In running a business, you may not be able to make every customer happy, though your business ideal could be that. Every business will have its share of missed delivery schedules, occasional supply of a sub-standard product or rendering a service below par, a stray failure to keep up the warranty commitment or difficulty in satisfying a hard-headed customer with insatiable demands. But, to win customer and client loyalty should always be the exalted goal of any business.
Discounting such stray human faults contrary to the goal, what a shrewd businessman can really do is to concentrate on major customers and offer the best possible service to them. According to Parato’s law, a thumb rule applicable to most of the businesses is that about 80% of the business revenue would normally come from about 20% of the customers.
Just by by fine-tuning all your efforts to meet the expectations of your “major” customers “who really matter a lot” to you, you should be in a position to win their loyalty. In other words, make sure that you matter a lot to those customers who matter a lot to you!
Here are some guidelines to win customer and client loyalty:
Understand specific Expectations and Meet Them
Let us see 3 different scenarios to understand how the expectations are different and how they are met in different ways. You can also observe how “customers who matter the most” are taken due care of.
Case-A: There is a shop selling daily home provisions, toiletry and cosmetic items near the suburban railway station at our locality. The shop is very small, congested and generally unkempt. The owner is a very unfriendly person and his staff, highly short tempered. But the shop always crowded; middle class people returning home by the suburban train are its main patrons. This shop was running there for the past 50 years; The prices at which they offer their wares are unmatched – almost as close to the whole-sale price.
This shop is now run by the 3rd generation the first proprietor. No expansion of the premises was ever done and no physical comfort to the shoppers is ever offered, but the low price of their goods remain ever unchallenged. Yes. Price is their Unique Selling Proposition – the cheapest you can ever get anywhere in the town. They do only cash transactions – no credits; no credit cards.
Case-B: There is yet another shop at the market, at walkable distance within the residential locality. Several ladies buy provisions from there regularly. The middle aged shop owner is
an extremely friendly person, very pleasant mannered and extremely respectful to the customers. He knows every family member of his customers by name; he supplies items to credit; he arranges door delivery of items upon a phone call. Products are of acceptable quality; prices? It is quite doubtful whether any of his customers ever made any serious comparison of his prices with other shops!
How many of his customers would ever leave him and go to the “cheapest shop” near the suburban station and wait amidst the milling crowd to collect the items at three-fourth the price from the uncultured and indifferent salesmen?
Case-C: There is a huge shopping mall at the heart of the town, about 8 miles away from the residential locality. Many from the locality take their car in the weekends to do their shopping there. It is fully air-conditioned, beautifully furnished, extremely well maintained and has ample car parking space. In a single visit, you can buy all your provisions, clothes, furnishings, furniture – everything. Products are of top-most quality. Prices? Frankly, who bothers? Each of these 3 cases are clear about who their customers are and know how to satisfy them. They are not particularly keen to woo and satisfy any customer beyond their core clients.
Go Out of the Way to Satisfy Your Niche Customer
I know a customer of mine who is an entrepreneur and a machinery manufacturer. He says, “With customers who have been supporting me for years, I dare to offer at a loss a totally new product – a special product they want, but something I have never made earlier! By this approach, I take a huge risk, but I tempt my customer with a price they can’t refuse and this leads them to finalize the order on me overlooking the fact that I have no prior experience in supplying the special product!”
“How will you compensate the loss then?” I asked him.
“It is my judgment about my customer; I would go to the extent of selling even my head to satisfy them on their risky purchase. I also make it clear to them that I made a loss in the transaction. Customers are after all human beings. They would not like to see a trust-worthy supplier to lose by serving them. When a future requirement comes up, it is me that they think of first and they make sure that I am compensated reasonably in the next transaction.”
Initially when I heard this from him 2 years ago, I was a bit skeptical. But today I know. He has been coming back to me again and again to design newer machinery for the same customer in the past 2 years, each machine getting bigger and much costlier, more than adequately compensating him on the loss he made originally.
Be Honest And Transparent in Your Transactions
As a successful entrepreneur, I have always made it a principle to be prepared to forgo profits or settle for minimum returns in negotiating my first order. I also make it clear to the prospective customer: “I am for long term relationship with you; I am accepting this price/ rate because I am confident that once you see the quality of my services, you would definitely think of coming back to me again. At that point of time in the near future, I can’t afford to offer the same rates, but I am confident you will accept the reality”.
I have at least a couple of long standing customers who proved to be extremely tough negotiators when I took my first order from them. To day as I look back, it is highly satisfying to see how our relationship has matured to such a healthy level that price is hardly a point of contention in discussing a project. It is extremely important that at no point of time the customer should feel you are exploiting them by unscrupulously manipulating their dependence or trust on you.
Be Vigilant About Staff Level Ego Clashes with Customer
Business has a lot to do with the plays of egotism between human-beings. Some times, some of your employees may not get along well with their counterparts of your customer’s organization. Their personal ego-clashes should never be allowed to result in creating bad repercussions in your business. One of the major cause of trouble could stem from difficulty in accepting a genuine fault when pointed out. A simple expression of “I am sorry” could mostly satisfy the customer’s ego-centric needs but many times, unwillingness to offer such a simple apology could snowball into major conflicts.
Your staff must be well informed on how important the customer is to you; you should be highly vigilant in ensuring that the customers at every level of their organization are treated well at every level of your organization.
Every person dealing with the customer right from the telephone operator to the delivery boy should know that they are ambassadors of good will from your organization. The oft-quoted statement of Buck Rodgers (former chief of IBM) off his book “The IBM Way” – “At IBM, everybody sells!” carries lot of significance and he elaborates this statement with plenty of examples in his book.
Giving value for money, commitment to business values, honesty in transactions, and nurturing relationship – these are the 4 pillars on which you can build your business with sustained customer loyalty.