ICS Magazine

Putting The Pieces Together: Keeping Your Valuable Customers

February 1, 2007
I present more than 100 seminars across the country each year, and so I get the opportunity to speak with a lot of carpet cleaners. In the last couple of years I have noticed a recurring theme coming from cleaners large and small all over the country.

Keeping your customers means working harder and smarter than your competition.


It usually sounds something like “Help!” but after a little conversation, what is clear is that many cleaners feel overwhelmed. Life is very complicated these days, and so is business. I am constantly asked my opinion about the best way to stay in touch with current customers. By now, we all know that it is far less expensive – and more profitable – to keep an existing customer than to get a new one. But what is the best way to keep your customers?

Cleaners tell me that, depending upon who they’re talking to (and what that person is trying to sell them!), they are told that “their” system is the best, whether it be postcards, newsletters, voice broadcast or some other type of customer retention program. My answer isn’t one that always makes the cleaner happy. That’s because life is not black and white, and there are no absolute answers. What is good for one is not necessarily good for all.

Business is difficult. It is work. It is not easy. If it was, everyone would be in business for themselves and succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. Every business owner has to understand the need to constantly market his or her company. It’s like a train barreling down the tracks at 100 miles an hour: even though there is tremendous momentum, the moment you cut the fuel, the train will gradually slow down until it comes to a full stop. And once it’s stopped, it takes a lot of time, energy, money and sometimes tears to build up that head of steam again. So you have to constantly keep the fire burning and keep your marketing momentum going.

Here’s a simple suggestion that I often make to help you figure out what customer retention method will work best for your company. Take your customer list and divide it into five equal groups at random. You are going to market differently to each group as follows:
  • Group #1: Mail a postcard every month.
  • Group #2: Mail a newsletter every month.
  • Group #3: On the first month, mail a newsletter. The next two months, mail a postcard. Then, repeat this pattern.
  • Group #4: Mail a newsletter on the first of the month and then a postcard on the 15th with a special offer. Repeat every month.
  • Group #5: Continue with your current program.


Now, in my experience, it takes about eight months to get an accurate picture as to which of these advertising programs works the best for your company. Needless to say, if you aren’t tracking the results, you won’t have any idea what’s working or how well. But if you do the tracking, what cleaners usually discover is that after eight months, one of these systems will far exceed the others, and your resulting profit will be far greater from it than the others.

I once heard a great marketing guru in our industry tell his clients that if a customer doesn’t respond to your marketing in two years, you need to remove that customer from your mailing list. As soon as I heard this I knew this guy had never cleaned a carpet in his life and did not understand our industry.

When you are going to listen to someone, you need to ensure that they understand your business. In many retail businesses where a customer comes in on a regular basis, disposing of their name after two years makes good sense. But the carpet cleaning business is unique. Close to 60 percent of our customers have us clean their carpets once every three years, so it follows that you could be losing more than half your customers if you dump their name after two years.

Marketing is not as simple as one plus one equals two. There are multitudes of factors that need to be considered. One of these is called the “Circle of Influence,” wherein it is said that the average person knows 500 people that they come into contact with over the course of a year.

Now, I may only clean Mrs. Jones’ carpet every three years, but by keeping in contact with her every month, my name is on the tip of her tongue so when someone she knows mentions carpet cleaning she will immediately say, “I use Craig, he’s a wonderful guy.”

This is the power of a monthly program. It keeps you in your customer’s mind so that there is the opportunity to refer you to her Circle of Influence, not to mention remembering you and the variety of services you perform the next time she needs cleaning.

Where many people fail in this or any advertising program is with implementation. There are many ways to get your newsletters and postcards out on time. You can use professionals to custom design your program and do the mailings for you, or you can purchase any one of the numerous newsletter and postcard programs designed for carpet cleaners.

But you still need someone on the inside making sure that the mail goes out and that the statistics are carefully tracked. If you don’t have time to do this yourself you can call your local high school and check into their work-study programs. Often you can get a student working part-time for you while they’re earning school credit. Local colleges may also have internship programs that work in much the same way.

What most cleaners discover is that the increase in repeat business, plus the referrals, more than pays for their increased cost and the person they hire to manage their retention program.

But there is another powerful benefit to customer retention programs. If you have technicians and you are not communicating directly to your customers, whom do they have the relationship with? That’s right, your techs. And what happens when your tech opens up his own carpet cleaning business? He takes your valuable customers with him!

By staying in contact with Mrs. Jones on a monthly basis, she is your company’s customer, and it is much more difficult for techs to pry her away from you when they leave. If you liked this article, circle 142 on the Reader Inquiry Card.