“When you change your thought process and go to thinking about the relationship with the customer, and the service that you’re providing the customer, then all of a sudden transactional liabilities go away” says Chris Zane, Founder and President of Zane’s Cycles in Branford, CT. Zane Cycles was recently featured online at Inc.com.
“If I don’t make money on one individual transaction but the customer’s satisfied and the customer’s happy, then he’ll come back over and over and over again.”
As with any entrepreneur, he has tried things that didn’t work, and one of his earliest mistakes was thinking he was in the bike business. “Over time,” Zane says, “you come to realize that you’re really not selling a specific product, you’re selling a solution to a problem.” This realization “made it so that we could recognize the value of the relationship with the customer and not just the bicycle stuff that we were selling.”
At Zane’s Cycles, focusing on the relationship with customers has been the foundation for proven success. “We started with the fact that we were going to solve problems for customers. We were going to create this environment where they wanted to be,” and for Zane, the rest was history. “Consistent growth for the next 23 years,” says Zane, who expects to close 2011 with $21 million in sales.
Here are some of the problem-solving, relationship-building business practices that have contributed the success of Zane’s Cycles:
Sell Experiences. Zane tells his customers that riding the bike for the first time for a 7-year-old isn’t just a minor accomplishment; it’s the “first real freedom that kid has ever experienced away from the parental grip.” He creates experiences that will make customers feel good about the products.
Don’t Nickel & Dime. Zane decided a long time ago to stop charging for any add-on that would cost less than a dollar. “We’re looking at the lifetime value of the customer. Why ostracize someone over one or two things that might cost us money when understanding the lifetime value gives us the ability to justify it?”
Don’t Chalk Up Casualties of Business. When Zane hears of a customer that had a negative experience, he empowers his managers to go over-and-above to change the unhappy customer’s mind. Zane says a happy customer will shop at his store for years to come – and tell his friends about it. This lifetime loyalty more than makes up for the initial expense of making the customer happy.
Be Flexible. Not every policy Zane has tried worked out. Zane has encouraged new entrepreneurs and less experienced business people to take things step by step. “Put things into place that are customer focused, that are lifetime relationship focused. And then you can tweak them,” to do what needs to be done “to move the company to the next level.”
See the Full Potential. “How many different transactions will I have with a customer?” Zane asks. For Zane, the average lifetime customer brings in $12,500 in revenue; “that subsequently turns into about $5,600 in profit… I need to look at that first-time customer like a $5,600 profitable customer and not the $2 I might make on a tube because he just happened by the store to get a flat replaced.”
Building lifetime loyalty is the primary purpose behind any good customer rewards program. The points should be easy to earn and be redeemable for a variety of rewards – rewards that are valuable to your customers. Members should be recognized, singled out and treated as if they were the most important customers out there – because the are! The more valued they feel, the better relationship you will be able to build with them – and that valued relationship is what will keep them coming back to your business for a lifetime.
In his book Reinventing the Wheel: The Science of Creating Lifetime Customers, Chris Zane writes, “No matter what kind of business you run, you should always be in the relationship-building and experience-selling business because that’s where you find the greatest success.”
Where do you begin when changing your focus from transactional to lifetime customers?
What business practices have you initiated to promote lifetime loyalty?