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Chamber speaker's advice: Value loyal customers

By Steve Huffman
shuffman@salisburypost.com
Alan Stafford told a group of business leaders Monday that many store owners err by targeting new customers and neglecting their longtime patrons.
Advertising, Stafford pointed out, is aimed at new customers, and seldom goes for those shoppers who have been gracing the doors of a business for years. The mistake behind such reasoning, Stafford said, is that longtime customers are the ones who make businesses profitable.
It takes five times as much advertising money to lure new customers to a business as it does to keep the current customers there, Stafford said.
“Current customers spend more,” he said. “You need repeat customers.”
Stafford is president of The Center for Executive Excellence and author of “Making Companies Work,” a book in which he predicted the mortgage meltdown, the severity of the current recession and the backlash against excessive executive compensation.
He was guest speaker for The Ultimate Power Lunch, a monthly event sponsored by the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce. Following the luncheon, Stafford led a seminar for chamber members. The event was held at Salisbury’s Holiday Inn.
The focus of Stafford’s talk was on customer service. It’s an essential part of any business, he said, and makes more of a difference in a company’s success than most people realize.
Stafford said many business owners think customer service means only dealing with an unhappy customer or thanking a customer for a purchase at the time of the sale. But he said there’s much more to it.
“Few businesses deliver excellent customer service,” he said. “And that’s a pity. If your customer isn’t happy, he’s going to be a one-time customer.”
Stafford said in this day and age, businesses that don’t supply excellent customer service are going to lose customers. He said a business that fails to look after its customers is going to lose them to a business that does.
“Your customers don’t say they’re leaving, and, bye, and they’re going somewhere else,” he said. “They’re just gone.”
Stafford reminded members of his audience that a dissatisfied customer seldom keeps his discontent to himself. In the Internet age, Stafford said, customers can blog and Twitter their complaints to countless others.
He laughed that if someone in his audience Monday did something that offended a customer just prior to lunch, the world could know of the situation within an hour.
“By the time you get back to your office, 10, 20 or 50,000 people might know what a bum you are,” Stafford said, laughing.
He reminded listeners that President Reagan once said he didn’t have to make everyone happy, just 51 percent of the voters. Such numbers don’t cut it in the world of business, Stafford said.
“It’s a new day, ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “You can’t afford any unhappy customers.”
But Stafford also reminded audience members that keeping customers isn’t that difficult if a business owner puts his mind to it, and trains his employees to do likewise.
“Be loyal to them and they’ll be loyal to you,” he said.

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