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How to Get Customer Follow Up Right

April 7, 2016 • 7 mins read

Ahmad El-Najjar

Policy and Communications

Your customers are your bread and butter—literally. No customers, no bread or butter…or kale or jello or whichever staple of your diet. So, how do you manage customer follow up? (You are following up with your customers, right?)

Most small businesses rely on repeat customers, those lovely people who keep coming back, who tell their friends about you, and who count on your staying in business. Of course, in order to grow your business, it’s essential to continually grow your repeat and new customer base. One of the easiest ways of doing this, beyond good, old-fashioned quality customer service, is by following up.

Follow-up for small businesses is the same, in theory, as follow-up for any relationship. It means that you keep doing something you’ve done or started doing, especially to build on earlier work. Follow up is basically the strategic continuation of an initial action. For small businesses, that initial action might be a sale or simply a conversation.

Let’s say a customer drops by your business, asks about, or even purchases some goods or services from you, and then leaves. What do you do next? How do you build a relationship that will bring that customer back?

There are a lot of answers out there to this question, because everybody who’s ever been in business has given it some thought. We’ll take it step-by-step.

According to the not-so-subtly titled No B.S. Direct Marketing: The Ultimate No-Holds-Barred Kick-Butt Take-No-Prisoners Direct Marketing for Non-Direct Marketing Businesses, the biggest challenges to customer follow up are the result of one, or a combination, of the following:

  • Failure to gather contact information.
  • Failure to follow up with new leads.
  • Not rescuing lost customers.
  • Failure to follow up with referrals.
  • No instant follow up with new customers.

So, how do you avoid these missteps and master the art of follow-up? Three simple rules: 1) Get contact info. 2) Track contact info. 3) Use contact info.

In short: Get, Track, Use!

Get: Gathering Contact Information

The most important component of follow-up is getting the information that allows you to…well…follow-up. Nowadays, the easiest and most economic follow-up is with email. Email is no longer just sending people a message; it’s the key to unlocking a series of points of contact—from their associated Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, to their mailing address.

Think email marketing is passé? We’ve got four statistics that tell a different story:

Because email is the building block of a robust follow-up system, we asked our Townsquared NYC members their most effective tools for gathering emails. Specifically, we wanted to know, what are their best practices for collecting and using emails to keep in touch with customers, and to turn those new customers into loyal repeat buyers.

collecting customer emails

In other words, there are as many creative ways to gather emails as there are small businesses.

The folks over at digital marketing company Vertical Response offer an overview of some additional quick and easy tools for collecting customer emails. Here are some standouts:

  • Create a “sign up” call to action on your Facebook business page.
  • Include a link to sign up for your newsletter in your personal email signature.
  • If you have a retail store, place a newsletter sign-up clipboard and a fishbowl for business cards next to every register. Have your employees mention the newsletter and emphasize its benefits—exclusive discounts, events, educational information, reminders, and so on.
  • Got a list of snail mail addresses without emails? Send a postcard. Include an offer that can be redeemed when the recipient signs up for your newsletter. Canva has a free and easy-to-use postcard/poster designer tool.
  • Edit your Twitter business profile to include a link to your email sign-up form.
  • Post an offer or photo of an item to give away on Instagram (or Twitter, or Facebook). Include a link asking people to sign up to participate.

All of these tips can be helpful in growing your email contact list, adding subscribers to your newsletter, and acquiring followers on social media.

Now, how do you manage all these glorious new contacts?

Track: Manage those emails

One word: CRM. Alright, not really a word, but an acronym—it stands for Customer Relationship Manager, and there’s a whole host of businesses that offer this service through their own CRM software. These services can be steeply priced, depending on their level of sophistication, so we’ll look at the benefits of using a CRM system and one of the economical (free) options out there.

A Customer Relationship Manager system is just what it sounds like, a way to manage your relationships with your customers. Taken broadly, one can think of a “customer” as anybody who interacts in some way with your business. This could be anything from a Facebook “like” to a big-ticket purchase to a “just-browsing” walk-in. These interactions, and everything in between, is a customer relationship and they can be translated into success for your bottom line.

Essentially, all CRMs do the same thing: keep track of your customers in a database. At its most rudimentary, a CRM is a spreadsheet with customer names and contact information. Thankfully, technology has advanced pretty far since that antiquated and fairly static version of a CRM.

CRM dashboard customer follow up
You should definitely match your socks and your CRM graphs.

Now, you’ve got systems capable of tracking and segmenting your customers along lines such as age, gender, recent purchases, and favorite social media pages, just to name a few. These super robust systems are fantastic for very targeted marketing and outreach. However, if you know your customers, know your product, and know your goals, having the National Security Agency design you a highly complex CRM that costs an arm and leg is likely a bit heavy-handed. With the wide range of capabilities among free CRM service providers, we’ll take a look at just one of the more lightweight and easy-to-use free CRM systems: Hubspot’s.

Hubspot is a free CRM service that doesn’t come with all the bell and whistles—which actually makes it ideal for small to mid-size businesses and, being free, couldn’t be more economical.

You’d first enter the contacts you do have into the system. Once you’ve done that, you can begin organizing those contacts in the manner best suited to your business. Because growing your list of contacts is essential, Hubspot allows you to integrate their CRM with your email and web browser. This then allows you to keep track of every email and every web interaction. Hubspot goes a step further here and adds in the company data of the contact if it’s from one of the 13 million businesses they have on file. What makes Hubspot a better system than many of the other free services is that you can have unlimited contacts, unlimited usage of the CRM, and unlimited data to host all your contacts. As Hubspot points out on their website: “Free CRM Means Free CRM.”

Again, there are countless CRM systems available and what you use should depend on your goals, how the CRM integrates with tools you already use, and the price. Regardless of how sophisticated a system you use, a CRM is a must, whether it’s a clipboard and a well-maintained Excel file or a supercomputer that downloads your customers’ favorite memory through satellite brain scans…no, that one doesn’t exist. Yet. But you get the idea.

Now what?

Now that you’ve collected your contacts, stored them in a CRM, you’re (almost) ready to use them! Deciding how to use these contacts means deciding how you want to get your message out. The simplest and most cost-effective ways are going to be your newsletter, email marketing, and social media.

Stay tuned next week for the follow-up on customer follow up, in which we’ll talk about how to use the goldmine of data you’ve collected!


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