How important are your customers to the success of your business? Vital you say? Quite right too! Success may come to you through a fantastic idea, be perfectly planned and launched without a hitch but if – within a relatively short timeframe – you don’t manage to start building up a solid, committed and loyal customer base you can forget being an entrepreneur. It’s very simple: no customers, no business.
Customer commitment, and the secrets behind securing it, is one of the 7 Business Disciplines…
Unfortunately customers, even good ones, have a tendency to drift away, many feeling apathetic towards brand loyalty, some determined to seek out bargains, others only supporting businesses that treat them well. This is especially true whilst the country’s still smarting from the effects of the downturn and where every penny counts (for them and for you). So how can you set your business apart from the others, to demonstrate its uniqueness?
Understanding and respecting your customer is paramount and as a minimum commitment to them you should be considering the buying journey: from initial contact with your product/service through to purchase and after-sales. An even better strategy is to get to know your customers really well, well enough to know their buying habits and the all-important triggers that will get them to buy (and what will turn them off).
Customer commitment, and the secrets behind securing it, is one of the 7 Business Disciplines I use to guide business owners in driving their businesses towards success, even in the difficult times we are experiencing right now. Being a strand of marketing, the area of customer commitment is a valuable route to business development and growth, so don’t underestimate its importance in your grand plan to launch your start-up.
Take your new business (or business idea) and try looking at it through a fresh pair of eyes – your customer’s. Ask yourself exactly what would inspire you to buy from the business? What is its uniqueness? What would make the buying experience better than your competitors (which, of course, you will know because of your SWOT analysis) and what could you introduce to make the whole process more enjoyable and positively memorable?
It all hinges on customer satisfaction which you can, and should, plan for. Anticipation is a key element. You need to be one step ahead of your customers’ requirements so when they have a need, you can fulfil it on time, with more than the expected level of service both during and after the moment of purchase. Let’s face it, if a business offered you that high standard of service and after-care wouldn’t you be impressed? Wouldn’t you go back for more? I would.
Monitor and review your feedback, very quickly you’ll be able to establish the loyalty of your customers…
In the current market, the customer is a much wiser, far more discerning consumer. Yes, good value- for-money products or services are important but so is customer service and care. If you plan properly and demonstrate your commitment to your customers they, in turn, will show their loyalty to you and your business by returning time and time again and you’ll see the results in your increased turnover.
There are companies that are making a success of things despite the bite of recession these include the likes of Dell, McDonalds and Apple who cleverly offer bespoke products – such as Apple’s pink iPod with inscription. Demanding consumers are being given exactly what they want, add to that the associated customer care for a no-trouble, no-fuss experience, and it’s a great way to secure repeat business.
If you’d like the same loyalty, the first thing you need to do is to get to know your customers. What do they want and, more specifically, why have they come to you? How did they find the whole customer experience? You can find out by asking them. A thorough review of customers for an established business can be a time-consuming exercise but if you’re just starting out the process is simple. Start as you mean to go on and request feedback from all customers. Encourage the completion of questionnaires (offer a reward system or non-financial benefits as a thank-you) and track their responses (the information can be used later for direct mail marketing campaigns).
If you receive a dose of too-honest, shooting-from-the-hip feedback make sure you accept it gratefully and graciously. Smile and say thank-you! If, however, you’re the recipient of kind words, phrases or positive testimonials use them in marketing literature, on your website, upload to social networking sites or Twitter your fantastic feedback to the entire world!
If you monitor and review your feedback, very quickly you’ll be able to establish the loyalty of your customers. The emerging pattern will effectively demonstrate the 80/20 rule: that 80 percent of your revenue comes from 20 percent of your customers. I’d like to make two points here, firstly, you should make it a priority to analyse the buying behaviour of the 20 percent and find a strategy to increase sales to this market and secondly, from the other 80 percent you need to locate those who, with a little more customer care and encouragement, should reside in the other group.
Customers want you to deliver what you promise…
However, customers can be unpredictable and inconsistent so don’t be smug and complacent. You can’t rely on automatic and continued support unless you work at it and even then they might let you down. A process of continual review is called for, requesting feedback (good and bad), and asking for repeat business all as a matter of course. Remember to deal effectively with poor feedback because bad news travels fast when one dissatisfied customers tells nine of their friends. If only happy customers spread their good news the same way but they only tell one other or no-one at all.
What do your customers want? I’ll tell you and it’s very simple. They want you to deliver what you promise, quality product/service, good value-for-money, on time and to budget with no quibble over after-care if something goes wrong. More than that they want to be valued as a customer – actually they want to be your best and favourite customer – to be treated with courtesy, appreciated and understood which is all part of customer commitment.
Customer Commitment needs to be embedded in your business strategy
When I set up my own business, Diva Cosmetics, in 2000 I embedded customer commitment into the business strategy. I felt passionately about getting this right, I knew it would be absolutely vital to the success and longevity of my business. Right from start-up status I was entirely honest with my customers and acknowledged that when they bought from Diva they were also buying into me personally, and my values.
Without customers a business is nothing, I was well aware o f that fact. At Diva along with my expanding team, we communicated with, listened to, and ensured punctual deliveries to customers. It’s an accepted fact in marketing that attracting new customers is more expensive than retaining existing ones so we worked very hard to ensure a very high standard of customer commitment. In essence, we under-promised and over-delivered, it was never the other way round. If we encountered a problem we didn’t hide it, we were honest and offered immediate solutions.
Customer commitment is a discipline that needs to be become part of your company ethos, an integral part of being in business, a habit. I made sure Diva focussed proactively on its customers and always, but always, delivered what it promised. As a result it had a fully satisfied customer base and a healthy turnover of near £3m in its fourth year when I secured an exit strategy deal: I wanted to move on, to concentrate on demonstrating to entrepreneurs how disciplined planning equals business success.
Having moved from a busy retail business to a business service I’ve noticed one fundamental difference: I have now become the product. What does that mean? Whereas before issues important to my customers were cost, speed and quality of delivery now it’s value-driven: quality and reliability are still important but today I deal in rapport, in feel-good, in helping to produce tangible results, in the long-term business relationship.
Successful companies place great value on developing lifetime relationships with their customers
The most successful companies place great value on developing lifetime relationships with their customers and in today’s competitive marketplace loyalty should never be taken for granted. Relationship building and follow-on service are critical components for promoting both customer retention and revenue growth.
Businesses that fail to implement an effective approach to customers damage their often hard-earned reputation and their brand, allowing their competitors an opportunity to gain new business by luring away previously loyal customers. Adopting a customer care initiative using thoroughly trained staff and constantly monitoring feedback is so important and, I feel, played a part in the success of Diva.
Once you have a team behind you, you need establish the ground rules firmly, making sure each person representing your business deals with customers with the utmost courtesy and consideration. Customer care training and regular updates to consolidate and refresh good habits are all helpful but the best way to encourage excellence in customer service is by taking the lead yourself. Your example of dealing considerately not just with your customers but also your staff will demonstrate your values and everyone will understand the message.
BOOM! 7 Disciplines to Control, Grow and Add Impact to your Business
Customer Commitment is included in my business book BOOM! 7 Disciplines to Control, Grow and Add Impact to your Business along with no-nonsense strategies for team building, personal development, marketing management and practical finances and there’s also a section called the Business Toolbox which includes the principles of planning. To buy your copy check out http://www.BOOMbusinessbook.co.uk
- Emma Wimhurst is a successful entrepreneur, business owner, motivational business speaker, business mentor, broadcaster, and regular media contributor. Download her free 7-day Business E-Course at: www.makeyourbusinessBOOM.co.uk/freecourse