A relationship is built on trust – irrespective of whether it is between two colleagues, two nations and between companies and their customers.
To build trust, we sometimes have to go that ‘extra mile’; a term that seems to be the buzzword, especially in the case of startups or entrepreneurs. It is promising to hear every entrepreneur making an effort in this regard and I hope these insights help them in their journey.
The Importance Of Knowing Your Customer
This is arguably the first or rather, the thumb rule of business. It doesn’t matter whether you sell to institutions or millennials; you need to know your customers well enough to ensure consistency in business. How do we define ‘well enough’? With every transaction or experience, an understanding of each customer is enhanced and the relationship deepens. With regards to your company, this means additional responsibility to ensure customer delight. Findings from the ASCENT EY research report on customer service as a rider of scalability prove that entrepreneurs understand the importance of being in sync with customer needs. However, it is important for them to understand that not everything boils down to artificial intelligence or data science.
The reality of limited budgets and the mighty ask of customer satisfaction at the same time also involve a basic application of the human mind – the ‘art’ which goes in hand with the ‘science’ of customer service. For example, your customers expect improvement in your product because of competition or market forces, but you may be too stretched to make improvements.
At such times, if you ensure that your customers remain loyal and achieve the desired revenue, then you have created a product/offering after knowing them well enough. I am a firm believer that when you maintain your relationship despite setbacks or keep them interested in your offering even if it is repetitive, you have hit the right chord.
“Customer First” Approach
Even before you start your business, you must evaluate whether your proposition will create value for customers. That is the closest you can get to applying the customer first approach.
Is it possible to place your customer first even if you don’t have the manpower or monies to delight them? Yes. Customers appreciate brands that make an effort. There may be two hairdressers across the street from each other that cater to the same set of customers. While the larger one may have money to invest on ambience or value added services; the other may boast of expertise. There is an equal chance or level playing field for both players since customers may choose either option. However small a scale you operate on, it is still possible to keep your customer first or make them happy, in other words.
It is important to make improvements or adjustments in your offering as and when the situation demands. It doesn’t have to be periodic in nature since your customers might enjoy your offering longer than you anticipate. That leads you into autopilot mode where you need to be as alert as possible. Often, your most loyal customers may vanish on account of the simplest inadequacy, which is why it becomes important to constantly listen to them. Dialogue is crucial to keeping customer relationships intact.
A happy customer sets off a chain reaction as he/she endorses your product/service which induces trials from his/her peers. Word-of-mouth continues to emerge as the winner in getting new customers on board and this is a result of the customer-first approach.
Customer-Centric Business Model
To keep your customer engaged is crucial to staying in business. There is a direct correlation between growth and customer relationships. In a competitive environment, an entrepreneur needs to focus on innovation and leverage internal capabilities on a perpetual basis. It is crucial to stay relevant to customers. This also calls for periodic evaluation on identifying new needs or even latent needs and addressing them before competition does. Regular discussions on customer insights and research can help you know your customers better and also unearth potential customers which were not apparent earlier.
Quite simply, a customer-centric business model is one where you ask yourself, does this process or experience lead to happy customers and repeat purchases?
There needs to be restraint on part of entrepreneurs towards adopting high on capital, techno-frenzy business models. Do you cater to 20 or 30 million customers within one year of business? Do you really need to cut every corner possible to keep customers intact or should you also focus on improving your product or service capabilities? These are some of the questions entrepreneurs need to ask themselves.
If you feel that without hi-end futuristic tools for customer centricity, you will miss the bus then you must ask yourself what really matters to you – a happy customer or a fancy suite in your office. I say this because while evolution in customer service is always good, the definition of engagement seems to be changing. Entrepreneurs need to draw lines between what is a surprise and what amounts to an intrusion, between what level and frequency of communication is conducive and what amounts to carpet bombing.
From a business standpoint, growth has to be profitable and sustainable. Customer engagement must be woven into the culture across hierarchy. Each function needs to place emphasis on customer satisfaction for the final product/service to be worthy enough. Customers are like the fuel of any business, without which you can’t expect to set things into motion.
We have to view customer service as an equal and crucial pillar alongside the six other riders of scalability identified by the ASCENT EY research report, namely operations, technology, people, leadership, finance & transactions and risk management. One can’t rank or stress enough importance on customer engagement vis-à-vis others but it would suffice to say that customers will continue to be the central force of everything a business does or aspires to achieve.