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The Customer Connection: Balancing Costs & Customer Quality
By Bob Prosen
Something’s got to give, right? Running a small business during this economy is tough, so certainly customers understand you can’t be everything to all people.
I mean, shouldn’t everyone – including customers – expect a little give and take?
Well, yes and no. While customers understand times are tough, they also recognize the added buying power now available to them. This doesn’t mean loyalty will fly out the door in search of the lowest bidder, but it also means you can’t ignore the quality of your customer service.
During tough economic times, you can’t dismiss the value of having strong customer connections.
Maintaining quality customer experiences is crucial to the survival of your small business. And getting the right message across to your current and future customers will make or break you.
While it’s essential to aggressively manage costs during the recession, your business will be doomed the moment you…
sacrifice your customer’s buying experience. In fact, service and product quality should be elevated during tough times to build customer loyalty and grow revenue.
Knowing where to cut costs and improve service will greatly enhance your company’s success.
The key to playing through tough times is positive cash flow and a lean operation. To build and maintain your revenue streams, you need to keep your current customers, sell them more, and seek referrals. Except for commodities, no one survives on price alone. Those who try will eventually go out of business when times are tough.
So what’s the key to connecting with customers? Integrity, honesty and communication. Embed the following four principles into your business model to elevate the quality of your customer service and build sustainable customer connections.
1. Keep Your Word
It’s really quite simple: To ensure customer trust and loyalty, stay true to your company’s promises.
With more competition and less buyers, the caliber of experience is key, so continue providing customers the quality products and top-notch customer service they are use to.
Fortunately, you can do both without spending lots of money! Look for innovative ways to offer increased value on things with little cost.
- Include low book-valued items from inventory at no charge
- Offer discounts on future purchases
- Add features and functions already available with some of your other products
- Bundle products and services (involve the entire company to seek creative solutions and ideas!)
By making just a few simple changes, customers get more for the same investment, revenue improves and customer affinity grows. Be sure customers know when you provide increased value without a corresponding increase in price.
Whatever you do, don’t cancel traditional sales deals. This turns loyal customers off, and they’ll go elsewhere. Raising your level of communication during tough times helps build lasting connections and increase customer loyalty. What are your plans to increase the level of meaningful communication?
2. Don’t Compromise Your Customer’s Shopping Experience
Put your client first. Don’t skimp on things that could sour their buying experience. Quality of goods and services must remain high, so don’t switch suppliers just because someone else can do it cheaper.
Remember, you usually get what you pay for, and your customers will notice!
If you need to reduce costs, talk to suppliers and see what they can do to help. Chances are, they don’t want to lose your business either, and they’ll work extra hard with you to offer better pricing, terms or upgrades.
Experience matters! Don’t fire your higher paid “front line” employees and replace them with cheaper, untrained labor.
It’s better to have fewer, higher paid professionals than a full crew of average talent. Now more than ever, customers expect a high quality shopping experience, impeccable service, and enthusiastic, knowledgeable sales and support personnel.
Case in point: Best Buy vs. Circuit City. Best Buy invested in its sales staff to make them product experts. Circuit City fired senior sales staff and replaced them with junior, untrained employees to save money. This, coupled with other ailments, led to their ultimate demise.
By maintaining quality, customers will respect your integrity and dedication to their needs, producing loyalty for years to come.
3. Empathize With Your Customer
Show clients you understand what they’re going through. They want you to recognize that we’re all under pressure, not just you.
If you need to change your business model, be sure customers understand your motives. Show them that you want to be there for them now, as well as when good times return. Everyone understands hard times, and we admire those who take proactive steps to be there for us in the future.
But, don’t throw caution to the wind. Some customers will ask for special pricing and terms and, if possible, accommodate their needs. Before accepting such requests, consider asking for longer-term agreements to lock in future business.
When requests outweigh the value, it’s time to say “no.” It’s critical to cut costs during a recession, and customers understand that. However, finding ways to cut less essential expenses rather than vital ones is the key to playing through.
4. Get the Message Out
During these tough times, it’s imperative to communicate the right set of messages to your customer base. This is your chance to show your humanity and develop closeness with your customer.
Let them know you understand their hardships and what you’re doing to lend a hand.
This is also the perfect time to demonstrate your competitive edge. While others cut back on people, marketing and service, you can step in and create confidence and certainty for your brand.
Your integrity and image will directly affect your success, now and in the future.
Keep ’em happy! Here’s a few simple ideas to build strong customer connections:
- Inform customers when products ship
- Provide advance notice of delays
- Send updates along the way
- Respond quickly to requests
- Meet commitments
- Limit surprises
- Clearly communicate return and refund information
- Follow up to ensure satisfaction
- Send a heartfelt thank you
Keeping customers happy by staying in tune with their needs will not only build loyalty but also allow you to capture more market share as less savvy competitors stumble.
November 7, 2011