It should come as no surprise to read that customers do not become loyal overnight. It is unlikely that an individual will ever walk into your business as a prospective customer and walk away from that very first visit a loyal customer. In fact, becoming a loyal customer is process not unlike the one an acorn goes through to become a giant oak tree. Jill Griffin explains that growing customers “doesn’t happen in a day, a week, a month or even a year; it’s a long, step-by-step progression… The process is accomplished over time, with nurturing and with attention to each stage of growth.”
Griffin identifies in her book , Customer Loyalty: How to Earn It, How to Keep It, seven stages most customers progress through as they “grow” into loyal customers. She explains that as businesses recognize each stage in their own customers, and meet the needs of the customers at each stage, companies will have “a greater chance of converting a buyer into a loyal customer.”
To help you better understand your customers on their individual journeys to loyalty, we’ve included Griffin’s detailed explanation of each step in the process:
Stage 1: Suspect
A suspect is anyone who might possibly buy your product or service. We call them suspects because we believe, or “suspect,” they might buy, but we don’t know enough yet to be sure.
Stage 2: Prospect
A prospect is someone who has a need for your product or service and is able to buy. Although a prospect has not yet purchased from you, she may have heard about you, read about you or had someone recommend you to her. Prospects may know who you are, where you are and what you sell, but they still haven’t bought from you.
Stage 3: Disqualified Prospect
Disqualified prospects are those prospects about whom you have learned enough to know that they do not need, or do not have the ability to buy, your products.
Stage 4: First-Time Customer
A first-time customer is one who has purchased from you one time. This person can be a customer of yours and a customer of your competitor as well.
Stage 5: Repeat Customer
Repeat customers are people who have purchased from you two or more times. They may have bought the same product twice or bought two different products or services on two or more occasions.
Stage 6: Client
A client buys everything you have to sell that he can possibly use. This person purchases regularly. You have a strong, ongoing relationship that makes him immune to the pull of the competition.
Stage 7: Advocate
Like a client, an advocate buys everything you have to sell that she can possibly use and purchases regularly. In addition, however, an advocate encourages other to buy from you. She talks about you, does your marketing for you and brings customers to you.
Lost Customer or Client:
A lost customer or client is someone who was once a customer or client but has not bought from you in at least one normal purchase cycle. When a lost customer or client becomes active again, she is considered a regained customer or client. A customer is considered to be at-risk if there is a high probability of defecting.
Note: Online customers evolve through similar stages: surfer, first-time site visitor, repeat visitor, first-time customer, repeat customer, client, advocate, at-risk customer, lost customer and regained customer.
In thinking about your own customers, can you identify which customers fall into each customer stage? Who are your clients? Your advocates?
What methods have you used to save at-risk customers from leaving to the competition? How have you regained customers who were once lost?
How does identifying customers by their “growth stages” help you change or improve the way you market to them?