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Keeping Customers For Life

NZ Business - May 1996

By Theo Muller


We hear a lot these days about Relationship Marketing.

Alvin Toffler talks about Relationship Marketing as "a short, sharp slap in the face of conventional marketing thinking".

Philip Kotler reckons that Relationship Marketing is "a key strategy for the 1990's".

Clive Porter defines Relationship Marketing as "the process whereby both parties - the buyer and the provider establish an effective, efficient, enjoyable, enthusiastic and ethical relationship: one that is personally, professionally and profitably rewarding to both parties".

The definition may be a mouthful but is makes a lot of sense. The message here is clear. Before you sign off that press campaign or give the green light to proceed with that zillion dollar promotional programme, think and think again.

If you were a customer of your firm, would you do business with you or your staff?

You talk about service, but can you honestly say that the service that you and your company provide is even mildly exciting the customer? Have you lost any customers lately to the competition?

So sales have dropped off and you are about to correct this with an advertising and promotions campaign. Will it work? Perhaps. The solution to the decline in business may be closer to home - may in fact be very simple and inexpensive.

A friend of mine has a simple framed message on his office wall. It says, "what can I do today to add value to my customers?"

Is that not what marketing is all about? Getting customers and keeping them for life. Below are a few ideas that you may wish to introduce or re-introduce to help you build that personal, professional and profitably rewarding relationship with your customer that Porter talks about. Obviously some of these suggestions are more practical in some industries than in others.


  • Send "thank you" notes, "get well" cards or even birthday cards to your customer
  • Invite your customer to a business breakfast or a business seminar or an evening with a relevant guest speaker
  • Send copies of relevant magazine articles to your customer
  • Set up a formal account review meeting once or twice per year
  • Ask your customer for his/her advice on how you may improve your services
  • Get customers involved in product/service development and ask for their opinion
  • Send customers a copy of your organisation chart, including the names and titles of your team
  •  Whenever you write to the customer, make sure their name is correctly spelled
  • Send the customer a quarterly report of the amount of business that they have done with you, ie sales year to date compared with same period last year
  • Address the customer by name, especially your core customers (I have been a daily customer at our local diary for the last four years and they acknowledge my custom with a mumble or a one syllable grunt and they do not know my name)
  • Advise customers of personnel changes in your organisation
  • Rewrite your 'terms and conditions' in a clear, human way - stay away for the legalese cold hard language (ask yourself whether it is useful to have 'terms and conditions'. If you have not been to court over them in the last 20 years you may wish to dispense with them all together and instead concentrate on building a mutually respecting relationship with your customer)
  • Offer the customer a worthwhile guarantee on your performance (product and/or service)
  • Under-promise and over-perform. Tell the customer exactly what he/she may expect from you then improve on that promise in the delivery of it. If, for whatever reason you cannot perform to the level of your promises, then make sure that the customer knows about it beforehand and reach a new agreement
  • Train the members of your team in the art and craft of basic friendliness.


Customers are human beings who respond to smiles, thank you's, please and general friendly politeness without going over the top or patronise the customer:


  • Always speak well of your customers and do not allow any of your team members ever to badmouth a customer (or any other human being for that matter)
  • Provide your customer with referrals or business leads.


There will be many other simple steps that you can take to delight and excite your customers so you keep them for life.

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