Customer Retention

In the 1990’s, three professors, Sasser, Hesketh and Schlesinger from Harvard Business School wrote a book called “The Service Profit Chain.” It was for me the definitive book on customer retention.

They posited that in the Industrial Distribution world if you increased customer retention by 5% you would increase the profitability of the business by 45%. That is very impressive.

With that said everyone in America should be trying to increase customer retention. In fact the Japanese taught us that with their – Customers for Life philosophy. Carl Sewell the renowned “automotive dealer” in Dallas, TX wrote a famous book with a Yale co-author called Customers for Life which still holds a lot of sway in the customer service world, and rightfully so.

The trick is it isn’t that easy to increase customer retention. We should be using the traditional tools of an “exit” interview as we do with employees. Talk to customers who have defected from you and find out where they went and what they like about that supplier. That will tell you what you need to do. Don’t ask them what you did wrong they will never tell you. Ask them what they like about doing business with the new supplier and they will gladly tell you that.

One last hint – don’t start asking questions like this unless you intend to start changing things. Better not to raise expectations that you have no intention of meeting. The time is now.