Archive for March, 2014

Loving Your Customer

The most successful organizations of the 21st Century have achieved their status by loving their customers.  Sure, everyone says they love their customers, but is that love based upon being paid or based upon an insatiable devotion to providing best in breed products and service? 

Certainly it can be said that profit is always the driving force, but is it?  Is it better to provide an average service and receive a one-time payment, or provide over the top service and earn, as a byproduct, a customer for life?  The philosophy of the most successful organizations is rooted in the latter.

Let’s face it, in today’s business world there have been market forces focused on commoditization of many goods and services.   Think of airline tickets, where competition has pushed prices down.  Some airlines make up the difference by nickel and diming for everything from pillows to seats to luggage.  Interestingly, amidst the consolidation and commoditization, one particular upstart airline did none of the above and simply focused on LUVing their customers.   But beyond Southwest Airlines, let’s consider some of the love shared across a variety of industries.

Consider Trader’s Joes, which one former executive called a “7-Eleven with a great wine department.”  Their devotion to customers and growth despite a lack of advertising is unparalleled, prompting Mark Gardiner to take a job in order to pen a book under cover.    Look to Google, which goes beyond simply having people at a front desk to a product used by billions that rarely, if ever, breaks.   Think of FedEx, which delivers 10 million packages per day and, according to their mission, “places customer needs at the center of everything we do.”   Among the tech giants is Amazon, offering a user friendly website, low prices, one click shopping, no hassle returns, and often free postage with a mantra of “catering to its customers”.

Fostering relationships with customers is an integral part of long term success.   Remember the cardinal rules of sales;  1) people don’t like to be sold and  2) they buy from those they know, like and trust.   In a day and age of 24/7 news coverage and informational access, creating an excellent experience for customers has never been more important.  

Perhaps Walt Disney said it best, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” By loving your customers, not only will they return but they will bring their friends”.  Never underestimate the importance of the positive word of mouth!

According to RightNow, 89% of consumers do business with your competitor following a poor customer experience.   In a survey by Forrester Research, only 37% of brands received a good or excellent rating, reinforcing that we truly do live in a society where mediocrity has become the norm.   Considering that more than 60% of consumers will pay more for a better customer experience, it makes sense to invest where it really matters; relationships. 

What are my key rules for loving the customer?</p> 1. Remember the Golden Rule –   By doing unto others, you will grow a mutually beneficial relationship.  Never look at customers as a commodity, but rather treat them as you would like to be treated yourself.  I am not a commodity, nor are they.  Arguably they could purchase what I sell, technology and claims consulting services, elsewhere.   But why would they want to if I provide them with best of breed service with results that give them a quantifiable competitive advantage in the marketplace? 

 2. Respect Your Customers– Nobody likes a pushy sales process.  The reality is that many critical, lifelong and cross generational relationships take YEARS to build.   Noah didn’t build the Ark in a day, just as these crucial relationships will not blossom overnight.   Be mindful of customers’ needs and respect their space.   Use this time to help them resolve issues and challenges in order to gain trust as a friend, confidante and advisor. 

 3. Always Listen – As a consultant, I spend a lot of time listening.   I hear the challenges of my potential customers looking to gain a competitive advantage in a challenging industry. I not only listen, but can relate, having spent more than two decades in various claims related functions, ranging from adjusting to leadership. My job is to help them get there, but to do so, I must truly understand their issues, challenges and concerns.   

4. Build Trust – If a customer wants to buy something that they really don’t need I am going to tell them.  I refuse to make a sale for the simple purpose of making a sale.  The last thing I want is a customer with buyer’s remorse who will think twice about buying from me again.  That said, often times the solution to true success of an organization may be right at their fingertips, and sometimes they don’t even know it, requiring a gentle, buy loving, nudge. 

5. Be Transparent – This is a crucial element of trust.   Remember the part about people buying from those they know, like and trust?  Transparency means not being afraid to give and get feedback.  In fact, you thrive on having conversations with your customers.  The person you are outside of the office blurs with the person inside the office.  Whatever setting you are enjoying your customers in, you are just you. 

6. Bet true to your word – If you commit to doing something for a customer, do it!  I can’t tell you how many times I have had dealings with others who over promise and under deliver.   It is infuriating.  Don’t commit to something just for the sake of making a sale.  It is a poor reflection on both the company and the people involved.  

7. The Customer is Always Right – There are two rules in business;

1) The customer is always right.

2) Read Rule 1.  

8. Understand the competition –  Just because you have great products or service doesn’t mean there isn’t someone aiming to do it better.   The biggest obstacle that organizations can face is that of complacency.  Don’t believe me, just look to the Big 3, who for years took their edge in the auto market for granted.   To succeed, organizations must adapt the paradigm of continuous process improvement.  

9. Don’t be shy – Many (and this is the operative word) of your customers love attention, and word of mouth is a two way street.   Heaping praise upon those doing things well can yield amazing dividends.  Again, this is where building trust, knowing your client and being transparent are key.   If your client likes to keep a low profile, even if they are doing amazing things, then respect their desires.  If your client enjoys the spotlight, then work with them to bring attention to all the good that they are doing. 

10. Always say “Thank You” – Being kind, grateful and respectful will take your organization far, especially in a society where manners have seemingly become a thing of the past.  More than 75% of businesses surveyed routinely say they will spend more time with a business as the result of positive experiences. 

Perhaps most important is the realization that love isn’t always easy.   Having been married for 25 years this year, I hope that I have learned a thing or two about the subject.   First and foremost, it requires a partnership based upon mutual respect and honesty.   The same holds true in business.  Recognize that over the course of time there will be some days that are better than others.  It is how two entities resolve differences and leverage similarities and mutual goals that provide the foundation for longevity and success.  

“If you work just for money, you’ll never make it, but if you love what you’re doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours.”  Ray Kroc; Founder of McDonald’s

Christopher Tidball is a claims consultant and author of Re-Adjusted: 20 Essential Rules To Take Your Claims Organization from Ordinary to Extraordinary!   He has held multiple roles in the P&C industry for the past twenty five years.   To learn more, please visit www. christidball.com.

  

 

March 7, 2014 at 9:59 am Leave a comment


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Chris Tidball is a claims and revenue management consultant and author of the "20 Essential Rules" series of self and organizational improvement books. You can ask him a question at chris@christidball.com

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