We at Waterstons have learnt that the creation of a sustainable business is dependent on managing customer relationships and developing a mutual bond based on trust and satisfaction. We believe that successful organisations have a culture centred on values and superb customer service. It never fails to amaze me how many companies fail to realise how dependent they are on customer loyalty and do not understand the need to focus the whole organisation on providing a totally positive client experience. Poorly trained and informed people demonstrating a poor attitude can destroy, at a stroke, a reputation for good service that colleagues may have built up over several years of dedicated work.
It is a well stated fact that work from a new customer is at least 10 times as expensive to win as that from an existing customer, with whom a close and trusting relationship already exists. A business development strategy built on the retention of existing customer relationships, complemented by the development of new relationship-based business, is a proven route to both sustainability and healthy profits for any organisation.
The following discusses the qualities that are manifest in companies who have earned a large stock of loyal and committed customers. There are several elements to doing business in a way that will create and retain customers by developing close and ongoing relationships.
A positive experience at every touch point is key
A customer’s impression starts to be formed at the first point of contact and develops quickly as the relationship progresses. A bad experience at any point along the business pathway will contribute to the customer’s perception. A bad impression at any point in the journey can easily result in the termination of the relationship and a sustained loss of business. A good experience will, on the other hand, build a sustainable bond that will create unprecedented levels of loyalty. The whole enterprise must be focussed on giving the customer a positive experience at all times – a strong, internally shared, ‘high-quality service culture’ is essential.
A product or service that delivers what is required from the moment it is purchased
Whether making and delivering a widget, or providing a consulting service, a supplier must be committed to providing the customer with a reliable solution to their problem. The customer will always welcome a supportive and proactive supplier who works with them to specify and introduce a new product or service, ensures that it is working properly and that it solves the identified issue, and is well embedded into the organisation.
If ‘after sales’ support is required a supplier must act as a true partner, demonstrating fast and responsive service at all times
Prevarication and delay will create a loss of faith. The concept of the emotional databank is useful in these circumstances. If a period of prolonged ‘good service’ has preceded an isolated incident of ‘bad service’, the customer is likely to forgive, as long as the response to resolving the problem is fast, honest and apologetic. A chain of service or product failures, accompanied by a lethargic approach to solving the associated problems will hasten the end of any business relationship. A supplier must own the client's problems and take responsibility for finding a solution, irrespective of the source of the issue. If the supplier fails in this respect, then confidence in the product or service will suffer.
Continuous communication with clients is crucial
If a customer begins to look at your competitors, then in nine out of ten cases, it follows a period of client neglect. Mechanisms must be put in place that will ensure that there is regular contact with the client’s decision makers. Good companies have these mechanisms built into their organisational structure and trained into the line management. A supplier whose employees show a real interest in both its customers’ business and their related problems will always have a competitive advantage over a less interested and knowledgeable competitor. This understanding is deepened if a trusting, communicative and open relationship exists between a supplier and the customer.
The pursuit of new customer relationships is the most challenging aspect of developing a business. As a result the nurturing of existing relationships can often be neglected while the pursuit of new business takes all of a company’s focus and effort. Ironically the strength of relationships with existing clients has a direct and critical impact on an organisation's ability to create new work with new people. The strategy for acquiring new customers should, therefore, always address the following:
Referral is an important part of business development.
Customer feedback will reflect the quality of the product or service being supplied but also and just as importantly, the quality of the experience when dealing with the supplier. Feedback (Positive and negative) should be shared within the business.
People buy products and services not companies or markets, for the most part.
New business development is dependent on creating relationships with people you may never have met before. Several vehicles exist for meeting new people; we have found that industry and sector events, and small-scale seminars and workshops, conducive to creating new relationships and follow-on meetings are all successful.
A demonstration of track record is essential
You must be able to show an understanding of the prospective client’s industry/sector and its associated problems. All presentations and literature left with the client should seek to demonstrate a profound understanding of the problem and clear examples of where similar problems have been resolved, customer endorsements can be very helpful.
Clear demonstration of a supplier’s creativity
Their ability to innovate robust and relevant products or services is an important way of demonstrating competence and ability. Creativity can be used to improve a product, a service, the method of delivery, the sales and ordering process or the ease at with which a supplier can do business with customers. Above all a creative idea is a brilliant vehicle for setting up a situation where new prospects can be introduced to the concept and new relationships built.
This article has sought to highlight the importance of delivering high quality products and services at all times. Every touch point at which a customer or prospect comes into contact with the organisation must result in a positive experience that will re-inforce a reputation for quality and partnership. It also confirmed the importance of a company’s relationship with its established clients as an essential precursor to winning new customers through referral or the demonstration of a solid track record and an understanding of the customer’s sector. A demonstration of creative ability to produce innovative services and products will enhance an organisations ability to reach out and engage with new people in target sectors.