How does your customer feel about your company? The honeymoon is over and now the work of the relationship has begun. Prior to the marriage, communication was open and constructive. The partnership was a dance of compliments and cordial formalities. What changed? Somewhere between sales and operations, the partners changed, as did the tone of the conversation. From sweet nothings to nothing. This wasn’t the promise nor the vision. We were in sync prior to the order being placed but now we are just another task.
What is business? It is an exchange of value for value. Most often the exchange is currency on one side of the relationship for a product or service of equal value on the other side. There are multiple steps that make up the process of exchange. Step one is the offer. Step two is the agreement. Step three is the delivery. Step four is the post-exchange follow-up. Businesses are typically satisfactory at step one through three, but fail to execute on step four. They don´t realize that for most products or services, the follow-up is where loyalty begins to form. If the goal is a relationship with the customer, follow-up is the key step in the business process to achieve this goal. Follow-up done properly says “we care” or “you matter to us”.
Business is a relationship but too often we treat it as a transaction. Why? Transactions are easy while relationships require effort. There are laws of relationships that should never be broken. When a business breaks any of these laws, it is difficult to regain the trust required for continued growth.
It isn’t about you. Companies that make it about them, lose. Customers are interested in their own experience, advantage, or benefit. When companies make it about themselves, they quickly lose sight of the customer and make changes based on what they think is best or to maximize the bottom line. The bottom line is important but too many companies slowly diminish their products and services because they obsess over their benefits versus the customer’s.
Always provide honest pay for an honest day’s work. The value delivered should always meet or exceed the customer’s currency exchanged. I don’t like to use the term “customer expectations” because sometimes the expectations are not aligned with reality. However, the value delivered should always be equal to or greater than the value received. Have you heard of the term “maximize profit”? Maximize profit means unequal exchange. Unequal exchange means win-lose.
Many years ago, we had some work done in our back yard. We had someone we know quote the work and trusted their pricing. We ended up paying about $20K more than market price for the work. As a customer, this certainly didn’t feel good and it meant we have never called them for additional work. Customers will know when they are being fairly changed. Most people won’t rock the boat and will keep their displeasure to themselves. This is a recipe for disaster for your business because eventually, you will run out of customers. Train your team to deliver value equivalent to the service rendered with your target margins.
Always tell the truth. If you forgot about it, tell them you forgot about it. If it is more work than you expected, tell them it is more work than you expected. If you are out of resources, tell them you are out of resources. Why does business struggle with the truth? In relationships between people, honesty is critical for the long-term success of the relationship. Business relationships are not different. Honesty has always been and always will be the best policy. The truth can sometimes hurt but it will always set you free.
Dignity & Humility
Always be respectful. The ego always wants to defend itself against criticism, anger, or all other threatening behavior. There is a time and place for aggressive action to fend off an assault but 99% of the time, the best plan is to accept what is delivered. Some people want to fight and argue, some people only know to complain, some people love to find fault in all situations, while some will never be satisfied. Customers come in all different shapes and sizes.
Here is a general approach that can help you manage your way through any complaint. First, listen to understand. Don’t judge the person doing the complaining. Separate the complaint from the complainer to determine if it is legit. Avoid the temptation to minimize the complaint because you feel it is no big deal. This is your customer or your employee, so be as objective as possible. Next, demonstrate sincere empathy. To truly empathize with another person, we must acknowledge them and understand their situation. Maybe this person standing in front of you recently lost a spouse, their job, etc. Ask questions to understand their mindset. Finally, go for win-win. You have heard the complaint and empathized with the person complaining. It is time to come to a resolution. What would be the best way to resolve this complaint if money were not an issue? If you were the person complaining, how would you want to be treated in this situation or how would you want this to be resolved?
Always seek to make it better. Businesses that stand the test of time continuously and vigilantly adjust and adapt to the times. The business that thrives long term is constantly improving their service or product. They look far enough ahead to understand where the market appears to be heading and nudging their business in that direction. All things change and the business that got you to where you are won’t be the exact same business that allows you to continue into the future. Legacy businesses become obsolete. There is a balance between the bleeding edge (not good) and the leading edge. Reward employees for innovative strategies that improve your business service or product. Have regular discussions with other companies in your industry. Attend industry events that showcase the latest technology. It is important to be on the lookout for opportunities to enhance your services or products. Survival over the long term requires the adoption of new strategies. For more ideas on this check out Blue Ocean Strategy by Chan & Mauborgne, and Marketing Myopia by Theodore Levitt.
Always be grateful. Do you like it when someone demonstrates sincere appreciation and gratitude toward you? Of course! If you want to differentiate your business, align every aspect of your business in service to the customer. Accounts receivable should know and appreciate your customers’ accounts payable person. From top to bottom, businesses should express gratitude for the business their customer awards them. You don’t exist without them. When you receive an order or a referral, write a thank you note. The expression of gratitude is free and it will transform your entire business.
These are the most critical laws to follow if you desire a long-term relationship with your customers. If you use these laws to build your business, it will be an unstoppable difference maker in your community and an industry game changer.