Regard for the needs of your customers

31st Aug 2022

One of the duties of a director as set out in law is “the need to foster the company’s business relationships with suppliers, customers and others.” But what does that mean in practice? Is fostering business relationships with customers simply a matter of building and maintaining a customer base, or does it go far deeper than that?

It’s a question which has particularly come to the fore as inflation starts to bite. And in truth there is no one simple answer. So, whilst for some companies the answer may be ‘business as usual’ others may be taking a more customer-focused route. For example, in response to the latest energy price cap rises some companies have urged customers who are worried about their bills to get in touch. Even if they are able to offer a package of measures, it’s quite a passive response to expect the customer to make the first move; particularly when potential solutions may not be widely publicised.

Iceland on the other hand have taken a more proactive approach, partnering with a charity-owned ethical lender to publicise a scheme which offers pre-loaded payment cards, in effect loans, of up to £100 to purchase food in their stores. A trial found that this scheme not only helped more than 80% of participants to stop borrowing from high-cost loan sharks, it also helped people to keep up with rent and other payments, improve their diet and reduced levels of anxiety about finances.

Out of the box not tick box

This sort of ‘out of the box’ thinking doesn’t just provide a positive impact for customers, it is also likely to bring in extra custom and generate customer loyalty, thereby helping the business as well. And by openly advertising the scheme it removes some of the stigma of having to ask for help; something which people may be reluctant to do even when times are tough.

Obviously the Iceland model won’t work within every business sector. But it is a good example of open collaboration which sees customers as an integral part of the business model. It’s an approach which in other sectors might manifest itself in an active approach to customers to join in product planning sessions; or which might look towards building services based on real customer needs and attitudes rather than responses to surveys which have been slanted to give pre-determined outcomes.

Whatever the approach, one thing is key. Having regard for the needs of your customers is far more complex and personal than simply issuing a few vague comments or the odd survey. Without customers there will be no business. Understanding this and delivering innovative approaches which offer direct solutions is the key to success.

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