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  • Writer's pictureMichael Sciulla

Customer Retention


When it comes to marketing, the ancient Greek adage “Know thyself” which was inscribed on the front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi for all seekers of insight to see, may be less important than “Know thy customer.”

While much about marketing is about getting more customers — an undertaking that can be expensive — the flip side of this process, retaining existing customers, is just as important and often considerably less expensive.

Given the mom and pop nature of much of the boating industry in which marketers often wear multiple hats, those who fail to advocate for more resources for customer retention can wind up spending more on outbound marketing to make up the difference.

Case in point: In my earlier career at BoatUS, we were proud of our 80 percent member renewal rate. That said, with 500,000 members, we still had to generate 100,000 new members every year to stay even. Retaining members was clearly more cost-effective than fishing for new ones.

Many companies have figured this out. Over the years, I’ve noticed a seismic change in the attitude and manner of customer service reps who respond to me on the phone and online as well. That’s assuming I’ve made it past the dreaded automated system which, in many cases, remains a source of continual frustration. I can recall many times in the not-too-distant past when engaging with a customer service rep to resolve a problem was like pulling teeth. One side or the other usually left the encounter in pain. Much of this change has to do with the rise over the past decade of social media has given consumers a voice and platform beyond private customer-service interactions. There is no doubt in my mind that social media has fundamentally altered the power relationship between producer and consumer.

Amazon’s decision more than two decades ago to let customers comment on and review products they purchased so that others could learn from their transactions was the game-changer. The same held true for services such as TripAdvisor, which launched shortly after Amazon and took off with travel and restaurant reviews.

In harnessing the power of the people, Amazon and TripAdvisor added a cloak of credibility to their services. Social media, including Facebook, went on to monetize this relationship beyond their wildest dreams. Facebook’s current difficulties stem from an abuse of this relationship but that’s another story for another time.

Which brings me to a recent report by Salesforce, a cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) company that was launched in the same era as Amazon and TripAdvisor, and that has been a darling of Wall Street in recent years.

The Salesforce report “Small and Medium Business Service Trends” provides CRM insights from nearly 500 businesses worldwide and focuses on those aspects of customer service that enables what successful companies do to stand out in terms of customer service. Download the full report at

According to the report, 90 percent of high-performing, small- and medium-sized businesses focus on creating deep customer relationships by:

Providing the consumer with a consistent experience regardless of her chosen medium (social, mobile or in-person);

  • Understanding a customer’s full history with the company;

  • Providing personalized service interactions;

  • Improving the use of service technology.

Above all, Salesforce says, empowering customer service agents is the key to customer retention. Some of the ways to make this happen include:

  • Giving agents the tools and technology to utilize customer and product information quickly to solve customer issues;

  • Giving agents the decision-making power to provide personalized solutions;

  • Providing on-demand training to improve agents’ skills;

  • Giving agents comprehensive, up-to-date and easily accessible views of customer and product information.

While these prescriptions are all well and good, a recent article in Entrepreneur magazine titled “How 9 Successful Companies Keep Their Customers” provides tangible insights into how a number of startups have taken the importance of customer retention to heart. For the article, see

According to the story’s author, Joseph Pigato, chief marketing officer of Sparked, “Startups now more than ever need to show not only that they can attract customers but that they can keep them. Increasingly, investors look at customer retention to determine whether an entrepreneur’s product or service will ultimately succeed in the marketplace.”

While some of the more well-known companies he highlights include Dollar Shave Club and Etsy, most of the others are new to me. But, the head of marketing for StumbleUpon, Annie Gherini, puts the challenge facing marketers this way, noting that driving user engagement requires more communication and better integration across data, engineering, product and marketing teams.

“The age of departmental silos is over,” she says, adding, “the unified efforts of all functional teams ensure that everyone is reading from the same playbook, resulting in an awesome user experience.”

For our industry — which sells a discretionary product, has a high cost of entry, has an aging customer base and has a declining interest in ownership among upcoming generations — isn’t having an awesome user experience what recreational boating should be all about?

Sunshine on the horizon

Meanwhile, I can’t let this opportunity pass without mentioning a number of recent developments that augur well for the industry.

First, the announcement by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida that NBC’s cable and satellite channel NBCSN will cover the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show for the next three years is welcome news. More eyeballs on boats and the boating lifestyle is what this industry desperately needs to grow.

Second, Discover Boating’s return to its “Welcome to the Water” national campaign is a good move, as we need to be as welcoming as humanly possible. Last year’s theme, “Vacation on Demand,” failed to demonstrate how anything about boating qualified as being on demand.

Finally, the growing use of an Oculus Rift virtual reality experience that puts boat show attendees at the helm of a simulated boat race is a welcome step in the right direction. A $200 Oculus Go headset that just hit the market and that doesn’t have the clunky cables that plagued earlier VR devices could be another game-changer to bring the boating experience to a whole new generation. VR and augmented reality are here, and boating should be at the forefront of catching the wave.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue.


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