happy-customer-279x300The word ‘return’ can make even the most seasoned sales associate quiver with fear. Yet the returning customer presents a golden opportunity for luxury associates to foster the customer relationship. Your mindset can play an important role in cultivating customer relationships. If you view “returns” as a hassle or something that causes you stress, then customers will sense your aggravation. But if you treat the return as an occasion to build and strengthen the connection you have to your customers, you will have laid the path for them to return again and again.

Jon Omer, Vice President Wholesale Distribution at Fabergé said:

Someone once told me it takes about nine times as much as to make a new customer, as it does to retain an old customer.

How much time do you spend fostering existing customer relationships versus attracting new customers?  And how do you get customers to return again and again?

Information is key to cultivating customer relationships. Not only do you want to collect information about your customer, but you want to reciprocate with your own contact information. Make sure you rehearse how to present your business card or contact information in a manner that inspires trust, even if customers are not so forthcoming to share their own data.

To help you develop on positive perspective of the word ‘RETURN’, consider this acronym:
Readiness – Expertise – Trustworthiness – Understanding – Responsibility

Readiness – Be ready for your customers by preparing open-ended questions in advance to help you establish an emotional connection. Be prepared to take note of important dates, celebrations, preferences, and personal details. Ensure you are practiced on how to present your contact information to the customer gracefully.

Expertise – Be an expert on your product and services. Share what new items or features may be debuting that might be of interest your customer. Offer to be available to answer any questions or concerns they may have in the future.

Trustworthiness – How many times has a sales associate asked to you provide a phone number or email address without first establishing a level of trust? If you take the time to create an emotional connection, customers will be more likely to share their personal information. In addition, if you explain why you’re asking for contact information – for example, to keep them informed of new products, upcoming events, sales, etc. – you will provide an incentive for customers to share their data.

Understanding –  It’s not the number of questions you ask, but rather the kind of questions you ask that will help you build trust in your customer relationships. Asking open-ended and strategic questions will not only increase your warmth factor, you’ll also learn what your customers like and what features are most important to them. This earlier post will help you learn what questions to ask: “Good Salespeople Have Great Answers, but Great Salespeople Have Great Questions.”

Responsibility – As a luxury associate, you are responsible for cultivating the client relationship. Consider all the reasons you may have to reconnect with a customer once you’ve made the sale: a handwritten thank you note, a follow-up call to make sure everything is working, a check-in to ensure the gift was delivered, a service reminder, or an invitation to an event.  Additionally, clienteling software can help remind you of upcoming service appointments, special dates, and what’s on customers’ wish lists.

Nurturing – Any relationship requires nurturing and attention in order to grow. Luxury associates need to demonstrate genuine care and concern for their customers. Care needs to inform everything a luxury associate does: caring about the customer, caring about the customer’s needs, caring about the luxury experience, and caring about the presentation. Recently a Gartner Group study found 80 percent of your sales will come from just 20 percent of your existing customers. This is why it’s so important to continually nurture the customer relationship.

What occurs in a typical sales transaction is the associate invests time, energy and emotion into the pre-sale relationship. But once the customer “signs on the dotted line” the relationship ends for the sales associate, and he or she then focuses on the next sale.  Interestingly, Owen and Miller (2004) found that the customer’s interest in the relationship actually increases after the sale. (“I can’t wait to show everyone that new jacket I bought.”) This creates a relationship gap:

Gap

For luxury associates, this “gap” can become a fertile time frame in which to build and nurture the customer relationship

If an unhappy  customer comes back to exchange or return an item, to have something serviced or replaced, or even to voice a complaint, then treating the experience as a way to strengthen and develop an ongoing relationship will ensure they’ll return with smiles on their faces next time.