Opening up to customer respect

28th Apr 2021

Respect.  A simple word and yet one which carries so many nuances. Dictionary definitions give one meaning as having a deep admiration for someone’s talents or achievements. But the same dictionaries also give another meaning, looking towards having due regard for the feelings or rights of others. And that can give rise to a problem. If I were to say ‘I respect …,’ I am potentially conveying praise or admiration or reflecting an opening position which puts others’ needs first. On the other hand any sentence that I start ‘with respect’ is basically laying down a complete disagreement with the other person’s position.

So what’s that got to do with the relationship we have with our customers? We talk a lot about customer satisfaction or customer experiences. But could we be in danger of this being a one sided relationship; one in which we deliver what we think our customers should want rather than taking the time out to find what customers really need.

That is where respect can come into play.  Not in the negative sense of ‘with respect that’s what our product delivers’ but with a positive outlook which really seeks to address customer expectations and outcomes. And it’s an attitude which starts at the top of the organisation; with board members who actively seek to deliver a corporate governance structure which really puts people first.

Respect and empowerment

You may think you already do this. You might say that the Companies Act 2006 expects directors to foster the company’s business relationships with suppliers, customers and to maintain high standards of business conduct and that you follow those requirements. And you may well do so but only to an extent. You see, when true respect comes into play then how you conduct business turns on its head. Customer surveys and focus groups suddenly become forums for really finding out what the market needs rather than as conduits to validate decisions already made. And your people, buoyed by an internal culture of respect, become empowered to really deliver positive outcomes.

Now there are going to be times when you just won’t be able to match customer needs no matter how hard you try. But here again that’s when respect allied to honesty comes into play. Don’t pretend you can offer something you can’t. Be honest, explain and work with your customers to try and find some sort of solution. In the long run that may mean some customers going elsewhere. But if that is what it takes to deliver against genuine customer needs then isn’t that better than ‘with respect’ telling them they are wrong to want a different product. One way lies a great reputation and the potential for customers to return in due course. The other lies in broken relationships. Which would you prefer?

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