Effective communications with customers are vitally important especially for consumer based businesses. For commercial managers, responsible for producing a steady flow of profitable income, “making the customer the centre of the business,” has been a mantra for decades.
But in reality, what does it mean to have the customer at the centre of the business?
The sole purpose for any business is to produce profit. That profit is for the benefit of the owners, but it is also for the benefit of the employees, without whom the business would not be possible. Customers also benefit, because profitable businesses remain in being and are therefore able to continue to provide the products and services for the customers. So where do the customers fit in?
Businesses make profits by anticipating and satisfying customers’ requirements. Customers provide the income to the business in exchange for the goods and services provided. However, the purpose of a business is to make money, satisfying customers is not its purpose but only the way in which it gains profitable income.
Customer relationship management (CRM) is largely about managing data regarding customer requirements and buying habits, rather than communicating with them. A good relationship between customer and supplier relies on the service delivered and especially the quality of communications between them. However, in many cases while the bulk of communication may be expected to be from the supplier to the customer, the level of communication from the customer is often impeded by the difficulty of making effective contact with the supplier.
Many companies often give the impression that communication from customers, other than for placing orders and remitting payment, is generally not of interest and is possibly discouraged. Companies appear to hide contact links on websites, and make contact phone numbers difficult to find. In some cases, standard answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) may resolve customer requirements, but in other cases, only direct communication with the company will prove satisfactory. While Twitter and other media have their place on modern business and customer communications, they are still no substitute for direct personal customer contact.
Information from customers is vital for every business. Customers are not always intent on complaints. Many loyal customers want to help their suppliers with ideas, suggestions and other positive information, because it is in their interest to assist them to continue to supply the goods and services they require. Yet somehow, some businesses seem to treat their customers as “the enemy”, so that some refuse to give individual contact names on the grounds of “security”. But customers want to know the identity of an individual who can answer questions and resolve problems, even if that individual answers through a pseudonym for “security” reasons.
How should the commercial manager assess the company’s communications with customers and what actions might be needed to improve them?
- Are all telephone numbers for customer service easily accessible? How do you know?
When away from the office, try telephoning, emailing and texting the company while acting as if a customer. Ask for help and see how well the system does or does not work. How easy is it to identify someone in authority and to contact them, how long does it take?
- How easy is it for customers to find contact points on a website, in order to send in an email enquiry/? If directions are not clear and simple, the customer may give up trying, and important information lost.
- Are full contact details of key personnel available, including telephone, email and postal address? If not, why not? Unnecessary secrecy is a barrier to commercial trust. (If security is a problem, provide pseudonyms).
- Are all telephone calls answered by personnel capable of giving adequate answers or referral to other authority?
- Do all emails and letters have a timely response?
All emails should at least have an automatic response, giving details of when a full reply can be expected. Why? Because there is nothing worse for customer relations than for emails and letters not to be at least acknowledged in a timely manner. Such inaction simply creates frustration and irritation with those who seek to correspond with the organisation.
- Are the number and type of received customer responses monitored and analysed? How they are dealt with? Is the level of comment indicative of a problem or a customer requirement?
Using pre-recorded answering systems may appear to be cost effective. However, consider what effect it has on callers and prospective customers, when faced with a menu and press button selection, followed by more menus and press button selection? It creates annoyance and the impression that the company is not interested. Similarly, being put onto automatic telephone hold, while being told that “their call is really important to us” clearly demonstrates to the caller the exact opposite attitude
While businesses exist to produce money which they obtain from customers, customers should not be taken for granted. Showing that the views, comments, and interests of the customer are important and valued, encourage the customer to continue to return, even if they have encountered problems. It is easier and cheaper to keep existing customers than to have to replace them.
“He who has the money makes the rules”. It is the customer that has the money which the business wants. Business and customers are in partnership, but if the customer concludes that a business considers their opinions of little importance, they can always take their business and money elsewhere.
Nicholas Watkis is the founder of Contract Marketing Service, established in 1981. He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a certified management consultant of the Institute of Business Consultancy. For more articles from Nicholas, click here.
Nicholas Watkis has released his new book 'How Good Is Your Marketing?', available from www.businessperformancemaximized.com in hardcopy, or as an e-book price £10.00.