The audit process itself is a really powerful tool for both customer retention and business development, as it demonstrates a willingness to adapt to an ever-changing landscape, gain insight on what challenges customers are facing today and expecting tomorrow, but most importantly, a chance for accurate feedback to an independent consultant – hence people tend to be brutally honest. Sometimes this process uncovers simple things like a clash of personalities, rumours circulating, as well as situations where customers haven’t communicated problems and so bad feelings have festered to the point of no return.
In the auditing process, added benefits always occur, such as a chance to get in and see a tough prospect “on the back of the audit findings.” This provides a chance to start a relationship all over again, or reinvigorate an ailing one. The targets are usually always open to such a process, and in our recent audits, there was only one flat-out refusal from amongst the 15 targets.
Both of our current clients are in completely different fields, with one playing internationally and the other locally. In both cases, they asked us to find out:
- How are they doing with their key customers and prospects and to see if we can gain any insight into how the relationships can be improved or if there are opportunities for growth?
- For some customers, where once the relationship was good and now it has turned sour – they want to know why and whether or not it can be saved
- Why are some huge potential prospects in their field not returning their calls and refusing to do business with them? And what recommendations can SAJE provide to help them address this?
Therefore in both cases, it’s been a mix of good and bad relationships, and some of the findings have been very interesting. I wanted to share some really basic things that we’ve uncovered, and in some ways, it’s all so simple. Yet businesses the world over seem to forget some very fundamental things.
At SAJE, our philosophy on business is simple. We are people doing business with people and we never forget that. What this means is we work to serve the needs of our customers by always being honest, being a partner throughout the sales and delivery process, and we stand up and are counted when things go wrong, working alongside our customers until problems are resolved. What I have seen throughout my professional career is that business people overcomplicate things, forgetting that they are working for the customer and overlooking the fundamental fact that business is about people working with people.
So here’s some reminders on delivering great customer service:
- Communication – the main thing that came up is businesses do not effectively engage with their customers. Most of the customers I’ve recently spoken with are open to monthly catch ups, regular sharing of information, and are happy to centralise the product/service literature of relevant providers. The problem is, in some cases, they haven’t seen or heard anything from the provider in six months and in some cases, two years. In one case, the latest product literature a prospect had was from 2004 AND to make things worse, this company was a leader in its field and very influential. You’ve got to be there, sharing knowledge, educating them, giving them access to information that helps them make decisions, putting respected business leaders in front of them, and they need to know you and believe that you care about winning their business. If they are anxious about something – for example your company has bought a competitor in their field, and even if this competitor is not operating locally – they need to know and be reassured. One email is not going to cut it; it needs to be ongoing communication and reassurance. So talk to your customers, don’t be scared of them, don’t give up when they don’t return your calls, and be honest, open and engaging in your communication
- One point of contact – don’t make your customers work for your business, you need to work for theirs, and one of the simplest ways of doing this is by giving all of your customers a single point of contact. This means your sales team must know every product/solution you offer, OR be the person that gets the information needed rather than making customers call other people in your team. It’s about delivering quality service through a single point of contact. Believe me, if you make your customer’s life easy, they will come back to you again and again. Business people always remember the providers that make them look good and make their job easier
- Partnership – when customers make a decision to buy your product or service, they are buying it because they expect a partner. This means you are there not just when the contract is signed, but throughout – when the product/solutions are installed or implemented, guiding them and solving any problems that may arise on the ground. If you sell through a 3rd party and problems occur, that is even more reason for you to get involved. No business should ever expect a 3rd party to deal effectively with problems involving your products – you need to do that. A 3rd party does not care how your product is perceived, because they can buy any number of competitive products – and therefore YOU need to protect YOUR brand. So be a partner from start to finish, whether you’ve sold directly or indirectly. It will win business because your customer trusts that they can rely on you in the future
- Sincerity – Asia is no different to other parts of the world where entertaining and good times with customers are a frequently used marketing tool. While government legislation in some countries is curbing it to an extent, arranging a game of golf at one of Asia’s magnificent golf courses is still a regular part of business life in some sectors. Hey it’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing. However, throwing fancy dinners, arranging spectacular golf days or handing over Grand Prix tickets, while appreciated, does not mean successful marketing. It’s only one small piece in your strategy, so keep the corporate entertainment going, but back it up with the other points I’ve raised here. The message from customers is that, while they enjoy the perks, it does not show them that the provider is sincere and what is more important than being perceived as sincere and trustworthy?
- Problem solver – There is a problem on the project, it might be small, it might be huge, and it might not even be your company’s fault, but if it involves your product/service then get involved and be involved until the problem is solved. You will win more business doing this than by any other activity you undertake. You will also lose business if you fail in this area. Also, if a problem arises that your company created, do not stop until it’s resolved and when relevant, maybe even offer a refund or future discounts as compensation to apologise? So many companies only seem to think of now, when a true customer relationship is a long term investment, so losses today can be turned into growth and profit in the future
- Quick response times – some businesses need answers now, not tomorrow, now. If you cannot respond quickly, they will go elsewhere. If you cannot help them with their problem now, by dropping everything you are doing to focus on them, they will go elsewhere. If you are in a 24 hour a day seven days a week industry, then you have to keep your mobile phone on during the weekends and answer the calls. Not all businesses need to do this, but if you are in a business sector that does run this way, then you need to be available. Nothing turns a customer off more than having a supplier who is not responsive to their needs, whenever they need it. If you work in a field that requires this level of commitment, then you should be paid accordingly, but it’s also about having a corporate culture that appreciates meeting their customer needs, whenever they come up, and responding quickly – I believe this is the difference between winners and losers
- Basic information – when I was doing the initial contact to set up appointments with these targets, often the email addresses or phone numbers that I was given by our clients were wrong. I later found out in one audit interview with a target that a key email communication about a very important company announcement never made it to the most important contact in this company. To make things worse, this poor guy actually found out about this announcement (that had been sent to everyone in the business) from one of his competitors – how insignificant do you think this made him feel? This is fundamental stuff, so please, centralise your customer databases, get one person to go through every customer in your company and cross-check information. Small errors, like having the wrong email address, can have a very big impact
Remember if you don’t do these things and your competition do, they will grow and you will fail. It is very simple. Do you want to see your market share whittle away because you weren’t responsive enough to your customer needs? How long do you think your company can continue with the status quo? Beside the point, if your business culture is focused on delivering awesome customer service, your employees will be so much happier in their job and while this is another whole discussion, it’s a really important part of employee satisfaction. People like helping people. They like solving problems. They like getting great feedback. So do you need to change your company culture? Is there some apathy within your organisation, maybe coming from the top? Is your company more focused on making money than delivering good service? I believe these are all very good questions to ask, because a change of focus will help your company win in so many ways.
There are so many more things I could raise, like being flexible, going the extra mile, having stock available locally, and more, but I thought these were some great and very simple reminders to help highlight the important elements of customer service. Of course, the key thing for both of our clients is to follow-up and act on these findings. Doing an audit and then doing nothing, is worse than never doing anything at all. It’s time for action.
I don’t great customer service is hard, butoften some very basic things are being missed. The first rule of customer service in my mind is: never forget that we are people dealing with people – let’s not overcomplicate things. We need to focus on servicing the hell out of our great customers, because if we don’t do it, someone else will.
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