Acquiring Potential Customer Information - Four Ways to Increase the Lifetime Value of Your Customer
by: Tom Swanson
Having knowledge about your customer base has myriad benefits but, hands down, the most important benefit of obtaining this critical information is using it to establish a strong enough relationship with them to encourage repeat sales and boost their lifetime value. Lifetime value is a term for how much a loyal customer is worth - how much theyll spend - over the course of their relationship with your business. Hopefully, that relationship lasts their entire lifetime, literally.
That said, here are four ways to increase the lifetime value of your customers.
Add a Members-Only Section to Your Site
Encourage more customer interaction by adding a special members-only section to your website. This section should be a special area for existing customers and anyone else, for that matter - after they register (and give you their information in the process).
When your customers enter the members-only section, they should have access to member-only specials or discounts, as well as specialized information thats exclusive to members. An example would be a nutrition company offering the latest insights about health and nutrition.
If you provide enough value for your members, you can start to ask them to participate in activities that will give you more insight into their lifestyles - like quick surveys about their habits and what products or services they value the most. You can then gather that information and post it in your members-only section to provide compelling reasons for members to visit frequently.
Let the members know you appreciate their thoughts and value their opinions. The members-only title makes the area appear special - and it is - but dont limit access to the section; everyone who registers should be allowed to login and access the information. Remember, your goal is to collect information from as many existing and potential customers as possible.
Since youll be implementing a section to your site that has restricted access, youll need to integrate some sort of login function. A good IT staffer should be able to handle this no problem, but if youre a super-small operation and dont have that kind of resource, you can use a web-development tool like the one found at http://www.tools4webmasters.com/t4wsentry.htm. Yes, it costs money, but only about as much as it would to pay an IT professional to do the same thing, and sometimes taking the DIY approach can be more beneficial than you think - knowing how to manage the back end of your site can certainly come in handy.
Take Advantage of Message Boards
Taking advantage of online message boards is a great way to learn about your customers. Message boards are simply forums where people interested in the same topics can go to post their ideas and thoughts on subjects of their choice, get advice from experts, and socialize.
Like with the members-only section, youll want to include a registration section so visitors can join the board, and you can collect their information in the process. You dont have to require registration, but make sure its available. There are all sorts of great resources for this. My personal favorite is Invisions Power Board (http://www.invisionboard.com/ip.dynamic/products/index.html). Its easy to install and manage, and it has all the built-in tools youll ever need.
Once youve got some visitors to your message board, you can let them suggest topics that they want to discuss and you can be the moderator. This gives you a chance to learn what subjects concern them so you can provide targeted information for their needs. You can also post discussion topics of your own to see how people respond to them.
Visit your message boards frequently to find out what your customers are talking about - whats on their minds. These messages can provide invaluable insights into what your customers think and what they want. Not only are message boards a great tool for you to learn more about your customers, but they also create a sense of community that, if popular, will increase your site traffic dramatically. Really, theyre a must-have for your online presence.
Besides having a message board on your site, you can also visit other public message boards and even set up your own remote boards that are hosted on another site. The advantage to using these is that theyre hosted by sites that already get a lot of traffic, so you can really build up a user base even if your website doesnt get a lot of traffic. Some good places to establish free message boards are: Yahoo! Groups (http://groups.yahoo.com/), MSN Groups (http://groups.msn.com/), and Google Groups (http://groups.google.com/grphp?hl=en&tab=wg&q=).
Encourage Your Customers to Complete Satisfaction Surveys
When a customer makes a purchase on your website or in your store, send them a short satisfaction survey - either electronic via email or hardcopy via the regular old U.S. Postal Service. You can personalize the surveys depending on what they purchased, or you can just send out a standard survey to everyone.
Customers, the same as just about everyone, like to be appreciated. Satisfaction surveys show them that youre interested in their thoughts and that you value their patronage and their opinions. You might want to develop the surveys on your own, but you can easily have your employees circulate them. When you get them back, compile the results in a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel.
Like just about any method of acquiring data, its a good idea to give your customers an incentive to fill out the survey. For example, you could enter all of the completed surveys in a weekly or monthly drawing for a free product or service or some other prize.
Beef Up Your Referral System
In a previous article, I mentioned adding a tell-a-friend option to your website. Its a wonderful idea, but Id like to elaborate on that just a bit. You can greatly improve your rate of referrals if you offer an incentive - are you seeing a pattern yet? Encourage your customers to send their friends and family to your website by offering a referral bonus.
This special bonus can be in the form of discounts, free services, or - what I think is most effective - cold, hard cash. Everyone likes a little more cash in their pockets, and if they like your service already, they might drive a lot of customers your way - youll practically have another sales rep on your team. And be sure to make a big deal about the referral to everyone who is involved - remember, customers like to be appreciated.
An easy way to generate referrals is to print simple business cards that you can give to existing customers to hand out to their friends. Include your contact information, including your website address, and include the referral bonus system you have in place - you never know how big your referral system can get if you nurture it.
Implementing These Ideas
All of these suggestions for increasing the lifetime value of your customers through customer-data acquisition are easy and inexpensive to implement, and theyll have you reaping huge benefits in the form of a larger customer base and increased lifetime value of those customers. With just a little effort on your part you can learn a lot about what your customers think and what they want and, in turn, youll see your sales increase noticeably.
Tom Swansons experience in sales, design, marketing, copywriting, multi-media advertising, and publishing have given him incredible insight into the world of marketing both online and off. Combining creativity with real-world, hands-on experience, Tom writes articles to help local businesses learn to strategically leverage their Internet presence and capture easy online profits. His articles include thoughtful, down-to-earth explanations of various marketing media and philosophies, and local businesses can take away simple tools, ideas, and techniques that they can implement to shape their local Internet marketing efforts.