Know Thy Customer….Or At Least Be Able to Reach Them!

By: John Matthews, founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc.

The conversation usually starts like this:

“So, do you know your customer?”

“Of course, I know my customers, most by name.”

“Great, let’s communicate to them that you have a sale this weekend.”

“[cricket sounds]”

Call me a pragmatist, but this is a typical conversation with a small business operator. They may know their customers but challenge them to put that into action, and many are woefully lacking in customer data. They know their customers, but they have no way of being able to communicate with them. So, they sit and wait for customers to come to them or spend a disproportionate amount of their money advertising.

While gathering customer contact information may seem tedious, the benefits are immense. First, customer contact information is the single-most powerful way to give the operator the chance of holding on to a loyal customer. In other words, it is harder for that customer to leave, if the operator can find them. Second, terrific ideas can be communicated instantly to customers. Imagine a database of 1,000 customer emails and the ease of announcing an event. Lastly, instant communication can be easily cascaded to customers own networks.

In time, the operator will find that not having a customer database is more time-consuming than managing and maintaining one. By a longshot. It is not even close. In my business, I maintain extremely detailed customer and contact information that can be categorized and placed into implementation mode in a moment’s notice. Communicating to thousands is as effortless as sending an email, tweet or posting a blog. Reaching this same audience without a detailed database would be impossible.

Reachable Customers: So, where do I start? Gather contact information on your customers. Ever walk into a sandwich store and they have a fish bowl collecting business cards for a free lunch? It isn’t just to give out a free sandwich—it is about gathering customer contact information from the business cards. It may seem elementary, but it is a very effective way to collect data. The fish bowl strategy is super-easy. Collecting 50 business cards a week will produce upwards of 2,500 electronic customers per year. Whether customers drop in a business card for a chance to win a product or fill out a customer information card, every customer visit to your store should be viewed as an opportunity for you to obtain their contact information in your effort to make them a customer-for-life.

Capture The Flag: Customer data is mission critical in order to effectively maintain and grow your business. Failing to capture the customer contact information, or worse, losing the data once you have it is the path to going out of business. In the event the customer does not have a business card, have blank sign-up forms for those customers and ask for the following information:  a) name; b) job title (optional); c) address; d) phone; and e) email address.

Time-Shift Strategies: Think of the possibilities. A customer database that is easily communicated to can be organized in advance so that marketing communications can be released in a well-thought, prudent manner. Rather than haphazardly spending advertising dollars in the hope of driving business, the operator could systematically— and cost effectively— launch marketing campaigns in a precise strategy. Each communication could provide a building block for an aggregate brand experience.

Become An Epicenter: Communication directly to customers enable those customers to then forward onto to their networks – networks that you currently do not have access to. This cascading of information allows your customers to become mini epicenters for your communications and over time, will exponentially grow your customer base. Establishing your organization as the epicenter for information and communication quickly conveys to others that the operation is “where it is at!”

Communication Made Easy: One-on-one marketing to customers who have “subscribed” to your database by giving you their email address is the most cost-effective form of marketing today.  Utilize the Fish Bowl as one of many customer database-gathering tools to build your electronic customer database. Getting people to follow you on Twitter, LinkedIn, or joining your Facebook group or following your blog are other ways to have customer groups at the ready for your communications. Setting these databases up in advance enables your store to effectively reach a myriad of customer groups at the stroke of a key.

It is one thing to know your customers, it is another thing to be able to reach them.

John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries.  With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.

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