The Important Practice of Following Up
When a business has effective and consistent followup processes in place it ensures that new clients are moved seamlessly through the buying cycle and that every client who contacts the business receives the appropriate response in a timely manner. However, this is also an area that can be missing a formal process and when it is missing in a business (or left to the discretion of individual staff) opportunities may be missed and existing client relationships may be impacted negatively. Here are some key areas where followup processes are needed and some suggestions for the type of procedures that should be in place.
Following up with potential clients
A client may take a period of time before they choose to purchase a product or service, especially if it’s a large purchase, has many features to consider or the compatibility with existing items needs to be confirmed first (eg: will this software integrate with my existing IT setup, etc.) which is why is having an effective followup process helps to improve the chances of a client deciding to buy. For example, imagine that you sell luxury cars as a business. Most clients will need time to consider such a large purchase so a process that includes collecting contact details at the end of initial discussions and scheduling a mutually agreed time to touchbase again (even if it’s just a rough timeframe such as a week) will keep the discussion going until they’ve had enough time and information to come to a decision. Collecting contact details such as email addresses and asking if they’d like to be added to your mailing list will also ensure they will receive relevant information and any special offers in the meantime (which may also encourage them to buy at a later date).
When the first followup call is made there are two possible outcomes which also require followup processes. One, you will speak to them and be able to find out if they have made a decision, require further information, need to schedule a test drive or need more time to think (in which case a new timeframe for contacting them again should be confirmed). Two, you will reach their answering service and only be able to leave a message. Ideally they will respond to your message in a couple of days and you will be able to continue discussions with them or if they haven’t responded after a week making a second call is a good strategy. This is because clients don’t always get around to returning calls or when they haven’t returned a call after a number of days they may feel awkward about making the call because they didn’t get back to you earlier. Completing a second followup call (when you haven’t heard back from them) removes both potential barriers and provides the opportunity to move the process forward. Once again you may either speak to them directly or only be able to leave a message (and as further followups are unlikely to result in anything different it makes sense to end the followup at this secondary point if there is still no response).
Having a consistent plan such as the one outlined above to continue the process of speaking with a potential client until they’ve come to a decision, provides opportunities to further market products or services to them, address any queries or concerns and demonstrate that your business follows through on what it promises by making the followup calls (even if you can only leave a message). Creating a positive impression in this way is likely to encourage them to buy from you in the future (if not right now) and/or refer their friends.
Following up a client request
Sometimes a new or existing client may ask a question or request information. Responding to their request quickly creates a positive image about the level of customer service and either establishes or maintains a strong connection with them which will help prevent them going elsewhere for the same product or service. However, as it may not always be possible to achieve a quick turnaround on requests when the business is busy, has limited staff available or the item requested requires further research, providing an expected response timeframe instead will effectively manage their expectations. Sometimes the original timeframe may be impacted by unexpected delays, in which case resetting their expectations accordingly and explaining the situation will help maintain a positive image and ensure that there is a plan in place to address their request.
Following up on all clients
When a business has no processes for followup in place, limited staff to manage the volume of enquiries or simply becomes too busy some client followups can easily be missed. In an effort to maximise time available judgements can sometimes be made about which clients are worthwhile following up (which can also depend upon the individual perspective of the staff member answering their call). This is where a set process for identifying, prioritising and handling the different types of enquiries will help ensure that all enquiries are answered, that each client is handled appropriately and a positive impression is created of the business. For example, if it’s clear from initial discussions that a client is still in the early buying stage then an email template which includes relevant information for this stage of the process (in attachments or links) can be used to address their enquiry and allow staff to move onto assisting other clients. At this point (in addition to collecting contact details) a follow up call should also be scheduled to continue developing the relationship with them and proactively managing further calls because they know someone will be in contact with them again soon (eg: I have some information I can email you which will answer a lot of your queries and provide you with some comprehensive information about our service. How about I contact you in a couple of days after you’ve had time to look through it and then I can answer any further queries you may have?).
Depending on the range of products or services a business may offer and/or the types of clients a variety of email templates may be needed with different types of information. Targeted email templates like this will achieve a number of positive outcomes: One, they will be more effective at converting an enquiry to new business because the client is receiving information relevant to them that is likely to appeal to them. Two, it shows that the person who took their call listened to their request and provided the right type of information accordingly, creating a level of trust which will help to establish a positive client relationship. Three, providing information which answers common questions about the product or service can free up staff from answering these types of questions for every new client. Information like this can be further enhanced (in terms of its usefulness) with documents such as FAQs and/or a list of items to consider when purchasing the item (although be careful of adding in too many attachments or links as this can make the email appear very cluttered and overwhelming). Ensuring that every client (even if they don’t appear to have the potential to become a client) receives the same high level of service as everyone else is key to maintaining a positive brand image of the business (especially in an age of online reviews and social media) in addition to capturing every possible opportunity.
Following up with past clients
Unexpected new opportunities can sometimes be found when touching base with past clients of a business. A simple personal contact may be all it takes to reignite their interest and encourage them to start buying again. For example, imagine you sell cleaning products online and after a period of time you notice that some clients (who consistently used to buy from you in the past) have now stopped buying. This could be for many reasons but it may also be something that needs to be addressed such as problems with the ordering system, one of their favourite products being out of stock for a long time or a negative experience with one of their orders etc and this is where a followup can help identify something that could be holding your business back. Depending on the nature of the relationships you have with your clients, the number of clients in your database and associated staff resources this may be done via phone (which is the most ideal approach for gaining immediate feedback and clarification) or as a short friendly email (possibly with a special offer as an incentive for them to return). The contact process itself may be enough to encourage them to return, it may identify an issue that needs to be addressed (before they can return) or maybe they’re simply no longer in need of your service or product (eg: their children have grown and are no longer in need of baby clothes) which will help tidy up your client database by removing them from any future marketing. At the very least touching base with them shows they are still valued and even if they don’t return to purchase from you they may encourage others to do so.
Following up on the followups
For followups to happen consistently in a business there should be a process and system for managing them which should include items such as the following: One, clear guidance on how to followup with each type of client to ensure that consistent practices are maintained by every staff member (eg: how many followups to make, what information to provide, suggested timeframe between contact points, what language or email templates are to be used and at what point, etc.). Two, followups with clients are only worthwhile when they happen so a system needs to be implemented for scheduling and managing followups (eg: creating tasks in a client database system, booking in a calendar or setting up an electronic reminder system, etc) to ensure that no followup is missed (especially when staff are on leave). Three, notes about the discussions and outcome of each followup such as where the client is in the buying process, what additional information they need etc should also be recorded in the system. If this is located centrally and accessible to everyone then even when some staff are absent the followup process will continue to function well and provide a history of discussions for future reference purposes. Additionally if staff are measured as part of their role on their ability to convert new enquiries into clients then it will provide an easy way to track progress, address performance issues when sales targets are not met and provide useful data in the case of any client complaints about service levels.
Good followup practices in a business ensure that new clients move seamlessly through the buying process, that they are left with a positive impression of what it means to be a client of the business (even prior to buying a product or service) and that existing client relationships (and even some past ones) are managed in a way that will encourage future business. As followup practices can generate new income for a business it is essential that there are processes and systems in place to ensure that they become an important and consistent practice in every business.
Photo credit: iStock.com/IIdo Frazao