Where Did All My Customers Go?

ALA Conference keynote speaker David Avrin details why customers leave you for the competition and how to win them back.
For many years retailers were advised to treat customers “like family,” joked David Avrin, CSP, a published author and popular consultant on Customer Experience and Strategic Marketing. “Have you seen how we treat our family members?” Then, in all seriousness, he stated, “Our expectations have changed just as the buying experience has changed.”

In his keynote session, Blink & They’re Gone, Avrin shared a recent example of his own shopping experience that demonstrates the consumer mindset today, which is one of instant gratification. “I needed to have my lawn sprinklers replaced. I called a local company, but I got an answering machine. Do I leave a message? No! I keep on calling companies until I find one who answers the phone. I’m not going to wait for someone to play their messages and then call me back.”

Just like the “lost opportunities” for those lawn service companies that did not pick up the phone, Avrin reminded the audience that they are missing out on potential revenue every day – from the consumer who drives by your store, but doesn’t stop in or the customer who walks into your store and walks out empty-handed to the person who calls your company with a question, but gives up on your complicated voicemail system.

The Shift

“There has been a remarkable shift in the marketplace from selling to buying. Yesteryear was the era of the salesman [providing all of the information]. There still is a role for salespeople, but it’s different,” Avrin explained. “It’s about the competitive advantage now. Think about car dealerships and how you used to ask the salesperson to tell you about the car. Now, we walk in and know the full benefits of the car, all of the trims available, and what the dealer price is.” A similar occurrence happens at doctors’ offices. “We used to go to the doctor to find out what’s wrong, but thanks to the internet, now we walk in and say, ‘Here’s what’s wrong with me and the medication I need.'”

Avrin doesn’t point the blame at Millennials for the change in shopping habits. “It’s all of us. We are all consumers, even if we sell lighting as retailers. The conveniences of shopping today are off the chart. We can all be Kardashians in our own homes and have products and services come to us – even at two in the morning.”

Arvin posted the question: “How accessible are you?” Providing immediacy is important in today’s marketplace. “This is the mindset of people now. The internet is always on. Everyone is armed with a camera/phone, and they share everything – the good, bad, and the ugly,” he remarked.

He urged retailers to examine every touchpoint in the customer’s journey, from finding your business online and the convenience of pulling into the parking lot to walking through the front door and the way they are greeted and find what they need.

“Your employees don’t pay the bills, they are the bills,” he joked. “Treat your employees great, but not better than your customers.”

How easy do you make it for customers to contact you? One of the common contact methods that irks Avrin is the ubiquitous “Contact Us” form on nearly every website. “The Contact Us form drives away more business than your worst employee, but I’m sure your website developer told you it was a great idea,” he said. His advice is to do a deep dive into how people experience your business and find out whether customers are happy with the way you’ve designed your business.

Avrin’s Universal Rules of the Internet

  • If you want people to be interested, you have to be interesting.
  • If you want people to talk about you, give them something to talk about!
  • If you want people to find you, you have to be findable.
  • And most importantly, if you want people to come back, you have to give them an experience worth repeating.
Always Open

“Business is 24/7 these days, but you can have more life balance if you have more customers,” Avrin observed. “Does your company go to voicemail at 5 p.m.? We know the Golden Rule (treat others as you would like to be treated), but we should operate with the Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they want to be treated,” he commented.

“If you don’t have a plan in place for how your company treats customers, then you have no way to measure how well you are doing it. Having a good culture is not enough,” Avrin warned. “We tell people to treat others the way we want to be treated, but we’re not them.” How a 16-year-old wants to be treated is very different from what’s important to a 50-year-old.

Giving great customer service worthy of talking about and sharing with others is the goal. “This isn’t something gimmicky. It’s finding a way to do something better or how to solve a customer’s problem,” Avrin stated. “Your customers will vote/decide with their time and their feet if yours is an experience they want to repeat. It’s a comedized world, but they need to know why you do what you do.”

Do the Drill

One of the exercises Avrin finds to be most beneficial in his consulting work is to have retailers list attributes of their typical types of customers. “What’s going on in their day? What do they struggle with? Get specific,” he advised. Examples of these customers might be “Bob” a local builder in his 40s with a small work force, who needs affordable product that is nearly goof-proof to install. Or Betsy, a homeowner in her 60s who is looking to downsize her living arrangements and needs a flexible interior design to suit both grandkids and her aging parents.

“This is not about giving broad strokes,” Avrin cautioned. “This is a complicated drill-down that has you writing down the answers to five things you think each customer would hate about doing business with lighting stores (i.e. wasting time, inconvenient hours, items out of stock), five things you think they would love (i.e. special pricing, a varied product assortment, ready answers for any questions), and five things you think they fear about the transaction (i.e. shipping delays, product looks different than expected, the hassle of returns).”

In addition, he instructed audience members to write down five other choices the customer has for sourcing that product besides your store (i.e. home centers, online store, direct from manufacturer).

“Relationships are a retention tool, but they don’t bring in new business,” he remarked. “Why do people come in? Historically speaking, most of our prospects have been getting their needs met somewhere else. You [figuratively] are asking them to stop doing business with someone else and start doing business with you. Part of your customer experience is the result of research and development into the products you sell, who you are selling them to, and how well you are addressing these questions. This is worth an hour of your time [doing this self-examination] at your office.”

Retailers should answer the same set of questions for each customer type. “How can you come up with services that allay some of these pain points for these customers? Basically you are telling customers, ‘Here are the things we can do to help you.’ If you can address their fears and concerns up front, you become the safer choice for them. If you and your competitors are all competing at the same price, [if I were the customer], I’d choose the one least likely to screw up.”

Avrin reminded the audience, “People make decisions emotionally – ‘That’s what I want!’ – but they justify them intellectually. Compliment your competitors by listing five things they do well that you know from your research the customer doesn’t need, and add, ‘but here’s what we do…'” An example would be, “Home center B has similar recessed lights you can buy off the shelf at 10 p.m. from your home, but here we go to the job site/look over your blueprints, and double-check with the manufacturer on…”

Challenge your sales team by performing role-play exercises. “Have a specific way to address each particular concern,” Avrin added. “While we never trash competitors, we can always indict an industry. For example, you can say, ‘Much of the way it’s been done for years is XYZ, but here, we…’ If the industry has been doing something for a long time, but you do it differently – tell them.”

Consistency Is Key
Know your audience and deliver strategic, consistent, and interesting content. Have something to say and say it to them – just them – consistently. If you are sporadic in your sharing or change up the subject or the audience, your tribe won’t know what to do with you – so they will do nothing.
Speak the Language

Avrin urged retailers to review the words and sales scripts used in the showroom. “Sometimes people just want a conversation that doesn’t sound scripted,” he said. “It’s not about dumbing down the terminology, but making yourself clear and making the customer feel they had good communication with you. People are reluctant to tell you that they don’t understand something.”

In today’s share culture, people will spread the news of how they were treated by a retailer. “They feel almost obligated to share,” Avrin stated. “When you do something great for someone that they really appreciate, encourage them to share it. In the old days, this meant writing a testimonial; now it’s a video clip. How many of you have the courage to grab your phone and ask the customer, ‘Would you mind saying that again?’ and record it.”

A personal endorsement has more impact than a retailer’s motto of good service. “You can say that your store is great, but if you can show happy customers declaring that you’re rock stars, that’s even better,” Avrin noted. “Trust me, your prospects are checking you out on social media.”

He pointed to the relatively new phenomenon of restaurants providing selfie sticks on each table so diners can share their great time with others. “When we were growing up, there were Polaroid photos of customers tacked up on the bulletin boards of restaurants and stores. Now it’s done through social media,” Avrin said.

“Sure, there are going to be unhappy customers,” he admitted. “Control what you can and be intentional in what you do. The message used to be about ‘excellence’ – but now that’s expected,” Avrin commented. “This is a different time – and a scary time – in retail,” he remarked. “Pretend to be your own customer and view your business that way. Empower your employees to say ‘Yes’ more often to customers’ requests without having to get a manager’s approval.”

The biggest obstacle in any company’s success is to follow the “This is how we’ve always done it” approach, Avrin warned. “We never want to be a best-kept secret. There is no designated ‘marketing department’ of your company; every part of your business should have a marketing component. Those who say, ‘Our reputation speaks for itself’ are wrong; you need to speak for yourself.”

Avrin’s new book Why Customers Leave (and How to Win Them Back) is available on Amazon.