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Courting the Customer (And Is The Customer Always Right?)

Written by  on Monday, 01 July 2013 06:00
There are clear similarities between courting a loved one and winning or "wooing" a customer. The old concept of customer service relied heavily on selling because it was a one-way conversation. All one was required to do was to bombard the customer with products and adverts and they would be expected to make a choice and respond. Today, brands and customers interact in a real-time world. Your customer does not want to be sold. They want to be courted.

Courtship in the sales process looks a lot like dating. It involves first knowing where to find the customer. While the landscape may be congested and highly competitive, you must carefully think through where your ideal customer operates and how best your message can reach them. This will then help you decide which channel represents your best medium for reaching them. While billboards may work for some, radio could nick it for others while some may only be found through social media.

Secondly, your message must be about them. No customer cares about your company's mission and strategic objectives if they cannot find these connected to their needs or expectations. Your message must have a bearing on something the customer cares about or is interested in. Tell them about how joining your network can help them make calls faster and cheaper. Let them know how your airline can provide smoother connections to major destinations and shorter travel times. That is more likely to connect than promoting the idea that patronising your services would help you reach your target of becoming the number one in your industry.

The third way to court a customer is to give gifts. Promotions and giveaways are important because customers love freebies. When you give gifts, discounts or promotional giveaways, it shows that you care and it opens up the relationship. Customer gifts can take various forms and may be tangible, virtual or personal. Whatever you offer must be relevant and must be something the client will appreciate. A campus-based promotion aimed at tertiary students must not offer a discount on their dream house because most of the potential patrons may not appreciate it or be able to take advantage of the offer. Give away free calls for a year, summer vacation, telephone handsets and other devices or consumables and you are more likely to attract a wider segment of participants. Selecting the right gift or approach requires creativity and an understanding of the customer's socio-cultural environment and experiences.

The fourth key to courting the customer is to gradually and systematically build trust. This is probably the most important one. Don't "pounce" on customers. Invite them as if it were for a dating experience. Just as people typically don't ask someone to marry them at the first meeting, you must allow your buyer to get to know you. The more they get to know you, the more trust gets built at a comfortable pace. Courting your customer takes a lot of extra thinking and planning. Relationships built that way tend to be more natural and last longer with mutually-beneficial dividends.

Is the customer always right?
One of the most famous clichés in business and customer service is "the customer is always right." It is based on the irrevocable truth that the customer is the central pivot around which the entire business or service delivery revolves. Your product or service is all about the customer and failing to realise this can set back the fortunes of any business. Working with this principle means going the extra mile just to make the customer happy. If you find yourself dealing with a dissatisfied or complaining client, your objective should not be to argue your way out or prove who is right but to retain the customer and turn a potentially bad situation into a positive experience.

In case you are wondering why it is worth it, the following statistics will help you make a good judgement. The White House Office of Customer Affairs says that "It is 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one."

It would thus seem that replacing the Pepsi you may have already opened with a Coke, which the customer actually ordered, might not be too expensive a cost to incur. According to Lee Resources, "91% of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with you again. Resolve a complaint in the customer's favour and they will do business with you 70% of the time." So the greater beneficiary of effective complaint handling ends up being the service provider.

Interestingly, many people adopt the "ostrich approach" that says once you do not know about an issue, everything will be alright. They say things like "what you do not know cannot kill you." This philosophy suggests that ignorance is bliss. This means that if customers are hearing and discussing things about your organisation behind your back, it doesn't really matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. A customer's "silence" does not necessarily mean their approval. Indeed it could be quietly sounding the death knell for your business. In "Understanding Customers," Ruby Newell-Legner submits that "A typical business hears from 4% of its dissatisfied customers. 96% do not voice their complaints and 91% never come back." The White House Office of Customer Affairs supports this position by stating that "For every customer who bothers to complain, 26 other customers remain silent." So would you rather know how the customer feels or not?

Rather than stay uninformed, you may be better off knowing what is wrong and using customer complaints as a basis for correction. Authorities in innovation suggest that one of the most important trigger points for product and service enhancements is customer feedback – both positive and negative. Kristin Smaby in "Being Human is good business" reminds us of the benefits of hearing from our customers when she writes, "When customers share their story, they are not just sharing pain points. They're actually teaching you how to make your product, service, and business better."

In order to benefit from customer complaints, a business or service organisation must actively and deliberately put in place a mechanism for receiving, processing and acting on customer feedback. Customer feedback is gold. It may be worth your while to design internal processes for receiving them and robust mechanisms for dealing with complaints promptly and efficiently. These mechanisms may include a feedback hotline, complaint forms, response forms and regular checks on service quality by senior managers. You can also be proactive through the use of customer surveys and periodic follow-up calls to your customers.

Even though it is said that the customer is always right, there are instances when a customer will request you to do something that is unreasonable or unethical. Whenever that happens, you must politely, immediately and firmly decline the request. A refusal does not necessarily have to be rude. When a customer wants you to falsify a sales invoice or sell something at an unauthorised discount of 90% you cannot just acquiesce and say the customer is always right. Some visitors to your organisation are not your ideal customers and it is important to know how to identify and respond to such people. These few exceptions notwithstanding, one thing is clear. Every service organisation needs to take a close look at its customers and how it serves them in order to stay in business and achieve sustained success. Your customer is the king or maybe the QUEEN.

Key Lesson:
Successful service delivery is about identifying and profiling your ideal customer and ensuring that you give them the very best service. Any business, NGO, church or service organisation that pays attention to this principle shall reap considerable dividends of prosperity and longevity. Former American Presidential candidate Ross Perot said, "Business is not just doing deals; business is having great products, doing great engineering, and providing tremendous service to customers."

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