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Dealing with Customers: 10 Tips on Generating Customer Love For Your Small Business
Top 10 ways to generate customer love for your business
By Tom McKaskill
Identifying, targeting and securing customers is one of the central planks of any successful start-up. If you fall down on any of those items it’s unlikely that your business will be around for long.
Entrepreneur, consultant and author Tom McKaskill has written a new eBook called Make Millions From Your Business: 101 Tips For Success which contains advice aplenty on how to make customers love your brand.
We’ve selected 10 of the best tips on how to appeal to customers. Make sure you take them on board to help you stay one step ahead of your competitors.
1. Find unmet needs
Far too often entrepreneurs chase the obvious, which simply puts them in the way of competitors.
If they do little to differentiate themselves they are forced to compete on price, reducing margins and putting themselves at risk.
They should be seeking out problems which have not been adequately addressed, trends where demand is moving ahead of supply and niche markets not attractive to large corporations.
Sometimes all it takes is a survey of customers. What more can we do for you? What problems do you have where the solution is inadequate? What features and functions can we add to make your life easier?
It doesn’t take a lot to find unmet needs. They are especially attractive if they add value to existing customers, introduce cross-selling opportunities or provide solutions which open doors faster and reduce timelines.
The good thing about doing something a little differently is that you do not have the same price pressure. You can afford to make a few mistakes and you end up creating additional competitive advantage for yourself.
2. Set the correct customer expectations
While it might feel good to exceed the customer’s expectation it is usually the worst thing you can do. Meeting that expectation on the other hand is the smartest thing you can do. So why should you not exceed it?
The problem is that you end up resetting the expectation and next time you must step up to better the performance.
If you cannot consistently meet the higher level of performance you end up with an unhappy customer.
Customer satisfaction is directly related to expectation. A customer who receives what he expects time and again will be satisfied.
The worst thing that can happen in a customer experience is to have some form of random result, whether it’s good or bad. He doesn’t know what to expect and he may prefer to buy elsewhere.
If you want repeat sales and referrals the best thing you can do is ensure that your marketing communications specify exactly what you do and then ensure that you deliver against that outcome every time.
3. Ask customers for feedback
By buying from your firm customers have given you a vote of confidence and have made an investment in your reputation and future.
They want you to be successful and want to be proud of the fact they chose you as a supplier.
While this may feel trite, many customers feel that way and are more than happy to give you feedback on your products and services to make you more successful. You only need to ask them.
Your customers usually have greater experience of your products and services than you do – after all, you are only the manufacturer or provider.
They are the users and consumers so in many ways they understand what the products should do or what the service should provide.
They can tell you what works and what doesn’t, what can be improved, how the service or products can be adapted or enhanced to provide a better solution and so on.
Many have experience of competitor products and services and are often willing to provide you with competitor information.
Whether you use a survey, telemarketing or gather customers together for a panel session, many will provide you with information which will be invaluable in improving your business.
4. Engage your customers
Customers using your products or services are familiar with what you do and are on your radar, but what about previous customers – what are you doing for them?
We know from experience that it is easier to sell more products and services to existing and previous customers than it is to chase new ones.
If we neglect prior customers we give up huge opportunities to resell or to encourage them to give referrals. We should be finding ways to stay in touch and engage with them to keep us in their sights.
Think of all the ways you can engage customers – newsletters, product updates, product releases, charity events, sponsorships, customer surveys, special offers and so on.
The list is endless if you use some imagination. You want them to remember the good experience they had with your products and services and to quickly recall your name when they have a similar need or someone they know asks for a referral.
Not all customers will buy again but they all have opportunities to refer you to someone with a problem you can solve. You must make sure you are the one they recommend.
5. Use complaints as feedback
It is nice to know what your customers think and it is critical to the health of your business and to its future prospects. Complaints are one of the best feedback systems you have.
They are independent of the business and if treated properly they can tell you what is happening at the coalface of your business.
They let you know if your products are doing what they are meant to do, whether your services are providing value for money and whether your operational systems are doing what they should do. In other words you are getting a free audit.
While it would be nice to have no complaints and to stop problems before they occur you want the earliest possible feedback on whether the business is operating properly. Complaints need to be given serious attention and the complaints process must include authority to take action to investigate and compensate.
A complaint handed well results in a satisfied customer. A complaint you never hear about or which is badly handled results in an angry customer who will undermine your business.
6. Lock in customers
You should create a situation where your customers willingly give up their right to engage with your competitors. You might find this a bit confronting but we willingly enter into agreements all the time where we commit for extended periods of time to one supplier.
Think of mobile phones, mortgages, life insurance, car leases, internet services and office rental agreements. There are penalties for early termination but usually there are concessions or benefits in signing up for the long term.
We can often create some type of “lock in” phrase in customer agreements. They can be preferred supplier agreements, maintenance and service agreements, cumulative rebates or discounts, joint ventures or strategic partnerships.
The aim is to engage with the customer on a long-term basis and to tie him to your business so that there are disincentives for him to terminate the agreement or change suppliers.
Customers are usually reluctant to switch suppliers if there is a “switching cost” associated with moving suppliers. This might be the risk of making the wrong decision or simply the delays, costs, hassles and stress of moving. Our task must always be to make it easier to deal with us than to switch.
7. Shotgun marketing is a waste
We need to start our marketing strategy by identifying the problem we solve and who has the problem. We need to know who our ideal customers are and how we can get our message in front of them.
Rather than blasting our message out to all and sundry, which is the shotgun approach, we should be using a rifle to zero in on our target customer.
Instead of advertising we might be better off with telesales. Instead of putting up an exhibition stand we might be better off running seminars for tightly-targeted audiences.
We must work out the cost of customer acquisition and we must be aware that anything that puts our marketing resources in front of the wrong prospect is money wasted.
We need to design marketing programs to focus on where our targets customers are found. Do they read a specific magazine, attend certain trade conferences, buy from specific retail outlets, belong to certain clubs or use specific credit cards?
We need to go where they are and where we get the biggest bang for our buck.
8. Lowest price is fragile positioning
In every marketplace there is a range of products that vary in quality, price and functionality. One position that seems to attract more than its fair share of attention is the lowest price.
That is often seen as the largest part of the market and therefore the most attractive for the company that wants to grow. But the lowest price is a hard position to build a sustainable business from.
When offering the lowest price you are appealing to a customer group which is primarily interested in price. By doing that you are admitting that the features and functions that excite you about your product and which you believe should attract business are not important to the customer.
Those buyers want basic features and functions for the lowest price, with fewer features and functions probably appealing to them if they could buy for a lower price.
What that means is a dive to the bottom and the company that can achieve the lowest price wins. As soon as a competitor finds a way of pushing its price lower than yours it will take away your market share, leaving you nothing to compete with.
9. Try before they buy
The biggest obstacle to closing a sale is the buyer’s perceived risk. If he has used the product or service before he knows what he is getting for his money and the perceived risk is very low.
If he has no prior experience there is no one he can turn to for advice. Confronted with a complex and expensive product or service you can understand his reluctance to hand over his money.
The solution is to find various ways for the prospect to try before he buys. There are lots of techniques vendors use to allow a trial of a product or service. Products can be made available for trial periods or can be taken to home or work locations so the prospect can see them in situ.
Alternatively a demonstration might be arranged for an individual or group. Services are more difficult to trial but sometimes a short or limited experience can demonstrate the quality of the potential outcome. Another method is a live simulation undertaken by a member of the firm’s staff or a video of the product or service in use.
We have to lift the prospect’s level of confidence in the outcome he seeks. Some form of limited exposure to the product or service in use will often overcome the prospect’s hesitation.
10. Create value beyond functionality
I constantly tell entrepreneurs to think beyond functionality when creating customer value.
Far too often I hear entrepreneurs talk about products, features and functions as if they are the only things the customer is interested in but when you look around you find numerous successful companies that have built their reputation around intangible attributes of their customers’ experiences.
What differentiates one airline from another when they all use the same planes, use a common ticketing and check-in system and serve the same meals?
Customers are interested in every aspect of the sale activity from where they find information, how they evaluate the product, what they feel like when they use it or talk about it and how they interact with your employees during and after the sale.
They are often engaged with you long after the initial sale. Value to the customer can have many dimensions beyond just solving the immediate problem.
They remember the overall experience and your task as a vendor is to create an experience which taps into multiple forms of value, not just functionality.
By creating a wider set of experiences you can differentiate your business and develop a unique competitive advantage.
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