Find and keep customers: 3 of the basics for success

With the negative outlook of the economy and reports of down holiday spending, merchants need to look at basics for attracting and retaining customers.  Companies can weather the storm by focusing on core competencies, innovating, and reaching out to customers with individual information. Here’s a look at three principals for accomplishing this goal and some companies that are applying them already.

1. Promote your strength and core offering – The concept seems so basic, and yet is often forgotten.  The thought is also frequently applied to individuals in discussion of self knowledge and betterment.  Another way to think of this is “don’t forget your core competencies.”

A good example of this comes from the banking industry. What is a primary way a bank makes money?  They loan money to individuals and businesses and charge a higher interest rate than what they pay out for deposits.  It’s a little more complicated than that, but the main point is that that a bank is in the business of selling money.  When a bank isn’t making loans, they have cut one of their primary vehicles for making money.

The  “financial crisis” of 2008 has taken a large toll on the banking industry.  Many banks have gone out of business and many have received loans from the government to stay in business.  Consumer confidence in banks is low and excessive negative media reports certainly don’t help. Individuals and businesses weigh the health of their own bank and wonder how to get a loan.

Lesson number 1 in finding and keeping customers comes from Associated Credit Union.   Here is the messaging that was included on member statements in the fourth quarter 2008:

Associated CU has money to lend.  Need a car? Need a mortgage? Use your Credit Union.  Apply Online.

Your deposits are safe and sound at your Credit Union. They’re Federally insured up to $100,000 by the National Credit Union Administration, an agency of the U.S. government.  Ask us how we can help you structure your accounts for more coverage.  We’ve been around since 1930!

These statements are simple and to the point. They tell the member that Associated Credit Union has money to lend and they want to lend it!  The statements are also crafted to build confidence with the members.  They reassert the federal backing of the deposits and show the longevity of the organization by showing they have been around since 1930.

2. Provide new or better incentives than previously offered

This concept is all about innovation. Which companies are innovating with new products and services within their existing core competencies?  I found two such examples recently: The Schwab visa card and the TMobile @home service.

Schwab is now offering a Visa Card that offers 2% cash back on all purchases. The product complements Schwab’s core brokerage products by depositing the cash automatically into the account.  What’s so great or different about this card?

  • The 2% cash-back is for all purchases. That’s simple and easy to remember.  It’s not like other cash cards that have a tiered cash-back amount based on your spending.  It’s also different in that you don’t have to keep up with different cash-back amounts depending on what type of goods/services you are buying.
  • No limit on the amount of cash-back you can earn.
  • No monthly minimum to spend.
  • No annual fee.
  • The cash is deposited monthly to your account, not yearly.

This offering is pro-customer and should help Schwab with increasing customer loyalty while at the same time increasing their core deposits.  I like the concept of moving the money automatically to a savings account as it promotes good habits in saving and investing.

The second example of offering new incentives and products is the TMobile @Home service. This is TMobile’s play at a home based phone service.  It’s offered at $10/month for existing TMobile subscribers with rate plans of at least $39.99/month.  The plan gives unlimited nationwide calling. It uses Voice over IP (VoIP) through a router.  There is nothing new about VoIP service and many players have it now. What is unique is how TMobile is positioning the offering.

This plan from TMobile is a transition plan for consumers who are looking to transition to a cell phone only lifestyle, but are not yet ready to completely cut ties with the home phone.  At $10/month the price is negligible. It doesn’t require that a computer be on such as other low cost alternatives like Skype. There are other optional features with the service such as a hot spot support where customers can use their cell phones within the vicinity of the house and not run their monthly minutes.

3. Don’t be silent, consumers are looking for deals

Talking to your customers and letting them know about sales and discounts is nothing new in the retail world. However, some businesses are advancing ahead of their competition by intelligently using information about individual consumer’s shopping and spending habits. If you’ve shopped at Amazon lately you’ve undoubtedly seen this.

Amazon has become a master at presenting potential and repeat customers with ads and information based on a wide range of factors including: current shopping category, past purchases, related items, and other shopper’s behaviors. A customer feels like they are getting individualized attention during the shopping process.

But the touch-points don’t end at the point of sale. Amazon proactively uses email to notify customers about sales and specials for products that are related to past purchases or categories they may like. While this type of advertising could be considered annoying by some, it’s a great tool for driving additional sales. After all, consumers are looking for deals. Amazon has found a way to reach them with personalized information. If the consumer doesn’t want to read the emails, they can unsubscribe or simply delete them. Everyone wins in this arrangement, and all because Amazon has the built the ability to intelligently reach out to its customers with relevant and timely information.