Customers have more control over your business than ever before. Fail to realise that and you'll loose valuable sales to competitors that do understand it, says Robert Craven.
It seems that, despite numerous reminders, the pompously named 'customer relationship teams' just don't 'get it'. In fact, the majority of the marketing team don't 'get it'. They just don't understand the whole 'customer' thing. This isn’t a latest fad or a naïve but sales-hungry business school professor’s idea of a good wheeze. This is here to stay and until your business 'gets it' then you will lose sales to those businesses that do 'get it'.
Customers are in control
We are now in a world where the customers are in control. They decide what is thought about us. They no longer believe our adverts but they do believe what other customers say about you. If they ask for something and you don’t give it to them then they will tell others and they will move on to a supplier who can give them what they want.
Customer relationships count
Most customers are now interested in more than just the transaction – they are looking for some kind of a relationship. They want to buy from a brand that they are proud to be associated with and one that seems to share their own values. Fed up with foreign call centres or not being able to talk to a real person, more and more customers are despairing of the cheap (and not so cheerful) stack ‘em high brands.
While we love their prices we hate their customer care and inability to give anything other than the basic service that we paid for.
Customer experience matters
And, the more the cheapies depress us, the more we are willing to pay a fair price and get what we pay for. The pleasure of being herded like sheep at an airport gets less attractive; the inability to get a train anywhere on time drives us mad.
Most businesses are now competing with Disneyland. Customers carry the memory of how they are treated in one place to another. I now expect a decent customer experience not just in a restaurant but at the bank, the estate agent and the solicitor. And if that experience is poor then woe betide you.
Customers talk to each other
At the heart of this whole argument is a recurring theme. Customers talk to each other a lot. In pubs and clubs, on Facebook and Twitter, on LinkedIn and email they swap stories and experiences. They can make or break you. A wall on Facebook can be created in a few moments where people can discuss the brilliant customer experience you offer or begging people to boycott your products and services.
Meanwhile, like rabbits in the headlights, the large company marketing and customer care departments are frozen stiff, not knowing what to do next. The rumour in the discussion forums is that there’s money to be made from all this “new fangled stuff” but no-one quite understands how. And it all seems to be moving so quickly.
The corporate answer is to create a committee or call in the so-called expert consultants. But all this misses the whole point. To be thinking like this just tells me that it is already too late for you. Don’t you think that when a company needs to pay for a customer focus group or a consultant to tell them what the customers think that it is all a bit too late? You should have relationships with your customers . You don’t have a relationship via a third party, you do it direct, and so it should be with you and your customers. Maybe the penny will start to drop as to why outsourced service centres so often stink.
Your customer relationship is not something that you can outsource and control by pretentious service level agreements. Customers want to talk to and relate to you. Otherwise they will feel out of control and feel they have no real relationship with you (and vice versa) and they will tell the rest of the world. And they will vote with their feet.
So, rather than waiting for the consultant’s report, how about doing the simple stuff? Get out there and talk to your customers and clients. Ask them what they think and feel about your product and your service. Stop following the conversations and join in. They talk about you because they care. You can show them that you care. You can explain what’s gone wrong and what you are going to do. But you can’t do that by hiding behind the next report. Try it. You’ll be surprised.
Robert Craven, founder of The Directors' Centre
, shows MDs and owners how to grow their sales and profits and focuses on how to do this in recessionary times. His latest book is the runaway success 'Beating the Credit Crunch – survive and thrive in the current recession'.