“When you keep more of your customers and keep them happier, that’s a cost cutting strategy. It’s expensive to get new customers,” said consultant JoAnna Brandi of Boca Raton, who specializes in customer retention and uses the moniker, “The Customer Care Lady.”
For export consultant Jaime Sigal, nurturing customers means spending lots of time on the phone, talking with candy and cookie importers in Latin America who face huge obstacles to business: A banking crisis in Argentina. Political strife in Venezuela. Urban violence in Colombia.
Sigal knows many of his conversations won’t produce immediate sales, but he says it pays long term to listen.
“They want to talk. You have to show understanding,” said Sigal, president of Miami-based export consulting firm Trexco Inc., which specializes in food sales to Latin America. “You can’t say, ‘But last year, you bought $1 million from me by this time.’ You have to see what you can do to prudently extend credit or other assistance.”
That might mean working with clients to produce a smaller package that is more affordable for consumers in strapped economies, he suggested. Sigal said firms that pull back from customers in tough times run the risk their clients may look elsewhere in rosier days.
Candy importers in Latin America, for example, may opt to switch purchases from more expensive U.S. manufacturers to lower cost suppliers from Brazil, Colombia or Mexico.
“If you want to keep that client long term, you have to be pro-active,” Sigal said.
‘PULL OUT ALL THE STOPS’
Market researcher Rick Tobin said his company has become more aggressive with clients active in Latin America, sending in senior staff to help customers finetune strategies for slower times.
Among the firm’s recommendations: Research that more closely tracks the results of advertising campaigns, so that limited ad funds can be spent more effectively. And more customer-satisfaction surveys, so that businesses can better meet the needs of their existing customers.
“You don’t ever want to lose a client, but when economic times are tougher, you want to pull out all the stops, because what you don’t get is new clients,” said Tobin, president of Miami-based Strategy Research Corp., which specializes in Latin America and U.S. Hispanic markets.
Tobin hopes his aggressive approach can help Strategy Research grab market share from other research firms that “may not be as targeted.”
For Victoria Goldstein, president of the Latin American division of public relations firm Brodeur Worldwide, nurturing clients often means taking over more of the burden from public relations counterparts at the corporations she serves.