Recently, my wife said to me, “I really hate that the store I was just at valued a new customer more than me. I have been shopping there for years. What am I chopped liver?” The quip made sense to me, I personally do not care for chopped liver, but I bet there are people out there that do. But, if we make the assumption that what she meant was that people do not like chopped liver and therefore she must be something that the store does not like, it is not a positive statement. Or put even more simply, the store doesn’t like it’s current customers and wants to trade them for an all new customer base.
When said aloud, it is really absurd of course. Most businesses don’t want to turn their backs on their existing customers, but sometimes the practices of a business are so focused on acquiring new customers that they forget about their current customer base. We have all seen this before. It comes in the form of a coupon in the mail offering a special discount to new customers exclusively. It comes in the form of a special discount for new sign ups for the credit card, but if you already have the credit card the item is priced at regular price.
A retail store is not unique in making this mistake. Wholesale businesses make the same mistake with special dating offers at a trade show for new sign ups while there. They make the same mistake trying to woo the new customer on the other side of town and forget about the existing customer already in their database.
Companies make this mistake with their employees as well. They can spend so much time on attracting new talent, that they forget about the employees that are already part of the family. They commonly say things like, “People do not leave here, we do not have a retention problem” Of course that is true, until it is not true. If you are not paying attention, you could wake up one day with a retention problem. By then it is too late. Your customer isn’t the most important person in your business, your employees are.
If you hire a consultant to help you figure out how to promote your brand, they will inevitably speak with you about launching a brand ambassador plan. Ambassadors can be super effective at putting a face on your brand and promoting the oh so important aspect of word of mouth around your brand. But, those programs are not free. There is an expense already in your business, that you can co-op into a brand ambassador program, your employees. Companies can sometimes spend so much effort trying to recruit outside ambassadors, but their front line ambassadors (their current employees) are passed over in that effort.
So what can you do to make sure you are not focusing too much on finding new customers or employees or ambassadors? I have 3 recommendations.
1. Focus on your existing customers for a bit.
– Offer the additional discount for customers that have spent over a certain threshold with your business, or who have been customers for a while.
– Offer a special on service if the original item was purchased from your business. Reach out to your existing customers for no reason and thank them for being a customer.
– Offer the special price or program on the addition or replacement for an existing product, to the previous owners. Do that before they are offered to new customers and do that very publicly, as that will incentivize new customers to become part of the brands family as well.
– Even if you think you cannot afford it, launch a customer loyalty program. Look for a compelling reason for people to come back over and over again. Easy if you are a coffee shop, harder if you are a bike shop – but not impossible.
– Put a secret discount coupon in shopping bags at the checkout counter if you are a retailer.
2. Focus on employee retention instead of on attracting new employees.
– Review your employee benefits that you offer. Are you competitive? Better yet, are you better than competitive? Why wouldn’t you want to offer the best benefits around?
– Develop benefits for existing employees that are lucrative and hard to give up for that population. I am not only talking about a great 401k program, but things they all can appreciate. Take note from companies that are really good at it. (There are many examples of companies that take this seriously. An example I like to point at is Backcountry.com). By doing this, not only will you retain your great staff, but those efforts will look attractive to new employees as well.
– Do not insist that your employees embrace your advocacy beliefs, but insist that they adopt a cause of their own and help them with that.
3. Focus your ambassador program on your existing staff.
– Make your staff famous as ambassadors for your business.
– Launch a blog page on your company site, and invite them to author entries there. Let them talk about their passions and world there, just encourage them to make it somehow relevant to your world that your business is in. But, it should be personal and maybe even sometimes a little uncomfortable.
– Profile your employees in your company literature, website and in-store or office.
– Feature your employees Instagram feed with your companies.
Finally, if you are still a little bit vague on the value of taking care of your employees or your existing customers before worrying about attracting more, I would encourage you to do some research around the internet phenomenon of “1000 True Fans”. 1000 True Fans, was a blog post written by Kevin Kelly 10 years ago. His concept was that you didn’t need 1 million fans around your business or product, you just needed to be highly relevant to 1000 fans. The internet has debated that concept ad-nauseum since then. I do not want to get into that debate. But, regardless of where you would fall on that debate, no one argues that there isn’t value to creating true fans of your product, your brand, your store or you.