How to get customers like me to pay more

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I recently received an email survey from the Loggerhead Club & Marina in St. Petersburg, Fla. My Pursuit has been in the Hi & Dry there for several years, so it’s not the first time Loggerhead has sent me a survey.

“It’s important to survey periodically,” general manager Braden Thurber says, “to learn what we’re doing right, wrong and to listen to any ideas customers might have to improve their experience here. Our top priority is first-class service and long-term customer retention.”

Interestingly, Thurber’s comments confirmed two axioms for me. First, when excellent service is provided, customers will pay more. There are two other Hi & Dry operations that are both cheaper and more convenient to the cut I use to go out fishing in the Gulf. But I pay more to be at Loggerhead because my experience there is consistently excellent.

Second, the fastest way to find out what customers think of us is to ask them, remembering we don’t determine what good customer service is . . . only the customer can do that. We need to understand what they want.

Customer retention is every dealer’s and marina operator’s goal. Paul B. Brown, co-author of “Just Start: Take Action; Embrace Uncertainty, Create the Future,” published by Harvard Business Review Press, recently outlined the desirable benefits that great customer service can create. His premise is that if we turn a one-time buyer into a lifetime customer through our excellent customer service, six good things happen:

1. They stay with us longer. Acquiring new customers is expensive and customers taken care of have no reason to leave.

2. Our sales go up because customers have a reason to want to continue buying from us.

3. If our sales go up, the money customers are spending with us is money they’re not spending with others — our competition’s sales go down.

4. We can get customers to buy more. It’s always easier to sell additional products and services to people with whom we already have a good relationship and who like buying from us.

5. We can achieve higher margins, in part, because customers willingly pay more. If we have made our customers happy, what we offer becomes more valuable to them and they will be less sensitive to price. In many cases, people really do believe, as I obviously do by paying more at Loggerhead, that you get what you pay for.

6. As customer service brings about customer loyalty, a barrier to competition also builds. If we do a good job taking care of our customers, it’s going to be difficult for our competition to lure them away.

As business strategies go, then, zeroing in on delivering what the customer believes is good customer service is where it’s at. Once we know what they want, we should strive to meet — still better to exceed — their expectations.

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