Implement a welcome program for new homeowners

December 24, 2020 By    
Cathy Pedrayes


The year 2020 marked a shift away from urban centers as people moved toward purchasing bigger homes in the suburbs.

June 2020 U.S. home sales increased by record numbers against previous years. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), June 2020 home sales jumped 20.7 percent, which was the largest percentage gain since 1968, when NAR began tracking this data. This jump in home sales, combined with the lowest 30-year fixed mortgage rate since 1971 and the public health crisis, was an impetus for many to seek residence in more open areas.

The pandemic has made way for a virtual workforce no longer bound by commute times or the need to be in an office. Companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Zillow transitioned toward employees working from home, enabling them to choose more affordable – and often more spacious – living situations. For propane retailers, this jump in home sales means many new customers have entered your service area. Take this opportunity to stand out from your competition.

Make room for growth

Even in years with lower home sales numbers, customers switch to new fuel companies in the fall more than any other time of the year. According to Warm Thoughts Communications’ group benchmarking, 20 percent to 40 percent of those new customers end up leaving within three years.

The reasons for this vary. In some areas, fuel companies provide incentives to attract new customers. But over time, the offer that brought the customer to your service may expire. Also, if new customers have a bad experience, their tendency will be simply to jump to another company, especially since those new customers haven’t been around long anyway. And if they’ve had a negative experience, they’ll likely leave a negative review on their way out the door.

“The problem is that companies think the game is over when the new customer signs up, when in fact there’s a lot that you can do to influence whether they stay or leave,” says Richard Goldberg, president of Warm Thoughts Communications. “What you do at the beginning makes a big difference.”

Acquiring a new customer is expensive, and retention is critical to your return on investment. The key to establishing loyalty is making customers’ onboarding experience easy for them. From browsing your website to interacting with your customer service representatives and receiving their first delivery, customers (especially new homebuyers) expect a certain level of service. This is where a welcome program can help.

The customer journey

David O’Connell, president of Wilson Oil & Propane, is one of many fuel dealers analyzing the customer journey and looking to improve it.

“Like most fuel dealers, we long assumed that once someone became our customer, the sales job was done,” says O’Connell. “But things have changed. A significant number of new customers have no problem switching dealers after two or three years, so we saw the virtue of focusing a lot of attention on them in the first year to build a relationship and sense of connection with our brand in order to increase retention.”

When a new customer signs up for services with your fuel company, think about their experience. What kind of interaction are they having with your business? Is a bill their first communication from you?

The value of a welcome program

Photo: Chainarong Prasertthai/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

New customers expect a certain level of service. Give it to them. Photo: Chainarong Prasertthai/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Goldberg outlined how most companies approach those first steps after a customer has signed on: “The next two things that happen are that they get a delivery and/or they get a tune-up, and then a bill,” he says. “And that’s it. So that’s what we mean by taking steps, proactively, to build loyalty and leave a good taste in their mouth.”

When a welcome program is well-executed, it can increase loyalty and also be part of your outreach efforts as customers refer their friends and leave positive reviews about their experience. Furthermore, a welcome program provides your business with the opportunity to inform customers about your automatic delivery options and service plans, which has been shown to improve the stickiness of a customer, meaning they’re less likely to leave and they’re more profitable.

During a recent webinar, Gary Corbett, national account executive at Warm Thoughts Communications, stressed how welcome programs can help create that immediate connection from business to consumer: “You don’t get a second chance to make a great first impression.”

Setting up your program

The smart approach to a welcome program involves multiple engagements. While each company has its own challenges and, subsequently, a unique welcome program, the principles are universal. You want to communicate with your customer so they know what to expect. They should know what other services you offer. You also want to preemptively address issues that could later become a misunderstanding.

Here are some key elements of an effective welcome program for new customers:

Automatic email confirmation. Customers have come to expect this step, and it allows a business to outline any details the customer will need to remember for that first service.

A fun welcome package. This invites the customer to follow you on social media, leave reviews and reach out to you with questions.

Post-service follow-up. After the service, you may want to follow up with a phone call to check in and even upsell when appropriate. In most instances, you’ll probably just leave a voicemail, but that voicemail will help reassure the customer that they’ve made the right decision choosing your company.

Written correspondence. An email or letter encourages customers to enroll in your plans and reminds them of all the great services your company offers.

A survey. Ask questions that will help you uncover opportunities to sell other products or services. Later, as that customer’s one-year anniversary with your company approaches, reach out to them. Get their attention with a soon-to-expire offer or inform them about new packages.

An outlook for the winter

The key to success in retaining new customers is recognizing that how you treat someone matters.

With a boom in new homeownership and the winter season quickly approaching, now is the time to implement a welcome program. While the vulnerability with customer retention may vary per region or product, the benefits of a welcome program are clear. In addition to customer retention, welcome programs help generate positive customer experiences, reviews and referrals for the long term.

“The welcome program is how you can take your new customers that you already sold and increase the odds that they’re going to stay with you over a longer period of time, give you positive reviews, generate referrals and get them to enroll in programs that make them more profitable to your company,” says Goldberg.

Welcome programs are relatively straightforward to implement. Depending on the software your company uses, you can automate many of these steps. O’Connell has implemented a welcome program along with his automated CRM platform.

“We have something that is pretty seamless, which automates our outreach via email,” says O’Connell. “The customer feedback has been excellent.”

Cathy Pedrayes is the marketing coordinator at Warm Thoughts Communications. 

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