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March 2017
Volume 8, Issue 3

How the Internet Changed the Way Small Laboratories Approach Customer Retention

Low-cost online resources provide opportunities for laboratories to reap large benefits from small investments

Nick Azar

For years, small dental laboratories have have faced challenges when trying to grow because limited capital has in turn limited their access to the important tools needed for growth. Small laboratories must be discerning in how they invest their capital. New digital technology? Marketing? Customer retention efforts? Save the money for rainy days?

As a consultant, the author always advises laboratory owners to prioritize investing in customer retention. By reducing customer turnover by only 5%, a small business can actually increase its profits by a much greater percentage, making retention efforts well worth the investment. Consider also that a large number of customers say they would end a relationship with a laboratory because of poor customer service, so it makes sense to build out your support network, whatever that may look like for your laboratory.

What Does Customer Retention Look Like Today?

Some relatively new resources are available for a low cost and can help small laboratories grow and even compete with larger businesses. Low-cost online tools and free web applications are among the resources that can help level the playing field via top-notch customer service. Access to free information has made gaining new customers easy and keeping them much easier. However, it’s important to steer your clients to your resources to keep them engaged with your business.

One trend today in customer retention (and acquisition) is multi-channel marketing. This means making your business available to clients through multiple channels as well as keeping those same customers informed and engaged on new developments in your laboratory and the industry—and keeping your laboratory top of mind.

It is often said that the cost of keeping one customer happy is one-tenth of what it would be to gain a new one. Today’s small laboratories are taking advantage of more affordable, self-driven, internet-based technologies such as social media, multi-channel/anywhere communication, and online community hosting to improve customer engagement and help build customer loyalty.

In short, today’s customer retention means that the more your clients refer to you as a knowledgeable and reliable resource—accessible no matter how they need to reach you—the more they will reach out to you with their business.

Email

Email provides a non-disruptive way for small laboratories to connect with their customers, as many are much more comfortable connecting via email than any other form of digital communication.

Reaching your customers via email with the correct timing and cadence tells them that you are available to connect, should they desire it. These considerations are especially important because, as vital as communication is to building a relationship, overcommunicating—especially with irrelevant information or a “salesy” approach—could have the opposite effect and turn them away. Tools and services are available to help guide small businesses such as laboratories to determine how and when to reach out to both existing and prospective clients. It is a good idea to seek out this information before starting any kind of email campaign or multi-channel engagement.

Responsive Websites

Mobile technology is one of the most common ways dentist-clients access the internet. The small laboratory can take advantage of this low-cost technology by updating or developing a robust laboratory website to react quickly and responsively—allowing it to render correctly and effectively across all devices. A website can recognize mobile users and automatically redirect them to the mobile version of the site, using what is known as responsive design; with this, small laboratories can cast a wider net as they expand their accessibility to both desktop and mobile internet users, as well as make the customer’s experience seamless as they switch between devices. Greater responsiveness leads to better customer engagement—and better collaboration—and should keep dentist-clients coming back for more.

Social Media

More and more of today’s dentists would rather find out about new products and services by using social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Traditional sales methods—ie, telesales, direct mail, personal visits—now compete with the influence of social media in educating the customer so they can make informed decisions.

Many of today’s dentists would rather inform themselves than be targeted by aggressive salespeople. Utilizing social media is an indirect way to regularly grab the attention of your current customers. Making regular updates about your laboratory's offerings, and even relaying dental technology news, can help you stay top of mind for your clients, making yours the first resource they think of for their dental technology needs.

Community Forums

As dentists opt for less in-person communication, one of their key objectives is to connect and engage with anyone involved with the product, such as the manufacturer selling the raw materials, the technician using those materials to make the product, and other customers providing feedback on products and services. In essence, many dentists are no longer content with being individuals; they want to be part of an online community in which laboratories actively engage with their customers, understand their needs, and address any issues that might negatively affect retention.

Hosting an online community is an excellent way of providing this option, centralizing your marketing efforts. Members can log in around the clock to read content, start discussions, and search.

This new approach to customer retention can also include value-added incentives for those who keep coming back. Loyalty program surveys show that more than half of a laboratory’s repeat customers would spend more if they were recognized and rewarded accordingly. The rewards must be valuable and meaningful in order for your laboratory to retain that client’s business.

Bringing It All Together

Regardless of what venue clients use get their information—email, website, social media, community forum, or other—it is important that the laboratory receive feedback on which venue its clients chose and how they got there. Using customer relation management (CRM) software or services that are specific to multi-channel engagement can help minimize, if not eliminate, the guesswork. In turn, this can help you manage data points around a client or client groups and tailor social output more directly to a chosen target or targets.

As important as it is for laboratories to offer multiple internet-based venues (multi-channel or “anywhere” communication) to connect and engage with clients, it is also vital for the customer experience to be seamless, regardless of the channel. Therefore, small laboratories must use software or services that automatically filter users into the optimal channels, to receive prompt, effective support, no matter what path they use to find it.

The Big Picture

In order for a small laboratory to retain and grow its customer base, it must seriously commit to using some or all the aforementioned web-based tools. Remember that they are available to your competitors as well; it’s up to you to maximize their effectiveness for your laboratory.

Being a small dental laboratory business with limited capital is no longer a significant limitation in customer retention. The resources of the internet and various technologies make it possible for even small dental laboratories to project a larger presence online, remain competitive, and excel.

Nick Azar is a DAMAS consultant, business strategist, executive coach, and founder of Azar Associates in Santa Clarita, California.

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