I can’t have been more than seven or eight years old when I was first introduced to the Wrong Way to win customers. My first bank account, from Lloyds, came with a black plastic horse’s head ‘piggy’ bank which looking back now seems rather creepily inspired by The Godfather; it was a pale imitation of the Natwest ceramic pigs, but there wasn’t a Natwest in the town I grew up in. I toyed with Barclays Bank for a short while, but their blue folder wasn’t up to much. Then my young head was turned by the Griffin Savers Account offered by the long-dead Midland Bank; its collection of (looking back, utter tat) treasures included a sports bag, pencil case, ruler, compasses, protractor, folder, a ‘savings file’ to keep paper statements in, and of course, a dictionary. I remember actually meeting the bank manager when I opened that account – he wanted to check I was a Serious Saver and not just in it for the freebies.
Several years later I opened a National Savings account, which made me a lot more interest. I still have a passbook from that account, which showed that at one stage I had the vast sum of £478.09 in the account (later mostly splashed out on my first car, a 1967 Triumph Herald).
Winning customers doesn’t have to be hard – bribery can get you anywhere – but is there any real value in a relationship built on a foundation of inducement? Clearly some organisations still believe so; just check out the numerous ‘introductory offers’ available from banks, insurers, communications companies and similar for evidence; but does this tactic engender a loyal, trusting relationship? Anyone who’s bought car insurance in the last fifteen years will know it does not – these days, for commodity services, switching means saving.
For many businesses, however, winning customers is hard. Keeping them? Even harder. Loyalty to a brand can’t be bought; trust must be earned; and a sustainable business relies on both of these. Waterstons’ customers trust us as partners in their businesses, and their success leads to our success; it’s natural that we want to help in any way we can, and providing them with the technology, systems and knowledge that aids them in gaining new customers, and keeping them for the long-term, is just one way we can do that.
The world has changed. A manufacturer can’t be satisfied with just churning out the same old stuff year after year. The modern consumer wants things their way, on their terms; technology and systems to support that demand bear little resemblance to those that went before. For us as a provider, understanding our customers’ customers is critically important, so we work hard to see the world through three sets of eyes; our own, our client’s, and their consumer’s.
Customers aren’t stupid. They know what they want, and they will ceaselessly search a given marketplace until they find it. So, whether we’re building an e-learning portal for an education customer, designing the sales order process for an ERP implementation, or helping streamline maintenance processes for a social housing provider through integration, the customer’s customer has to be central to the process. It’s all very well a business having brilliant internal systems, but if they can’t answer a customer’s phone call, deliver goods on time, or effectively identify a service which is underperforming they will not and cannot succeed.
Taking different perspectives into account underpins everything we do; whether strategy mapping as part of an IT alignment process, or designing an infrastructure architecture to support a business system implementation, knowing what the client wants to achieve tells only part of the story. We work with our customers to understand and map the relationship they have with the end-consumer; to document the journey they go on together; to identify and improve every interaction and opportunity to communicate that occurs along the way.
Attracting new business means being different; and I believe every partner of every business has a role to play in that, from suppliers to distributors, retailers or resellers. At Waterstons, we strive to keep our customers’ systems and technology available and effective at all times; we work with clients to identify ways to improve their products and services; we build and implement systems that bring our customers and their consumers closer together.
Keeping customers means knowing what they want before they do; having people, processes, systems and technology that bring you closer to your customer is key. The way your business deals with its customers is totally visible – there can be no hiding behind closed doors – and a bad experience or a poor product review can reach a global audience in minutes, not months. The world has changed, and customer service is no longer something that happens just in call centres; it happens on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a host of other platforms 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Technology can do a lot to help; closing gaps between systems delivers better information to customers (you now know the name of the farmer whose potatoes you’re peeling); online services speed up sales and customer service (an Amazon drone could be on its way to you soon); unified communications platforms mean your staff can work anytime, anywhere; online services like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services mean unexpected demand no longer means unexpected downtime; collaborative PLM systems allow customers to drive development of the next generation of products; and proactive monitoring and maintenance keeps it all up and running.
The Internet of Things will extend Waterstons’ customers’ knowledge beyond their end-consumer, giving them insight into the life of their products, and allowing them to deal with problems or concerns long before their customer even knows there is one. With so much going on, it’s an exciting time to be a customer, but it’s even more exciting to be on the inside, and to know what’s coming up around the corner – who wants to join us on the journey?