DEPARTMENTS


How Do You Recognize Your Top Customers?

By Nicole Wisniewski


Stop and think for a moment about what brand or service you love.

Maybe you're a top supporter of the Harley-Davidson brand, and not only do you own a Harley, but you also proudly wear Harley even when you're not on your bike. Or maybe you eat lunch every day at Chick-fil-A, and you have a favorite menu item and it fits your diet and lifestyle perfectly. Or possibly, each time you buy a new car, you insist that it's a MINI.

If you're a number one customer of a brand or service, you are what's referred to as a 1 percenter, or being in the top 1 percent of its customer base.

It's a great feeling to be a big supporter of something you love. Not only are you a repeat customer, but you also share your love of the brand or service with everyone you know. You are a happy customer, a loyal follower and a brand ambassador.

Now ask yourself, does that company know you are a top client of theirs? Do they do anything to acknowledge you as one of their best customers? Do they reward you in any special way? Do they act as if they even know you exist?

The answer can be somewhat shocking. Those questions might make you aware that your favorite brand or service doesn't do much to recognize or reward you as such a dedicated follower of theirs.

And they aren't the only ones. A 2011 Forrester Research and Heidrick & Struggles survey showed that 59 percent of chief marketing officers rank acquiring new customers as one of their top priorities. Yet, only 30 percent of them say they are focused on retaining their current customers as a top priority. And only 26 percent list better customer lifetime value and customer satisfaction/advocacy is a key objective. Jackie Huba, author of "Creating Customer Evangelists" and "Citizen Marketers," in her new book, "Monster Loyalty," details the data.

Huba defined 1 percenters in "Citizen Marketers." More significantly, she looked at online communities and tracked what percent of members in those communities created content and, therefore, were most engaged. Another 10 percent of the community interacted with that content by commenting on it or rating it, and the other 89 percent were just lurkers. The amount of super-engaged community members did not follow the usual 80/20 rule, which states that 80 percent of value comes from 20 percent of participants. "One percent is a very small part of the community and yet this disproportionate number was creating most of the value for the entire community," Huba explains.

Huba outlines some tips on how landscape business owners can create these passionate, loyal customer evangelists.

1.Think big. Make sure your customers know your business is about something bigger. "By bigger, I mean something emotional that people can believe in," Huba says. "Features and benefits speak to the analytical side of what you are selling. Your values, what your company believes in, and how you are changing customers' lives for the better, communicates the emotional side of what you are selling." Huba quotes one study that showed companies centered on the ideals of improving people's lives outperformed the market by a huge margin. Are you doing something to improve your community or support a cause that is bigger than your business?

2. Build community. People enjoy connecting with like-minded people. The MINI car brand does this through MINI Meetup groups where owners get together monthly in communities across the country for driving tours or to participate in local parades. People feel like they aren't only buying a MINI when they buy the car, but they are also "buying possible relationships and experiences with all of these people who love the same thing they do," Huba explains.

3. Give fans a name. Maker's Mark has the Maker's Mark Ambassadors program made up of customers who volunteer to tell others about the product and encourage bars that don't carry the brand to do so. They volunteer to spread the Marker's Mark word, and they are excited to do it. Creating a name for your 1 percenters assigns them an identity that comes with a set of recognizable behavioral or personal characteristics that everyone with that name shares, Huba points out. This can give your customers a sense of belonging, a feeling they are members of a special club.

We'll continue with three more of Huba's tips for creating customer evangelists in the November issue of Turf.

In the meantime, your first step is to identify your company's 1 percenters. Look at who refers your business most by making sure your salespeople ask customers how they heard about you. Engage customers who contact you for compliments or complaints; treat them with empathy since they have spent some of their limited time to reach out to you. Look at the people who comment on your blog and also identify evangelists of your brand on third-party Web forums and blogs. Embrace those people who have created content about your brand, as well as subscribers to your e-newsletters and social channels; they have already opted-in to hear from you.

"Creating a business that builds loyalty is not an overnight endeavor," Huba explains, "but it can be done."

Nicole Wisniewski is a 15-year green industry veteran and award-winning journalism and marketing professional. She is currently a senior project manager in The Davey Tree Expert Co.'s marketing/corporate communications department. Visit her blog at http://www.mybiggreenpen.com or reach her at nwisniewski@neo.rr.com.