The purpose of a business is to create a customer. —Peter Drucker
While this statement may be quite true at the most basic level, it also serves to underscore the reality that one of the ongoing purposes of a business should be to keep a customer. No business owner would argue this point, but creating and maintaining quality customer relationships is often one of the biggest challenges facing small businesses.
Please come back again
One of the dangers that befall many businesses is the tendency to become accustomed to having customers, to slip into a default mode of expectations: that the customers are happy, that they’ll keep coming back, that they’ll tell others about you. The problem is that customers are people—and people thrive on relationships. And if we are not careful our customer relationships can become superficial and even counter-productive.
No one wants to feel that they are being taken for granted and customers are no different. Again, customers are people and people must be related to, not processed! Simply “going through the motions” for your customers with the mindless expectation that they will always be there is a sure path to customer attrition. And an increasing factor in customer fickleness is the sheer volume of choices that available in almost every industry and every product or service. In many ways the business owner is not simply working to gain a customer’s patronage, but is actually engaged in a contest to win the hearts of those individuals!
Surefire ways to drive business away
There are certain clichés in business that are dubious in their truth, such as “the customer is always right.” But one that is undoubtedly true is that it is cheaper to keep an old customer than to find a new one. With this in mind let’s look at some of the most detrimental errors small businesses make in this arena:
- Ignore your customers. This cardinal sin can be achieved in person, on the phone, and even over the Internet. Many retail companies adopt a “10 Foot Rule” that requires customers to be acknowledged if the employee is within ten feet of them. Greeters at the door are not only good for Wal-Mart, and acknowledging customers by answering phones quickly and with a smile is just good business.
- Make it difficult to do business with you. Customers shouldn’t have to work at giving you their money. And they shouldn’t have a fight on their hands if they need to return your product or are unhappy with your service. If you make it hard on your customers someone else is always willing to go the extra mile for them.
- Display a lack of integrity. Whether this is simply staff making excuses for poor service or products, or engaging in sales or marketing practices that can be perceived as deceptive, being a trusted and reliable business is an absolute essential. No one likes to feel lied to or treated in a way that is less than honest.
- Become dull and predictable. This doesn’t mean sacrificing reliability and standards of quality and excellence, but customers expect innovation. And people being people, they are stirred by positive surprise and delight – just because your business has been around for fifty years doesn’t mean it has to look and act like it.
- Don’t listen to your customers. We live in an age where product and company reviews are being posted for posterity across the Internet, and perhaps on your company’s own website. Therefore, it is critical for you to hear what your customers are saying and respond. This can also mean reviewing relevant blogs, performing regular market research and simply talking to your customers.
One of my clients recently began conducting educational seminars for her clients with the stated goal of providing valuable information as a “bonus” to her normal services. However, in the Q&A portion of the presentation she turns the tables on her audience by asking them key questions with intent of ferreting out the issues and concerns of her clients that she might not ever hear otherwise.
Another EMyth client regularly meets with his entire staff to discuss customer questions, tips and best practices, and to elicit ideas for innovations and improvements to their services and products. The synergy of bringing together the “frontline” employees with the management team with a focus on their customers works to create an atmosphere and company culture that is customer-centric and service oriented.
What a customer wants
While the customer may not always be right, there is one cliché that cannot be discounted or ignored: The customer rules. And this means that the needs, wants and desires of your customers must come first in developing the processes and procedures of your client fulfillment realm. This means that for many businesses changes will need to occur as they can no longer afford to have “business as usual.”
For some this means making regular and ongoing efforts to “listen” to their customers: What do they like about your business? Your products? Your service? And, perhaps more importantly, what is that they don’t particularly like? Communication is vital and this implies intentionality and strategy on the part of the business owner. For others it will mean taking pains to create a customer-centric business model: one that takes into account the primacy of the customer and recognizes that the product or the brand is not the focus.
The good news is that today’s business world is awash with technology and new forums for conversation that allow you to not only engage your customers and prospects, but to keep your finger on the “pulse” of your customer base. And despite the vast number of choices and competition facing not only you, but your customers, the opportunities are equally vast to win the hearts—and loyalty—of your customers.
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