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A bird in hand…

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The idiom goes that “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.”  So in their marketing efforts to build viable enterprises why do so many small businesses struggle so hard to cultivate new unproven customers when this process is far more difficult, time consuming, and costly to do than creating programs to keep existing customers happy and content?

Seth Godin, one of the thought leaders and marketing guru’s I follow, had a interesting blog post in this regard called Thinking lifetime (don’t break the chain) which echoes a recent experience of my own which has me reeling with bewilderment over the lack of efforts many business invest into sustaining relationships with good customers.

If you have ever made the effort to patronize a local retail store only to have to wait patiently to make your purchase while a clerk absentmindedly takes phone calls, makes small talk,  and chatters on about the latest promotion with people who seemingly could not be bothered to make the same effort as you did to visit the store and become a customer, you’ll know what I mean.

Let me explain my recent experience.

We decided to downsize and sell our home about a year ago. Wanted to take some time to evaluate our options. So we thought a year or two of upscale apartment living would provide a more flexible lifestyle that we are seeking as opposed to the ongoing responsibilities of home ownership.  So we bit the bullet and became renters. Other than the confinement of living in a smaller space with very little storage and people living above and below us, all and all it has been a relatively tolerable experience.

Now, with nearly a year of apartment living under our belts, we find ourselves a bit wiser from the experience, but at a crossroads of sorts.  A desire for more space, both living and storage, leads the short list of wants and needs. Do we really want to go through the tedious process of moving once again, assuming we can find a more suitable place to call home, or do we stay put in a place that barely meets our needs?

This is where our landlord could make the decision process easier or more difficult.  As it appears right now they don’t seem to give a damn either way, so my decision is fairly easy.  And if they don’t care, why should I?

As a quick aside, I’d like to point out that in our opinion we have been stellar tenants, the kind any landlord should covet. We mind our own business, respect the facilities, don’t disturb anyone, and have always paid our rent on time.

What’s not to like?

As it turns out apparently none of that matters. This past week we received a very businesslike email followed by a note on our door informing us that our lease is up for renewal and if we choose to stay our monthly rent will be increasing. If we don’t sign by “X” date, or give notice of our intention to vacate at the end of our lease it will revert to a month to month agreement at a sizable increase. In light of the recent debacle in the housing market, it is no secret that it has become a landlords market. So a price increase is not to be unexpected.  Notices that may be mildly construed as cavalier ultimatums are another matter altogether. Intentional or not, they are not to my liking.  As a marketer myself I am always appalled when I witness such an apparently ignorant level of brinksmanship being needlessly displayed.  Incidentally, and making matters worse, along with the timely receipt of that renewal notice I just happened to come upon an advertisement from our very same landlords while researching the market for comparable rental listings on Craigslist that was offering rental units similar to ours –  for less money per month. Go figure.

Surely that must be a misunderstanding. Perhaps it is. And, granted the units being offered may not offer the same ambiance or views as the corner unit we occupy overlooking the river on the third floor. But that is not really even the point.  A loyal customer should never be placed in a position that could be misinterpreted and potentially jeopardize a business relationship due to a “misunderstanding” that could easily be avoided with a proactive effort at customer service.  Leaving such matters in a customers hands when they already have questions and reservations as well as other options is simply not a good business practice. The outcome as evidenced here is predictable.

Bottom line. Barring some eleventh hour miracle save, If I have a say in the matter they will not receive a signed renewal.

As I routinely wander down the halls on my way outside to walk our dog, past units that are under massive restoration from previous tenants who appear not to have been quite as conscientious about maintaining their units as we have been, what I also find most ironic is how much money they spend and work they undertake rehabbing these units money versus what they might likely save by retaining good tenants. Cultivating better relationships and inquiring about the future plans of existing tenants could go a long way  to reduce such expenses assuming they recognize and value good tenants – like us – when they come across them.

As I said, living here while not ideal, was not necessarily a painful experience either. There were pro’s and cons. As we begin serious considerations of our options this upcoming June, moving is not one I am looking forward to.  Needless to say, it appears that decision has now been made for us and any reservations we had about leaving is quickly evaporating.

So what’s the lesson here?

When one considers the acquisition costs and unknown risks involved in finding, qualifying and hoping new customers will live up to expectations, the answer seems pretty straight forward.  If over time we build a relationship and exceed expectations with a customer who meets the criteria we desire most, it behooves us as small business people to be proactive in adding value to our relationships and doing what ever is cost effective and feasible to retain good customers.

A bird in hand, as it were.

Engagement and building relationships extends well beyond the courtship period leading up to someone signing a purchase agreement. Keeping top of mind by proactively designing and communicating creative loyalty incentive campaigns that can be implemented strategically throughout the relationship can alleviate the potential for misunderstandings, open avenues for up-selling upgraded amenities, and make it generally more difficult for customers who have bonded with you to say no to “re-upping” when the time comes to renew a lease, subscription, or membership upgrade.

In this example our landlord is kinda sorta implementing a lifestyle convenience program that could be a real deal maker  – depending upon the fee…  They have just announced they are “offering” a wide array of expanded concierge services that they are outsourcing to an outside vendor that tenants can subscribe to.  They have scheduled an open house in a few days where they will pitch the program.

Unfortunately I have no interest in attending any dog and pony shows. Too late at this point.

Perhaps, in view of their Craigslist ads, had they teased us with this offer along with a “rent freeze” incentive as part of a “exit” interview strategy 60 day ago,  they would have had a good shot at keeping me as a customer. If there is a fee for this new concierge service, wouldn’t it be a nice touch if they had proactively chosen to offer a free or discounted trial membership as a loyalty incentive to existing tenants – like us – to consider renewing our lease for another year or two?

Creating and communicating a solid value proposition should not have to be this difficult.

Everyone likes to be courted. We all like to be told, with genuine sincerity, how valuable we are as customers and teammates.

Sadly, the chain was broken.

 

 


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