Satisfaction

Relationship marketing relies upon the communication and acquisition of consumer requirements solely from existing customers in a mutually beneficial exchange usually involving permission for contact by the customer through an "opt-in" system.  With particular relevance to customer satisfaction the relative price and quality of goods and services produced or sold through a company alongside customer service generally determine the amount of sales relative to that of competing companies. Although groups targeted through relationship marketing may be large, accuracy of communication and overall relevancy to the customer remains higher than that of direct marketing, but has less potential for generating new leads than direct marketing and is limited to Viral marketing for the acquisition of further customers.

Retention

A key principle of relationship marketing is the retention of customers through varying means and practices to ensure repeated trade from preexisting customers by satisfying requirements above those of competing companies through a mutually beneficial relationship. This technique is now used as a means of counterbalancing new customers and opportunities with current and existing customers as a means of maximizing profit and counteracting the "leaky bucket theory of business" in which new customers gained in older direct marketing oriented businesses were at the expense of or coincided with the loss of older customers.  This process of "churning" is less economically viable than retaining all or the majority of customers using both direct and relationship management as lead generation via new customers requires more investment.

Many companies in competing markets will redirect or allocate large amounts of resources or attention towards customer retention as in markets with increasing competition it may cost 5 times more to attract new customers than it would to retain current customers, as direct or "offensive" marketing requires much more extensive resources to cause defection from competitors.  However, it is suggested that because of the extensive classic marketing theories center on means of attracting customers and creating transactions rather than maintaining them, the majority usage of direct marketing used in the past is now gradually being used more alongside relationship marketing as its importance becomes more recognizable.

It is claimed by Reichheld and Sasser that a 5% improvement in customer retention can cause an increase in profitability of between 25 and 85 percent (in terms of net present value) depending on the industry. However Carrol, P. and Reichheld, F. dispute these calculations, claiming they result from faulty cross-sectional analysis.

According to Buchanan and Gilles, the increased profitability associated with customer retention efforts occurs because of several factors that occur once a relationship has been established with a customer.

  • The cost of acquisition occurs only at the beginning of a relationship, so the longer the relationship, the lower the amortized cost.
  • Account maintenance costs decline as a percentage of total costs (or as a percentage of revenue).
  • Long-term customers tend to be less inclined to switch, and also tend to be less price sensitive. This can result in stable unit sales volume and increases in dollar-sales volume.
  • Long-term customers may initiate free word of mouth promotions and referrals.
  • Long-term customers are more likely to purchase ancillary products and high margin supplemental products.
  • Customers that stay with you tend to be satisfied with the relationship and are less likely to switch to competitors, making it difficult for competitors to enter the market or gain market share.
  • Regular customers tend to be less expensive to service because they are familiar with the process, require less "education", and are consistent in their order placement.
  • Increased customer retention and loyalty makes the employees' jobs easier and more satisfying. In turn, happy employees feed back into better customer satisfaction in a 'virtuous circle'.

Relationship marketers speak of the "relationship ladder of customer loyalty". It groups types of customers according to their level of loyalty. The ladder's first rung consists of "prospects", that is, people that have not purchased yet but are likely to in the future. This is followed by the successive rungs of "customer", "client", "supporter", "advocate", and "partner". The relationship marketer's objective is to "help" customers get as high up the ladder as possible. This usually involves providing more personalized service and providing service quality that exceeds expectations at each step.

Customer retention efforts involve considerations such as the following:

  1. Customer valuation - Gordon (1999) describes how to value customers and categorize them according to their financial and strategic value so that companies can decide where to invest for deeper relationships and which relationships need to be served differently or even terminated.
  2. Customer retention measurement - Dawkins and Reichheld (1990) calculated a company's "customer retention rate". This is simply the percentage of customers at the beginning of the year that are still customers by the end of the year. In accordance with this statistic, an increase in retention rate from 80% to 90% is associated with a doubling of the average life of a customer relationship from 5 to 10 years. This ratio can be used to make comparisons between products, between market segments, and over time.
  3. Determine reasons for defection - Look for the root causes, not mere symptoms. This involves probing for details when talking to former customers. Other techniques include the analysis of customers' complaints and competitive benchmarking (see competitor analysis).
  4. Develop and implement a corrective plan - This could involve actions to improve employee practices, using benchmarking to determine best corrective practices, visible endorsement of top management, adjustments to the company's reward and recognition systems, and the use of "recovery teams" to eliminate the causes of defections.

A technique to calculate the value to a firm of a sustained customer relationship has been developed. This calculation is typically called customer lifecycle value.

Retention strategies also build barriers to customer switching. This can be done by product bundling (combining several products or services into one "package" and offering them at a single price), cross selling (selling related products to current customers), cross promotions (giving discounts or other promotional incentives to purchasers of related products), loyalty programs (giving incentives for frequent purchases), increasing switching costs (adding termination costs, such as mortgage termination fees), and integrating computer systems of multiple organizations (primarily in industrial marketing).

Many relationship marketers use a team-based approach. The rationale is that the more points of contact between the organization and the customer, the stronger the bond, and the more secure the relationship.

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