Peter Drucker, regarded as the father of modern management famously said that the purpose of a business is to create a customer. In the age of the internet, when signing up to a business or leaving it is only a click away, he would no doubt agree that his updated advice should be that the purpose of a business is to create and retain, a customer.
Whole libraries have been written on how to achieve this but perhaps we should take a broad approach to making and keeping customers. All companies with excellent customer relations bear these principles in mind.
Firstly, good businesses know the importance of communication. A world-class product will fail if no-one knows about it. Ted Turner, the founder of CNN said that the way to success was “early to bed; early to rise; work like hell and advertise”. This is obvious when businesses introduce a product, but many businesses forget that they have to continue informing existing customers of improvements to existing lines as well as telling them about problems that may have arisen.
This brings us to honesty. Customers and consumers have greater access to information than ever. They are also savvy and knowledgeable. They know straight away when businesses are not being straight with them. Businesses must be honest about any problems and how they are working to overcome them. The approach of the bottled-water giant Perrier in alerting the world to possible benzene contamination of its products is held up as an example of how to be honest. This also allows businesses to own the narrative and to direct the way in which customers think about them. Honesty extends to what your product can do. If your app gives you an extra ten minutes of time during the day then go all-in on that. Do not try to fool customers that they will become instant millionaires or improve their love lives because of your product.
Next we have accessibility. If companies regard customers and their needs as obstacles to their more important work, they will never have good relations with them. Such companies divert customers to less than helpful FAQs or invite an email that may just join a queue of other questions that get answered only when it is convenient. Why not have a bright, prominent live chat button on your website so that customers can get straight through to a considerate and interested human?
This leads to openness. Just because your business employs bright, dedicated, and innovative people it does not mean that their inside knowledge will persuade customers to sign up and stay. It may be a good engineering solution to have many menus in your software incorporating many helpful features. Does that help a busy customer to get to the function that they need right now? Does it help even an intelligent customer faced with a perplexing range of options? Show humility and listen to your customers. Making things complex when your customers just want easy to use solutions may increase your standing among other professionals but customers will be heading for the exit. Not only is the customer always right they may actually be right as well. Direct feedback from your customers beats the efforts of outside researchers every time.
Now we have perhaps the most important quality of all in customer relations. This is sincerity. The corporate world is full of glossy and expensive annual reports in which companies trumpet their ethical commitments to staff, customers and society. This already has customers turning on their hypocrisy detectors and their feelings will be confirmed when the company reveals the next day that it is guilty of a breach of laws or regulations that occurred a year before. You must believe that the customer comes first. You must treat every customer as though they are your most important customer. Staff training must instill the belief that every customer is vital to the success of the business and not a nuisance to be endured and patronised. People are hard-wired to know when they are not wanted. They will leave you and give their business to your competitor who does know how to treat them with courtesy and respect. The old joke that if you can fake sincerity you will be successful has never been true.
Remember that good, strong customer relationships are founded on the Know/Like/Trust principle. You cannot demand trust; trust comes from customers firstly knowing about your product and about your principles and ethics. Then they begin to like you. Finally, they trust you.Trust is the basis of attracting customers and, most importantly, retaining them. For this to happen, you need to invest a lot of hard work. Listening to customers and acting on what they tell you is harder than dismissing your customers as ungrateful troublemakers. It is however, the route to long and happy relationships.
In building your businesses, you need to have the motivation to attract and retain customers. Your systems and your staff training should ensure that there are as few steps between problems and solutions as possible. Your company personality should reflect your personality and the reasons for starting the business in the first place. You obviously went into the business because you were excited at what you were getting into and the solutions you felt you were offering. Make each customer feel the excitement that you feel. A well-known poet said, “Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm”. If you make a customer feel as enthusiastic as your product, your company as you do, you will have not merely a consumer but a loyal customer. Without customers, a business has a dubious past, a precarious present, and a non-existent future. To tap into the wisdom of Peter Drucker again, “Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the customer gets out of it”.
As important as your motivation is, of course, is the fact that you should ignite motivation in your customers. Customers should be motivated to deal with your business in the first place and motivated to continue the relationship. Put simply, you must give potential customers positive reasons to sign up and give them positive reasons to stay with you as active customers. Continue to engage your customers with honesty and sincerity. Listen to them, act on what they tell you and tell them what you have done to help them.
We are always told to give feedback to individual members of our staff on their performance; we should always give feedback on the company’s performance to customers as individuals. There is no better publicity than the word of mouth recommendations of loyal, satisfied customers. The honest views of those who have experienced your products first hand are worth far more than the exhortations on your website from well-meaning members of staff who may think that merely repeating hopes, wishes and aspirations will bring about the results they are promoting.
Key to win customers’ hearts
So, we have the principles of Communication, Honesty, Accessibility, Openness, and Sincerity.
Look at that, we have ourselves an acronym: CHAOS! We can therefore say that to avoid chaos in our customer relations we must embrace CHAOS. A good thought to hold onto in these chaotic times. Always remember that success is built on the foundations of one customer at a time and how that customer feels.
The poet, activist, and all-around good human, Maya Angelou, gave advice in her writing that is always relevant, thought-provoking, and inspiring. What she said about the foundation of a good speech is appropriate to our attempts to build the best customer relationships we can.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Reap is proud of building its success on just these foundations. We have great staff and partners, but we never forget that our progress comes from giving you the best solutions that we can, and removing, not adding to obstacles in your way as you make progress as well.