Over the years, I have often been bemused by the attitudes of many running “small” companies. Whilst some behave like major corporates, others behave as if they simply do not care about winning or retaining your business.
It is well known that most new businesses fail within 3 years. Therefore, how can CRM help your company to not only stay afloat but actually grow and turn into the company you wish it to be?
Now I hear some of you saying “Ah, but how can a small company afford a CRM?”
You are assuming that by CRM, I mean software that can automate aspects of your Sales, Marketing or Customer Service processes. I am a big advocate of these systems but only when deployed properly and with appropriate, balanced consideration of the people and process transformations that need to go hand in hand with such an initiative.
In this article, I suggest 10 tips that will not cost a cent. Technology can help but the examples I will give you point to applying common sense rather than a stash of cash in delivering great customer experiences to acquire and retain customers.
- Look after your customers whether they are purchasing or not.
About 7 years ago, I sought some investment advice from a Financial Broker. Had he just accepted my proposal, he would have made a tidy income that day. Instead, he got to know me and talked about who I was, what I wanted out of life and my financial priorities. It was so conversational that I didn’t realise he was profiling me to see whether my proposal made sense. It didn’t and he advised against it. In fact, in the space of the next two weeks, he invested at least 8 hours of his time to persuade me against buying anything from him at that time. I was puzzled. How could he waste his time without remuneration? Nevertheless, I followed his counsel and did nothing for 6 months. My circumstances then changed so I went back to him for further advice. Same outcome. Sound advice but no cost and no purchase.
To cut a long story short, I remain a loyal customer of his and I have made decisions over the years which benefit him financially. He invested in me as a long term customer, recognising that the lifetime value of our relationship was far greater than a quick buck. He looks after me just like Tom Cruises character in the movie “Jerry Macguire” although I do not shout “Show me the money”.
Be loyal, honest and respectful to your customers so that you might expect the same in return
2. Be reliable, punctual and communicative
One of my pet hates is unreliability. Unfortunately, it often goes hand in hand with small businesses. I cannot tell you how many times I have emailed, phoned or written to small companies yet without reply. Being late falls into this category. I don’t mind appointments being late, so long as I’m told in advance.
I recently had a great experience with a small company who I had found via Google. I rang a mobile number and got an answering service that made it clear that they were not available that day (they were updating the message on a daily basis) but promised to return all calls the next day. Sure enough, my phone rang at 9am next day where a lady clearly explained who she was and apologised for not being able to take my call the previous day. I wanted a quote which would require a site visit. Instead of overpromising, she set my expectation by saying that because demand for their service was so great, they set aside dedicated times for new quotes so that it did not interfere with completing ongoing projects. That made sense to me as I’ve often felt small business are so keen to find their next job that the existing job gets distracted. I made an appointment at their convenience and was told that they would ring me the day before to check that I was still available.
The odd thing is that once I was off the phone, I realised that I had done everything on their terms but had not minded as their professionalism was so good that I felt their service would be good too. That’s not a bad way to win new customers. Of course, there is more to it than just that but I am impressed at their attitude which leads to my next point:
3. Act like a big business with the agility of a small business
The dichotomy of business growth is that the larger you get, the more the need for standardised processes which can often introduce more paperwork, bureaucracy and stifle innovation and agility. A good indicator of the ability to retain a small business feel is your connectivity to your customers and the subsequent brand advocacy.
Brand Advocacy occurs when your customers feel like an extension of your company and will defend/promote your company as passionately as you would. Do not confuse Brand Advocacy with big brands that people buy for a status kick. This is often only as deep as the fashion itself but true brand advocacy is where there is genuine connectivity between a company and its clients creating loyalty and referred business. The growing trend in recruiting Chief Customer Officers is an attempt to establish that customer intimacy and advocacy. For more on this, I recommend following the excellent blogs by Jeanne Bliss.
As a small business, you should be your own Chief Customer Officer and at every decision point, ask yourself what would your customers want. If you don’t know, you are not close enough to them.
4. Make a note of the detail
A local Mexican restaurant we first visited a few years ago has achieved our loyalty through being clever enough to not only listen to its customers but to turn that listening into a revenue stream. When we first went there, the waitress asked my wife whether we were married. We confirmed this and she then asked us whether we were out for our anniversary. I said No. Before we knew it she came back with a simple form asking us for our names and anniversary date. She told me that on our next anniversary, they would treat us to a free bottle of wine as their anniversary gift to us. Over the next few visits, we realised that they were gradually finding out our birthdays, children’s names and what our favourite meals/drinks were. Interestingly, every birthday, we get a voucher posted to us for a Birthday Meal on them! When we dine there, our waitress always recommends wines to meet our preferences. We also get invites when they do “specials” on our favourite meals. This intelligence has come from just getting to know us but also tailoring their “offers” to our known likes and special dates.
I must be honest and say that the food, price and service is great but not amazing. However, we find ourselves visiting there more often and spending far more at this restaurant than we might otherwise have done so. I’ve told many locals about this experience which then brings me to my next point:
5. Referrals are critical advocacy
Since it is up to 10 times more expensive to acquire a customer than to retain one, why don’t more businesses leverage their happy customers to gain more customers. Word of mouth is not just profitable, it is extremely powerful. Of course, whilst news of a good experience can travel fast, the speed of a bad experience will outpace the good experience significantly. One of my recent clients has a great product but they sell in an industry where there is a lot of misinformation, over representation and, historically, mis-selling. However, those who do buy are generally very satisfied and churn rates are very low. The company realised that the best way to overcome the negativity in the Sales cycle is to ask their existing Members to become a Sales team. Members are encouraged and rewarded for leads and for accompanying their own leads through the sales process. This reassures the new prospects and leverages the enthusiasm and advocacy of their friend, the existing member. It is a genuine win/win/win.
The prospect gets to buy a great product reassured and accompanied by their friends.
The member is rewarded with club benefits for the referral which increases the more they refer.
The company benefits by increased sales with a lower cost of sale. It is another benefit of creating a great customer experience. Advocacy and therefore referrals become much easier.
6. Paying attention to the smaller details can create loyalty
Melbourne, Australia is a hub for coffee lovers. There are so many outlets, from the very small to the corporate giants yet everyone seems to have their own favourite.
One day, I was introduced to a small outlet where the queue went back around the corner yet there were only two people working in what looked like a hole in the wall. I asked my colleague whether this was the best coffee in town. He didn’t agree but he did say he wouldn’t go anywhere else. When we got to the front of the queue, the Barista greeted my colleague personally instantly knowing his preferred beverage. Not only that, he asked him how his eldest son had got on at a Football Trial and whether he had been able to finish building his new garage. As we waited for our coffee, which wasn’t quick given the queue, I noticed that the Barista seemed to know everyone in the queue and showed an interest in each and every one of them. He clearly had an amazing memory but I then realised that the loyalty was being driven by our basic human need to feel important and to be connected. I quickly became a loyal customer and thought nothing of waiting 10 to 15 minutes for my coffee. It became an outlet away from work and a part of my social calendar. It really had nothing to do with whether the blend of the coffee was any better than the competitors, although it was good!
However, one day I got served the wrong coffee and I complained. The Barista not only immediately resolved the situation by fixing me the correct brew without question but he also said “next ones on us Nick” and, of course, he didn’t forget. What a great way to treat your customers. No wonder it is such an iconic coffee spot to many of the Melbourne city workers.
7. Interact to gain honest feedback as opposed to NPS
Small businesses cannot necessarily afford full blown Net Promoter (NPS) or Customer Experience Management tools but there is a better way.
Being a smaller company, why not ask your customers for feedback directly? Explain that you are continually seeking ways of improving your service and/or product and would appreciate any suggestions. This does not mean that every suggestion needs to be applied but trends will emerge. You can also extend that to customers who do not buy or customers who do not return. Your own personalised exit interview! This intelligence will help you know how to continually sharpen your competitive edge and to keep in touch with your customers needs. The trouble with a lot of NPS initiatives is that they are simply a corporate scorecard where customers are asked the wrong questions. Small businesses can gain more insight from direct interaction and open questions.
8. Cashflow is king so reward prompt payment
Small businesses often sink or swim due to cashflow and prompt payment is of huge benefit to most small businesses. Therefore why not offer incentives for your customers to pay on time or earlier than would be normal. If you cannot afford to discount, why not add more value to your early payment offering? Being customer centric does not just mean providing service with a smile. It infers that you develop the ability to view
9. Employ based on customer centric skills and values
If you want to develop a customer centric company, then make sure your new hires are recruited based on their alignment to these values. Build reward into their salary or compensation plans based upon customer centricity. It is easier than it sounds. You can set up an online survey for your employees to gather direct customer commendations or feedback. During interviews, ask for specific examples of them providing outstanding customer service or ask how they might resolve a customer complaint. At appraisal time, ask your customers for their feedback. As an Employee, I did this in the late 90’s and got a double promotion as a result of client feedback. It works!
10. Know your “wow” factor from a customers eyes?
Standing in the shoes of your customer might appear to be a simple task but in my experience, it is often not done or is done badly.
Your business needs a competitive “Wow” factor. It could be the Product, The Service, The Price or speed. This competitive edge is what you are proud of and when selling, it is probably the thing you are most proud of. However, is it what your customer truly needs?
Without wishing to revert to the Marketing Mix basics taught at every business school, I would add that no matter what your competitive edge, you need to know what it is from a customers perspective.
I like to call this “Outside-In” thinking. You think as an outsider to apply the learnings from the perceptions internally.
Years ago, I took my family for a holiday up in the Italian Alps, north of Milan. We rented a house from an Artist who came from the village but had homes in Germany and Spain too. We loved it. We raved about it and returned frequently. One time, the owner was staying with his family in the village and came over to see us. My daughters ended up painting with him in the garden and we enjoyed a relaxing evening in his company. He apologised for the lack of garden, the clutter in his home and the lack of a parking space, promising that he would sort it all out. I asked him why he was worried about it. He replied that most guests wanted a tidy house with somewhere to park their car and relax in the garden. He saw this as very important attribute that he had neglected through not being “at home” very often. Had he stepped in our shoes, he would have seen that we loved the artistic clutter, the tiny garden afforded amazing views and that the lack of parking was more than made up for by fresh bread delivered every morning, log fires, friendly villagers and a peace and quiet that was quite unique. I’m glad he didn’t see it like that else he would have marketed it differently, charged more and we would never had been able to get a booking!!
How do your customers see your business? Nurture that wow factor as it may be something you take for granted.
Being customer centric is not necessarily about acquiring software. It is an attitude. A behaviour that is the catalyst for enlightened processes.