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Courting customers: strategies to create enduring customer relationships

By Deborah Porter author of article
Source: Interloc News, September 1997

Although you might think customers are notoriously disloyal, the truth is, most people don't like the uncertainty of change and often actively avoid it. This is good news for book dealers!

Subscribers who are attracting new customers via the Interloc system and public database site on the Internet have an outstanding opportunity to increase sales and build lasting customer relationships. If customers find that your business provides positive experiences, chances are they'll come back for more—and as an added bonus, they'll tell others about you and the services you provide.

The Importance of Nurturing Customer Relationships

In the book, Future Tense, the Business Realities of the Next Ten Years, authors Ian Morrison and Greg Schmid, note that it is becoming increasingly difficult to develop and secure long-term customer relationships due to the demise of the traditional mass marketplace. As they see it, these relationships are critical to business security and profitability. They write, "Making the customer a partner, exceeding expectations, and delighting customers on the basis of service, design, and originality may be the differentiators and selling points for the future."

Gaining Customer Share

The cost of attracting new customers is by far greater than the cost of generating business from existing customers. This is why many businesses have adopted one of hottest marketing trends of the 90's: database marketing. The concept behind this strategy is to focus on gaining customer share as opposed to the traditional business focus of increasing market share.

New information technology now allows business owners to track customer preferences and buying habits so businesses can tailor their products and services to customer wants and needs. According to Seth Godin, author of the book eMarketing, database marketing allows you to take all of the information you gather about your customers and use it to reach them on a one-to-one basis.

"If you know things about your customers, you can offer them products and services they want," he writes. "Doing the work for the time-stressed consumer helps both of you. Database marketing gives you the tools you need to gain information about consumers and satisfy their needs."

Obtaining The Data

There are many creative ways you can apply the concept of database marketing to the out of print book market. The key is to gather information from your customers as accurately and unobtrusively as possible. Then, take a look at the data and determine how you can serve your customers better.

An easy and inexpensive way to start is to distribute a brief questionnaire in your shop or through your regular mailings. Ask customers about their reading habits and preferences, and allow room for them to comment on your services and provide suggestions.

Another more sophisticated way to track customer activity is to setup a database system that will automatically track purchases for you. You could, for example, distribute frequent buyer cards to your better customers. These cards can be used to automatically track each purchase, allowing you to compile valuable information you can use to target these customers with special lists and sales promotions.

If you do not have the expertise to set up such a system for yourself, there are hundreds of companies across the nation that specialize in creating database systems tailored to your particular needs. These companies are usually referred to as database marketing consulting firms or database marketing software and systems developers.

Putting the Data to Work for You

After you've compiled the data, take note of emerging trends. In this way, you can anticipate your customer's future needs. You can use this data to better target your customers based on their reading preferences. You'll then be able to generate sales by recommending new authors, offering discount incentives, and skewing sales promotions to meet these specialized needs.

Special Lists and Catalogs

One of the most popular and effective ways to generate sales is to segment your customer base by readership preferences and develop special lists or catalogs targeted toward these preferences. The other day one of our subscribers mentioned that she had sold a book to a customer from Denmark via Interloc's web site. After receiving the book, the customer contacted her asking for a list of all of the books she had on architecture.

Although she didn't have a large supply of these titles, she compiled a hit list in Record Manager, used the quoting feature to generate a special list and then sent the list to her customer via e-mail. He responded by purchasing 40 books! This subscriber responded rapidly to a customer's request that was well worth her time and effort.

Another Interloc subscriber who is active in building special collections for several large libraries and private institutions frequently compiles special lists and catalogs targeted exclusively to meet the needs of these customers. He's found that these lists help him maintain strong relationships with these customers and allows him to generate sales when business is slower than usual.

There are many ways you can use the information obtained from database marketing efforts to develop and enhance customer loyalty. Here are just a couple of ideas to get you started:

Develop and Promote Upcoming Events

Use the information you've obtained to help you plan and develop special sales events. You can then target your customer base more effectively with inexpensive customized mailers promoting these events.

Create Associations for Your Customers

Send a list of obscure mystery titles to your customers that enjoy mysteries. Include brief, yet informative annotations that will pique interest. One effective way to generate sales is to compare writing styles of these little-known authors with those of bestselling authors. This association will enable customers to make more informed choices about their purchases.

Reward Customers for their Patronage

Obtain information about your customer's shopping habits so you can show your appreciation by offering gift certificates or coupons for items your customers' value.

Develop Cooperative Promotions

Contact local businesses to develop cooperative promotions that will benefit both of you. If, for example, you discover that your customers enjoy gourmet coffee, offer a coupon for a free cup of coffee at a local gourmet coffee shop with their purchase of $10 or more. The coffee shop can then reciprocate and help you attract new customers by offering their customers a percentage discount coupon for books at your shop.

As competition heats up on the Internet and in the out of print book trade, keep your focus on those who have helped your business to grow. Know your customers, anticipate their needs, and then do all you can to meet and exceed their expectations. The result? Long-term customer relationships, increased customer share, and greater profitability, which translate into security for your business in today's volatile marketplace.