Keys to Retail Account Retention

Getting mall and shopping center business is easier than keeping it. Retail center accounts typically turn over every two to five years—or more frequently.

How do you keep retail accounts over the long term?

Birmingham AL-based SCSI maintains numerous retail centers in nine states, with an average account retention of nine to ten years. What are their secrets?

According to company CEO Dean Goforth:
“It’s important that you take your time up front, listen, clearly define expectations and the means of delivering those expectations, and constantly communicate with the customer with the goal of improving service.” Though these points may be obvious, Goforth says execution of the basics is where most companies fail.

He offers the following tips:

Get Married with Your Eyes Open

“We try to view acquiring a new account like getting married. The more you know about each other going into it the better your chances of staying together.

“Management philosophies and priorities vary. Sometimes, retailers are only looking for a specific maintenance focus, such as floors or window cleaning, while other tasks are outsourced elsewhere or handled by in-house personnel. In most cases, shopping centers seek comprehensive turnkey service and want assurance that you can cover all the bases while minimizing headaches for mall management.

“We basically blueprint the facility in terms of desired results, surfaces, and frequencies, develop logistical plans that realistically show what each area will require in time, materials, and downtime–then share this information upfront with retail management,” Goforth says. This method provides a solid basis for SCSI’s bid proposal, so that expectations and the means of achieving them are clearly defined.

“We also review our personnel hiring and training policies with mall management to provide assurance that only high-caliber workers will be allowed to clean the facility.”

Remember What Others Forget

“Many BSCs start out great, but forget why they got the account to begin with. Over time, it’s very easy to take a customer for granted and begin cutting corners.

“We therefore find it helpful to review the contract deliverables regularly and measure our actual performance against the goals and expectations we created at the outset. This serves as a constant reminder and helps us to continually realign our efforts to be effective.”

Overcommunicate

“We call each retail store customer every week to make sure we are meeting or exceeding their expectations. Our national accounts staff calls an average of 15-20 stores each week to ask if they need info or help or have noticed any areas needing improvement, if there are personnel issues, equipment issues, and just overall to make sure they are happy with our service.”

Look for Trouble

“We used to hide from problems, pretending all was well even when it wasn’t. Now, we look for trouble and seek out issues that may be developing.”

“When a customer identifies a real or perceived problem, our team launches into action. First a written report is emailed and a hard copy is sent to our operations staff who communicate with the district manager (DM) handling that account. The DM then communicates with the workers who maintain that store and store management, and finally our sales staff then follows up the following week to make sure we have successfully addressed the concern.

“The district manager also routinely visits every store each week during the day so he or she can talk to store management and their employees about the cleaning program. Are the restrooms clean? Are the floors shiny? Are we missing anything?”

Communicate Upward

Goforth believes in investing time talking with customer management
at several levels—corporate operations, legal, and, of course, regional and store supervisors. “We want to understand their corporate concerns from a number of perspectives. By forming relationships throughout their business structure, we understand the bigger issues driving decisions. For instance, if they have had trouble with slip and fall, we want to know so we can monitor the trouble spots and emphasize programs in those areas. If it’s quality control, we want to stress our quality assurance programs. Communicating upward also positions us to keep the business if line management changes.

Share Your Faults with the Customer

“We strive to communicate and remind customers of our ‘big picture’ or long-range goals and evaluate with them, on a regular basis, our progress—or lack of it–in reaching those goals,” Goforth says. “The existence of a plan doesn’t necessarily mean you will always be able to execute that plan on schedule, and you want to reassure the client, maintaining their understanding, trust, and support in the process. Honest communication builds credibility and a relationship with the customer.”

Train to Make Mistakes

Retail facilities include a variety of floor and other surfaces–carpeting, vinyl and ceramic tile, marble, terrazzo, concrete, hardwood, even stained glass–and cleaning/ maintenance staff must be prepared with products and equipment, and cross-training, to properly maintain these surfaces and to make and correct mistakes before being turned loose in a customer’s facility.

Savvy contractors develop training facilities that include every surface that workers will encounter in a retail or mall location. “Training workers in marble floor care, for instance, is easier when they can learn (and make mistakes) in a training facility rather than at the customer’s site,” Goforth stresses.

Stay Uncomfortable

“We strive to maintain a healthy sense of insecurity or discomfort level, and to keep looking for better ways to do our job while staying in touch with the customer’s needs. This means constantly looking for new techniques and equipment even if radically different from what we have been using. For example, we recently began using portable steam cleaners in restrooms to sanitize and clean without use of harsh chemicals since the indoor environment is becoming an increasingly important concern.”

Conclusion

“We believe we have been successful because our emphasis is on building a long- term positive relationship with the customer — everything we do is based on that premise.
“It requires a tremendous investment of time and energy to stay in touch with the customer the way we do, but doing so yields big dividends. It’s much cheaper to keep existing customers by forming solid relationships with them then to constantly seek out new ones.”

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