The old adage that the customer is always right still holds true. Today more than ever, new businesses need to appreciate just how important it is to maintain happy customer relationships. Starting a new business is no mean feat. But masterful customer relationship management could be the secret ingredient to success.
“The customer is king”
If you’re starting out with a business, you could be forgiven for feeling like the main goal was to make a high-quality product or service and pitch it at the right price, to the right people. But however necessary these steps are, in reality, they’re better thought of as first steps. At the end of the day, if there’s no customer, there’s no business, period. According to Informi, your goal in starting a business “is to get something off the ground that offers sustainability and long-term growth potential.”
At the centre of your business’s success is a delicate web of interactions with your client or customer – their engagement with your brand, their perceptions of your company, their loyalty and retention. You could build a business that’s perfect on paper, but if you’re not developing value-adding, long-term relationships with your customers, you don’t have a business at all.
Successful businesses need a heart
In fact, understanding it as a relationship at all is a response to customer wariness and the growing need to engage with human beings and not faceless organizations. Businesses big and small can benefit from spending time fostering customer engagement throughout their life span. Tracking and nurturing the relationship across social media, phone, chat, email and a host of other marketing materials, rewards and gifts, customers can communicate their deeper mission with clients, regardless of whether a purchase has been made.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software is all about tracking and organizing the countless pieces of customer data to best position you to fill their needs. Like “digital rolodexes,” you get to track customer demographics, their account details, and sales opportunities. Analyse this data and you more easily see exactly how to adjust your targets and methods.
Customers are savvier than ever
Part of the reason that companies have to work so hard is that customers are more sophisticated and discerning than ever. Bombarded on social media and saturated with traditional marketing, it takes a lot to impress a customer and convince them to part with their money, attention and loyalty over time.
Younger age demographics have less disposable income than previous generations, but are massively more socially conscious and care about companies that can demonstrate that they go beyond merely wanting to extract a profit. Communicate with your customers unexpectedly, with no expectation of spending on their part.
Retention matters more than acquisition
Retaining customers will always be cheaper than finding new ones. Though it depends somewhat on your business model, there are few companies that can genuinely afford to forgo repeat customers and abandon the client after a sale. Your rapport with clients is something that, ideally, has no endpoint. Leads and sales revenue is one metric of your business success, but over time factors like customer retention and loyalty will play a bigger role in your business thriving. You prove your products’ efficacy initially, but after that, your ability to maintain the customer’s preference for your product or service is more important.
A negative interaction can ruin everything
Perhaps the most obvious reason to pay close attention to customer relations is simply that a negative review or interaction can be so, so much more damaging than a dozen positive ones. Prospective customers value word-of-mouth and online reviews, and a single disgruntled client can draw unwanted attention to your brand and image.
Treat customers right and they’ll reward you with repeat custom; make them feel disposable or dismissed and they’ll leave, or worse. Though a good customer relationship strategy will prevent you from getting to that stage, an irate customer can still be an opportunity: seize the moment to demonstrate a true commitment to fixing things and making the customer happy. Manage a complaint correctly and you may convert them to a lifelong customer who will sing your praises.
The principles of customer relationship management are ultimately not too different from the rules for maintaining any kind of relationship. Always seek to add genuine value, communicate often and really listen to your customer. Overpromise and under deliver, and when you mess up, take responsibility and do what you need to do to make things right again.
A solid business plan and a product or service that people want are two fundamentals in business. But they’re necessary and not sufficient conditions for success. Businesses who’ve found long-term success know that there’s no way to stay in business without centring your customer, at every stage of your engagement with them.
Writer, editor, animal lover and coffee enthusiast
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”