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Creating Customer Loyalty Best Practices for Keeping Clients

Building customer loyalty and being a successful independent telecom agent go hand in hand. The value proposition of the indirect channel — the ability to offer solutions from multiple carriers in order to best meet the needs of the customer — is a customer loyalty-builder in and of itself.

“One of the reasons I got into this business was to build these types of relationships,” said Philip Domville, partner with PivotBridge Partners, an independent agency based in Raleigh, N.C. “In the past, the telecom industry has gotten a bad name because of the constant churn in sales organizations. As an agent, we offer some continuity to our customers, and they appreciate it.”

Simply put, if an agent does adequate research on a customer, its business model and its needs before recommending a solution, then one-off sales, time after time, become cost-prohibitive. The longer a customer stays with an agent, the higher the ROI is for that agent’s hard work.

“In today’s world, telecom continues to move into a commodity environment,” said Michael Scharf, president of independent agency East Coast Telecom Consultants. “Loyalty is becoming more important than ever. Our relationship with and how we take care of our clients, in many cases, is the only thing that sets us apart. We fight too hard to gain customers, and we cannot afford to lose them out the back door.”

While juggling lead-generation activities, ongoing customer support and evolving marketing opportunities, most agents suggest getting back to the basics in an effort to fortify customer relationships. Here are a few agent-tested best practices for increasing customer loyalty.

Do your homework. Daniel S. Wilkey, president of Close Point Communications Inc., an independent agency based just outside Baltimore, believes that knowing your own business and then getting to know the customer’s business just as well is key to building loyalty. “Show your customer that you are interested in their business model and will help them to develop custom solutions that meet their needs,” said Wilkey, whose agency boasts a customer-retention rate in excess of 95 percent. “This is something that I would like to see more of from our industry.”

Domville agreed that you cannot provide great service without getting to know what makes the customer tick. “Some customers are extremely numbers-driven. Some customers just want a quality network. Other customers simply want a returned phone call when they are looking for answers,” he explained.

And once you get to know your clients, Scharf suggested finding ways to drive more business to them — and not just with your own solutions. “Nothing instills more loyalty than directly impacting a client’s revenue stream, especially when it has no direct attachment to your own products or services,” he said.

Be proactive. Sandy Adams, managing partner of Roanoke, Va.-based agency Choice Communications Group, said being proactive and calling customers to tell them about new products, pricing and promotions is key to maintaining customer loyalty. Simply staying in touch, added Janet Clark, president of Integrated Communications Inc., can go a long way.

“Consistent and frequent contact is a must,” Scharf agreed. “Staying in the forefront of your clients’ minds keeps you ahead of your competition.”

Wilkey explained that each of the agents at Close Point Communications is required to make quarterly visits with each customer. Whether it’s a two-minute engagement just to check in or something more lengthy when changes are being considered, he said these meetings help the agency show it is in touch with technological advances and industry standards and always considering client needs against this knowledge.

However, being proactive about customer contact can be as simple as returning a phone call or e-mail. “How many times have you been waiting on a response from a carrier or a vendor and you simply aren’t sure if your issue is being worked? A simple e-mail response is enough to keep the communication open,” said Domville. “It only takes a minute.”

Get organized. Domville said spending a few more dollars to get organized is a worthwhile investment. “Find a set of good tools to help you manage and document your daily business,” he advised. “A good CRM tool can help you interact with your customers more effectively by sharing service updates, inventory information and more. Customer loyalty is sure to follow.”

Something that could help an agent stay organized is instituting the practice of documenting everything. Domville said in order to be a reliable partner, one needs to keep track of all e-mails, proposals, contracts, letters and so on. “I can’t tell you how many times we have been called upon by customers to produce documentation to help them with a pricing issue or documentation on a service level issue,” Domville explained. “When we have been able to produce the correct documentation in a timely fashion, our customers were impressed.”

Ensure accuracy. Close Point Communications’ Wilkey said accuracy is mandatory for establishing customer trust and loyalty. “Some would think that, in this industry, it would be obvious, but it boggles my mind how many people are representing our industry that do not ensure the service matches the need and shortchange the necessary upfront planning that is required to make client operations successful,” he explained, adding that these missteps undermine the customer relationship from the start.

In addition to making sure pricing and other proposal elements are correct, Domville said setting accurate expectations also is a must. “Under-promise and over-deliver,” said Domville. “A customer is rarely disappointed when you set expectations correctly on the front end of a project. There is nothing worse that telling a customer that a circuit will be installed in 30 days and it comes in on the 45th day. Be honest with yourself and the customer.”

Do the right thing. Customers will remain loyal if they truly believe an agent is always doing what’s in their best interest. Choice Communications Group’s Adams said agents should always let their customers know how much they appreciate their business and always do what’s right for the customer. “It will come back to you,” Adams said.

Scharf agreed. “It is a difficult challenge at times to recommend a solution that you know as an agent is not the most lucrative for your business, but is in the client’s best interest,” he said. “Consistently making recommendations that are in the client’s best interest will make them see you as a valuable resource and generate loyalty.”

For example, Wilkey said a loyal customer of three years called him one day with the news that he had made a mistake and had switched his lines to another provider without first consulting the customer. The new carriers had dropped the customer’s lines, and the customer needed Wilkey’s help to get them back up and operating. “Even though I was losing the business, I did what was right in my eyes and got the customer back up and running,” Wilkey explained. “After that contract expired, the client not only came back to [Close Point Communications], but has given me two other referrals … all in a day’s work!”


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