Customers are the income stream that drives all of our businesses – if we are fulfilling their needs their success can also be ours. In the same way if we ignore or attach little importance to their requirements – watch them consign us to the long list of promises they have heard before. And you may be the last to know.
Simple arithmetic will always identify a significant chain of costs that are associated with creating a new customer. Those costs will follow a pattern. First we need to establish them as a target, understand the opportunity they offer us and then reach out to them and communicate our proposition. Generally we will need to fend off their current supplier by establishing with them the value they are to add to their operation by dealing with us. Then perhaps they place an order.
There are three questions that always need answering:
l Retention after that investment is a must-have. Have you created a ring of steel around your customer base designed to allow you to satisfy their needs for the long term to the exclusion of all competition?
l Does every employee in your business understand the value they add as individuals to your customer base, irrespective of whether they are customer facing or not?
l Are you as a team leader or employer a role model to your employees on how to manage customers – or do you subscribe, even in jest, to the fact that work would be fine if it wasn’t for the customers?
In our discussions with clients they tell us that customer obsession from suppliers generally manifests itself in three ways:
l Passion – for both businesses involved.
l High standards of customer service, particularly regarding availability, timeliness and contact.
l Doing what you say you will do.
As a start point for a customer obsession programme in your own business we recommend creating an objective assessment with a core team of your current customers regarding your performance as a supplier:
l How do you compare to their supplier base against criteria that they choose and see as important to their own development?
l Who does it really well and what does it look like, how does your customer measure this?
l Are there areas of need that currently no supplier is satisfying?
To secure long-term commitment from customers we are all most successful when we exceed their expectations. That is the goal. An analysis of the assessment criteria will paint a path to follow. It will allow you to begin to develop a Customer Obsession Strategy designed to exceed customer expectations by involving every one of your employees in delivering exceptional customer service.
Such a strategy will need to contain the following elements:
l Your clear vision for being obsessed with customers which describes the customer as being central to all activities.
l A statement of why customer obsession is so important to your revenue stream.
l A set of benchmarks and standards that make clear the expectations of the business in seeking that vision.
l Departmental, section and personal goals with simple measures that support the standards set.
l A programme that encourages closeness to customers for all employees.
l A training and development plan to improve customer capability across the business.
This will need to be delivered by a leadership team who are a model in living the Customer Obsession Vision – they must passionately make it the driving force of the culture.
Chris Daffy in his book ‘Once a customer always a customer’ (Oak Tree Press, 2001) challenges businesses to develop an ‘outside-in’ mentality which he identifies when:
l Customers are the focus of all activities
l Customers find it easy to do business with you
l Customers’ views influence business decisions
l Customer-friendly systems and structures are used
l Customers are the focus of all business plans and activities.
Our income streams are customer driven, so customers have to be the most important facet of our operation. Listen to them, and prove your passion and obsession for them by developing a plan based on what you hear.
Exceed their expectations and be a delight to do business with again and again and again, and you can be sure that your business will grow and grow.