act as watchdogs, whistleblowers, or sometimes punishers of your brand
3. Your passive customers – unengaged, detached, apathetic, or indifferent toward your brand, these customers are easy prey for your competitors
Ask any contractor, and they can quickly fire off a list of their promoter or detractor customers. Usually the hyper-happy and the hyper-angry customers are household names at any shop. Ask any contractor who their passive customers are and…and…see, that’s the point. Passive customers are off the radar. They’re in the background and the shadows. They’re not a “problem” per se. At least not in the short-term. But there’s a long-term problem with passives, and it’s this: they often leave you for another contractor without you ever knowing. If a loyal, “cornerstone” customer is on the fence, you usually know about it and are able to fight for the relationship. But the passives? They often quietly defect.
And the reality is that for most shops, they have way more passive customers than promoters. That means that a lot of your customers are defecting without you ever knowing it, or ever knowing why.
Passive customers have no loyalty to your business, brand, or service, and that is dangerous for your bottom line.
Passive customers are patient. They’re cooperative when you interact with them. They don’t make noise or cause problems with negative online reviews. On the flip side, they don’t advocate for you. They don’t positively impact your business with a good review or word of mouth to friends or family. They’re vulnerable. With some small price savings or a little nudge at the right time from another HVAC, plumbing or electrical company down the street, these neutral customers are gone. The point is, that without a sound strategy to woo and wow customers and flip neutrals into promotors, you can count on a lot of your first-time customers becoming one-time customers.
So long as we’re clarifying terms, can we make another really important distinction? Satisfied customers don’t equal happy customers, and they certainly aren’t delighted customers. In all likelihood, they’re neutral or passive customers. That’s part of the reason we tell our clients that “customer satisfaction” is way too low of a goal. In other words, customer satisfaction should be the floor, not the ceiling. The better goal is to strive for delighted or inspired customers. For example, you try a new burger joint in town. How was your experience? Poor, average, or awesome? If your experience was merely average, the burger joint missed the mark. In other words, yours was a neutral experience. Neither poor nor awesome. Your defection is therefore very likely.
How to Turn a Passive Customer Into a Promoter
So what does it take for a customer to develop real affinity or loyalty to a business? They need to experience at least one of these four things. The customer needs to:
- Love your product
- Be wowed by your service
- Have a memorable experience
- Feel like they have a personal connection with at least one person in your company
Reality check: none of your HVAC customers have been dreaming of your latest high-efficiency system. HVAC repair or replacement is a required, or emergency purchase. It’s not an exciting and discretionary one like a new flat screen TV or a premeditated home renovation or addition. Those are exciting purchases and projects, where, just the anticipation of them triggers feel-good chemicals in the body. An HVAC system failure in the middle of summer or winter? That triggers the body’s stress and fear mechanisms. Under those circumstances, it’s difficult to wow the customer with the latest and greatest technology your system includes. The customer just wants to restore their home comfort as quickly as possible, and as cheaply as possible.
Considering all of this, that means what you probably already know — you’re going to have to wow customers with your customer service and through an exceptional customer experience.
In the HVAC market, price is often secondary to service, especially in the long run. If you can give customers a personal and memorable experience, or build a genuine connection with them, you’ll stand a much better chance of moving them out of the dangerous passive category. If you want to keep customers happy and turn them into delighted customers, the kinds that become advocates, you need to explore ways to improve your customer service, the customer experience, and build a connection with them.
Strategy #1: Are You Listening?
Reflective listening is the number one skill you and your employees need to have (or develop) to give outstanding customer service. Everything else depends on really hearing your customer and — just as importantly — them knowing you heard them.
When you practice reflective listening, you’re doing what all good listeners do by making sustained eye contact, giving the other person your full attention, and letting your body language communicate that you are engaged in this conversation. But you also need to reflect back what you’ve heard.
The parts that are really important to the other person, whatever they are, need to be repeated after they are done talking. This practice not only does something positive in the conversation, it limits or eliminates other negative tendencies like being distracted, the temptation to multitask, or just waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can say what you want to say.
Strategy #2: Learn the Secret of the Unexpected Perk
Sometimes it’s better to be proactive with a benefit, giveaway, or gift, rather than reactive. Yes, a freebie or discount can help soothe an angry customer, but the surprise of a little gift to a satisfied customer can nudge them over the edge to become a delighted customer — your newest advocate.
Predetermine the perks that your technicians and salespeople have the power to give away ahead of time, and don’t limit it to discounts. A doggie biscuit or helping hand are also perks, especially because it shows that you took notice of something besides the task at hand. Make it a company-wide goal to look for ways to help and delight a customer beyond their HVAC need. This shows you care and desire to build a relationship.
Strategy #3: Be Responsive
When your customers have a question, call about an estimate or quote, leave a review online, or engage with you through social media, you have to be quick to respond. Always. The likelihood that a customer will go somewhere else if they aren’t getting an immediate response from you runs into the 80 to 90 percent range. If that means you need to hire more help to answer the phones or serve customers out in the field, then put that at the top of your to-do list, right now.
Strategy #4: A Fantastic Follow-Up
What kind of follow-up procedures do you have in place right now after your business completes an install or service call? If everything went great, and everybody is happy, and they don’t hear from you until the next time you’re trying to sell them on a maintenance plan, that’s a recipe for brewing up a big batch of passive customers. Those “satisfied” customers will start to feel like you only care about them when it comes to the sale — because you do.
If you already have a follow-up plan, try and make it more personal. Look for ways to expand it, or make a little more of an investment in it. If you don’t have a solid follow-up plan, that breeds passive customer relationships and it’s killing your customer retention rate. Consider trying something like these options:
Develop a seasonal energy savings guide that you can send to customers a week after a sale or service call. Don’t sell them anything — just help them save money. That generates sincere customer appreciation.
Send them a gift. This is something we know a whole lot about at To Your Success. It’s actually the first step in our comprehensive customer retention plan. The gift doesn’t have to be big to mean a lot to people, or to take them from passive to promoter status in a hurry. A tangible gift is so unique and unexpected that it leaves a lasting memory and shapes their view of your brand. And we advocate a gift of food, because food is central to human relationships and to friendship and bonding.
Strategy #5: Make a Personal Connection
If you get customer service right, or create a really memorable space for introductions, or follow-up after the sale, you’re making great strides toward developing strong, personal connections.
If you’re really going to make your HVAC business stand out and keep your customers happy, you have to go an extra mile after you’ve gone a few extra miles already.
- Is there space in your phone calls or person-to-person meetings for small talk? Or are you communicating as clearly as possible that you have other things to do, and your customers are lucky to get any of your time and attention? It’s the small talk that starts to make the relationship personal.
- When you send a mailer to your customers, is it addressed “Dear Customer”, or does it address them by name? Does it have a handwritten note or signature? It could, and at least sometimes, it should!
- When your technician was at the customer’s house, was there a lot of college football paraphernalia on the walls or bookshelves? Did the technician make a note of that and let you know? Did your customer’s team win or lose a big game the day before you make a follow-up call? Congrats or commiseration would be a nice touch. Or note one noticeable thing about the customer so you or your CSRs can reference it in the future; do they have pets? Children? A large family? Items they’re proud of?
- Do you make it a point to catch the customer’s name and address them personally as you’re wrapping up that phone call or in-person meeting? This one thing makes a gigantic difference in how people feel. If you struggle with names, try these techniques.
How To Your Success Can Help Your Customer Retention Rate
We hope these five strategies will help you build relationships with passive customers of your HVAC business. Relationships will be the key to helping you keep your customers happy and coming back. If you want to learn more about improving your company’s customer service, read our 5-5-5 Plan for Contracting Business Growth.
Our business, To Your Success, is all about delighting customers, increasing customer retention, and finding ways to gain concrete business insights that will help your HVAC business stand out and experience strong growth.
The easiest way to help you see what’s possible is to check out our free demo.