By Eileen Proctor
The paradigm of “customers” and the level of contribution they make to our business is ever changing. Any entrepreneur committed to long-term success has all but erased any trace of the concept that customers are a necessary evil: people who bother us with their problems, individuals that we have to “deal with.”
Truly enduring companies take any and all steps necessary to assist their customers in scaling the Loyalty Ladder: from prospect, to buyer, to repeat customer, to advocate, and beyond. At the foundation is a true commitment to customer-centrics, along with targeting the “right” customer, hiring the proper employees, and empowering those employees to do whatever is necessary to provide a consistently pleasing purchasing experience.
More progressive business owners go even further by actually repositioning buyers not just as customers but rather as their volunteer outside sales force and public relations agents! This is obviously not a new concept. Back in 1993, Ken Blanchard began advocating the need to convert “satisfied customers” into “raving fans,” a philosophy supported by Bill Cates, who insisted that your next great client wants to meet you through a referral introduction or recommendation from someone he already knows and trusts. Richard Buckingham amplified this philosophy when he suggested that the ultimate business goal is to have clients proactively singing your praises… in effect, becoming your sales force.
Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba took it a step further when they espoused a whole new concept coined “customer evangelism,” that is, when customers love a product or service so much they are compelled to sing its praises. A noble concept, but in this age of increasing competition and rapidly changing opinion, evangelistic customers may not be good enough.
When asked “who is the best salesperson for my business?”, you would quickly and emphatically respond “ME! The Owner!” Rightly so, for who feels more passionate about what you do than you? Who wants your business to succeed more than you do? Now imagine inspiring a portion of your customers to that same feeling – that they’re responsible for the ultimate success of your organization – just like an owner. Now you’ve duplicated yourself in the best possible way. It is possible to do, but it begins with a commitment to these three easy but essential steps:
1. Practice the Platinum Rule
Even more powerful than the famous Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”), the currently accepted credo is “Do unto others as they want done unto them.” Do more than think about it. As Nike counseled, just do it!
2. Solicit Feedback
Ask for your customers’ opinions. Conduct periodic simple surveys – not the mind-numbing types that take hours to complete. Or try something as simple as approaching a loyal customer with a heartfelt, “Hey Michele, I haven’t seen you very much lately. How about a cup of coffee?” Be sincere and receptive when divulging, “I’m feeling there are some things I can do to improve my business, but maybe I’m too close to it. Can you give me some ideas?” Honestly, how thrilled and flattered would you be if the owner of a company you patronized gave you this type of attention? In addition to getting some valuable input, you’ve also elevated Michele from customer to collaborator… one step closer to owner.
3. Show Appreciation
It’s truly the little things that count. Celebrate your customers’ milestones and victories; conversely, commiserate their losses. Delight them with something unexpected: perhaps a simple but heartfelt compliment or “thank you,” an article that you feel would be of interest to them, or perhaps a rewards or VIP program. Bottom line: something that makes them feel appreciated as an individual and not just as someone who opens their wallet for you. ”
Multi-award winning Petpreneur and strategic marketing/business development expert Eileen Proctor is the Top Dog of Top Dog Business Boosters, a Denver-based strategic marketing and training company committed to the distinctive needs of Petpreneurs. For information about this or any related topic, contact her at 602-TOP-DOGS (602-867-3647) or through her website at www.topdogbizboosters.com.