When I run sales workshops, I always test the temperature of the audience by asking them about their favourite customer; not necessarily the biggest one, but one that they like on a personal level.
This is to help me to get a feel for their business, how they deliver their products and services, and to look at how to replicate their best practices, based on successful customer case studies.
Occasionally some members of the audience look at me blankly and further probing reveals that they actually dislike all of their customers: difficult people, who always seem to be complaining and constantly looking for lower prices.
At this point I feel they are more in need of personal counselling than sales coaching, but do my best to rectify what must be a terrible situation for someone in a small business. In a large organisation you can at least look forward to the pay cheque at the end of the month, whereas in a small organisation, the buck stops with you. There is one consolation: in a small company, you are actually allowed to make some mistakes, so long as you rectify them swiftly.
This was an interesting observation made by Richard Richardson, who has seen both sides of the coin. He had a very successful career in advertising, most latterly with Young and Rubicam. His favourite customer was John Barnes at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and they used to spend many hours cooking up new business ideas, just for fun.
But one idea seemed to have some traction: what about the original British fast food — fish and chips? The best-known name, Harry Ramsden's, was a single large restaurant at Guiseley in Yorkshire, with a few other outlets, differently branded. The owners were looking to sell and Barnes and Richardson saw the opportunity to build a great brand, something they were both passionate about.
They had very complementary skills; Barnes the charismatic ideas man, Richardson the completer/finisher. They shared common values, particularly a love of customers and customer interaction.
They raised some money and then set about building the Harry Ramsden's brand, but without the large marketing budgets they were both used to. They developed a style that they later captured in their book, Marketing Judo — the idea that you use the opponent's weight to your advantage, using leverage, rather than brute force.
They kept the team lean but instilled a sense of customer awareness by insisting that everyone in the 25-person head office called at least five unhappy customers every week.
This caused some bemusement amongst their customers, particularly a gentleman in Bournemouth who had filled in a card to complain about some cold chips at their Bournemouth outlet.
He was so surprised to hear from a director of Harry Ramsden's that he dropped his mobile phone, and then explained that he had just bought a car for £35,000 and had less joy in having problems resolved than for this 70 pence bag of chips. Richardson's simple phone call also generated significant new income as the gentleman's wife resolved to take parties of visiting Chinese business people to Harry Ramsden's.
But Richardson explains that in a small business it is fine to make mistakes, so long as you resolve issues swiftly and personally. He feels that many large companies seem to have an ethos of never admitting failure, which can be disastrous, as customer expectations are increasing all the time.
Once the brand had become established, they decided to grow their business by a franchise model, as it meant that ownership of the brand was closer to the customers; a proven concept delivered by local people. But while the brand can be promoted generally by head office, it is still down to the local entrepreneurs to do what they can, often without much of a marketing budget.
In Marketing Judo, Barnes and Richardson have many tips for doing just this, including extending your offer in interesting ways (the Glasgow branch offered haggis) and providing complementary additional services (arranging coach trips for senior citizens to show off interesting local buildings after a fish supper). They refer to this as “getting the crowd on your side”, using emotional leverage rather than just marketing muscle.
If you do this, not only will you grow to love your customers, you will find they will love you right back, and do your marketing for you, by word of mouth.
Copyright ©Mike Southon 2012. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
Many businesses have rigidly defined the respective roles and responsibilities of their customer service and marketing departments. This is often the source of frustrations as, on one hand, the marketing guys do not have the opportunity to interact with the customers and, on the other hand, the customer service team has only a limited opportunity to influence product design and communication.
Small businesses have much more room for manoeuvre, as they can chop and change, test and experiment without affecting a large volume of customers. Very frequently, small companies manage their customers through a single channel, handling social interactions, marketing efforts, customer service and many other activities in one place. They use mishaps as a marketing opportunity and dispatch little gifts and samples to “compensate” customers. Customer service is clearly being used as a marketing tool.
Whilst larger operators are busy leveraging their social media reach by pushing multitudes of promotions, special offers, coupons, vouchers and deals, small businesses can build a long-term advantage by establishing close-knit communities of customers. Positioning customer service at the heart of the marketing strategy contributes to the exchange of ideas and the resolution of problems whilst creating a platform for future recommendations.
All this contributes to the development of a very strong sense of loyalty.
The challenge comes when the business grows and someone makes the suggestion that life would be much easier if dedicated marketing and customer service teams were established…it will be hard but just make sure you resist the temptation.
Guest blog by Very Good Service.
Read more in our dedicated section about customer service.
I have been thinking about the brands we love and how to improve customer retention. Let me tell you a couple of stories.
Three years ago, I took delivery of a car and on the way home it literally died. I did not see the car again for four months. However, the gentleman who looked after my “case” was exceptional. He updated me regularly, kept me totally informed on progress and made a bad situation OK. The car firm also sent me a range of well thought-out sorry gifts that were actually appropriate and of suitable value. I am now very loyal to this brand and I have a good opinion of them.
The other day, my wife and I were chatting about Clark Plc expenditure. We had decided to tighten the belt in a few areas and Sky TV was first on the list. With three kids of different ages, all of us have different viewing requirements ranging from football, Disney and South Park to Grey’s Anatomy. We currently have the full Sky package. It was going to be challenging to cut back.
In fact, my wife had a very, very good experience with Sky TV. The man on the phone listened and came up with a superb idea that was appropriate to the situation and our request. It was surprising and well delivered. To be frank I think we were expecting a bit of a challenge. It was the opposite. So now I have a great opinion of Sky, Clark Plc has the viewing requirements sorted and I will tell people about the positive experience.
So this got me thinking about two things: why we become loyal to certain brands and how businesses can improve customer retention.
In order to establish a loyalty scheme of any kind we need to establish who it is we actually want to reward and what it is we want to reward them for. If our most valuable customers are 100 per cent loyal to us then do we give them rewards just for being there, or do we concentrate on making the less valuable customers more valuable? We must ensure that we are adding value to our business and not simply creating a discount scheme.
Defining our objectives needs to be the first step – are we looking to reward behaviours that are good for our business, such as a customer spending more within a certain time frame, for instance?
We then need to understand our audience segments. Customers are all different and treating them as one entity means that we may be missing the main motivational factors for some of them.
After we have segmented the audience we need to look at who is the most valuable to us and why – is it the segment that makes up the highest proportion of our base? Those who spend the most? Those who are the least hassle? Or those who we feel we might be in danger of losing soon? How do these customers stack up against our objectives?
Having understood who our customers are, we need to understand their motivations – this allows us to be relevant. What do they value most?
We are a business, so we also need to understand our own motivations – what would we like our customers to do? Spend more? Stay with us long-term? Again, we need to look at this against our objectives.
Adding all this up we can see who we should be targeting, what we want to encourage them to do and what is going to motivate them. Our aim is to identify positive behaviours we want to reward and habits we can seek to change in order to make our business more profitable.
In an environment where winning new customers will get harder, it is more vital then ever before that we cherish our current customers. Some are happy, some are apathetic and some may be disappointed. As spring approaches it would be wise to look over your customer base and reward them, tackling any issues with empathy and understanding. We do long for loyalty from them; let’s give them some reasons to love us and importantly to tell their friends and associates about the great experience they have had with you.
Losing weight, giving up smoking, getting a better education, getting a better job. Some people only need it. Others really want it.
And so it is with customer service. Some organisations really need to give better service. Their customers are telling them so, their employees are telling them so and their profits are probably telling them so. But for whatever reason, they don’t want to give better service.
And then there are those who really want it. Those organisations that recognise the importance of listening to their customers, creating a culture with high levels of employee engagement and building their bottom line and their goodwill.
If you want to experience great service, go to an organisation that wants to serve you, where the people are empowered and encouraged to delight you. Very often these organisations don’t need big budgets for advertising or recruitment or training. I’ve never seen a single advertisement for Pret A Manger yet their service is outstanding and their business has grown rapidly from humble beginnings in 1986.
It starts with leadership, with a vision, the ability to communicate that vision and the strength to look for long term growth rather than short term profits. You can feel the leadership running through the organisation like the word Blackpool in a stick of rock. I feel Julian Richer’s influence at Richer Sounds, John and James Timpson at Timpson shoe bars, Richard Branson at Virgin Atlantic and Charles Dunstone at Carphone Warehouse.
You don’t have to be big. You don’t have to be small. But remember that a big business is just a small business that did the right things.
Think lifetime value. When a customer comes in for a USB stick, for instance, think what their lifetime value might be — a computer every two years, plus printers, and cables and inks and paper and servicing and broadband, for them, for their family, for their business. Cock up on the £10 sale and you lose that lifetime value for your lifetime.
We do not say “thank you” enough.
Therefore we take people for granted. If people feel taken for granted they become less loyal. Is that what you want?
I don’t know why people don’t say “thank you” so much these days. Maybe it just isn’t cool to be seen to be thankful.
Maybe it shows vulnerability or frailty to acknowledge that you are grateful.
Or maybe the problem is that most words lose their value and their currency with over-use ("nice", "pro-active", "strategy" to name but a few).
Turning the situation around, I am constantly aware of how certain people seem almost incapable of saying "thank you". Why would that be? Maybe they aren’t grateful(?); but their inability to acknowledge my action actually hurts me.
So, when did you last say (and mean) the words “thank you”?
Your kids, partner, staff, customers, suppliers will all appreciate a sincere "thank you".
The cynical may say that I am just trying to put a deposit in the emotional bank account (or some similar weasel words), but actually I think that it is just basic common courtesy to acknowledge when someone does something for you.
Thank you for reading my blog.
FACT: If you are the same as the rest then why should customers bother to buy from you?
SO WHAT?: Ignore the one-liner at your peril! Wake up and smell the coffee!
In a world where competition seems to be everywhere, you need to separate yourself from the rest.
FACT: If you compete on price, only the customer will win – in the end the company with the lowest prices (and biggest buying power) will get the business. This is no place for the timid.
SO WHAT?: If you try to be the same as the rest, a ‘me-too’ business, it is incredibly difficult to survive in the long run. After all, the only way you can differentiate yourself if several businesses are selling the same product will be on price. And if you differentiate yourself on price then it becomes inevitable that you enter a price war – customers will chase the cheapest prices – those businesses with the biggest market share (and economies of scale) will be able to command better prices from their suppliers. As a result, these competitors will be able to pass on those savings to customers while maintaining healthier profit margins than their competition. You will end up cutting your profit margins, probably until you go out of business.
Legendary, remarkable customer service will be your secret weapon.