The age old question of every business, ever.
The best business models are built upon simple ideas that revolve around solving a problem or meeting the needs and desires of your potential customers.
Truth is – If you want to be truly successful and iconic, you need to do both.
But back to the question – what do customers want ? What is it they want from you no matter what you sell?
A lot of my experience comes from face to face retail sales. After almost two decades in customer service, the same trends kept popping up.
No matter what you are selling you need to provide value that matches the customers expectations. Expectations can be managed and massaged with things like context and exclusivity and so on. For example, it might be possible you have a monopoly on whatever it is you are selling, and that alone allows you to charge a certain amount and have it be justified in the mind of your customers.
Value is the delicate balancing act between the tangible and the intangible. What may be fair and reasonable to one customer will not be to another. It can be easy to just dismiss Customer B in this case as “they don’t get it”. There is truth to that but it’s the job of the employee they interact with and the marketing team at large to shift the perspectives.
You need to understand that you can not make a customer buy something. They buy something and alone have the decision making power, never you or your sales team.
If you want to sell to your customer they need to feel valued. Feelings are tricky and complicated – but the general rule is to treat your customers as friends who have dropped by for your help unannounced. They have come to you for help and it’s your job to help them out. No one wants to feel like they are imposing or bothering you, so don’t ever make your customers feel like they aren’t worth your time or effort.
The heart of great customer service is treat the customer like a person, an individual.
Not a walking wallet.
I’ve said that great value is derived from making your customers feel valued. People who feel that they are valued and that their contributions matter will go beyond expectations. That’s true for your employees AND your customer base.
Friendly employees are key in that equation because they come to represent, in human form, the brand of your company.
Simply put, customers judge you and your company on the experiences they have with your employees.
Successful businesses know that careful consideration to customer service training is key to retaining and acquiring new customers.
The best customer service is personable, genuine, and friendly. Your employees need to understand people and who will connect with customers in a way that feels right for them.
Customers want efficient and easy to use methods to buy things from you. In short, you need to make it easy to do business. Cut out the clutter and keep it intuitive and simple to interact with your business.
If it’s easy and convenient to buy from you, then its not hard to see how that will be effective in leading to more sales. McDonald’s has their kiosks to place orders making it easy and fast to buy. Starbucks has their mobile order and pay system so that you can buy your caffeine right from smart phone and pick it up at the store by skipping the long line ups.
Personally I am torn on how to feel about the increasingly impersonal and robotic methods these two companies (among countless others) have employed to generate more sales and traffic/transactions.
On the one hand it’s efficient and easy; sometimes you are just in a rush. Life has other plans for you that day – but man do you need that coconut milk latte! And you need it NOW. I get that.
But something is lost when interacting with a virtual vending machine.
Without the human markers to guide the interactions and emotions of the customer into feeling a positive association with the brand, the danger is that you can lose the soul of the company with the body becoming an empty husk.
It’s a risky game that these big players in the fast food industry are playing. While they can on paper boost their transaction counts and consequently keep their stock prices high, they risk losing the very soul that allowed them to get into the hearts and minds of the customers that have propelled them into that power position in the market in the first place.
Predictability creates a feeling of familiarity and warmth. Knowing what to expect, especially if it’s a good thing, creates a sense of security and happiness.
Feeling safe in the business sense is to create an experience for the customer that can be easily replicated again and again no matter what store they visit or who they interact with. A tall order indeed.
When customers can feel safe knowing that their experience will be similar every time they visit cements their attitudes towards the brand.
Take Stanley Hainsworth for example. He understands the connection between emotions and branding. He was instrumental in creating for Starbucks the necessary threads to weave the Starbucks’ success story. His contributions helped Starbucks capture the hearts and minds of customers and feel safe and happy buying from the coffee chain over and over again.
The need for predictable outcomes is even more important in our crazy world today. Finding ways to make your customer experience predictable will create feelings of security and warmth in your customer’s heart and make them feel justified in continuing their relationship with your brand.
To be Heard
This has got to be the biggest slip for many companies. Listening to your customers is not the same as just giving them what they say they want from you.
We all like to be and need to be heard in order to feel satisfied that what we think and feel has been validated. As customers, that behaviour carries over into demanding more for less, products and services that may or not be implemented yet and so on.
Just listening is not enough. Many companies utilize social media not to fix problems or to address issues, but to engage and provide a platform for people to say what they think and share concerns and maybe even sometimes offer praise.
Be careful to not immediately side with customers and address their frustrations as valid and correct. After all, you are the one who knows your business best. The best idea is to take what the customer is saying and filter it through the screens of your bigger direction of the company.
Sometimes you will lose customers in the greater scheme of sticking to your guns and that’s okay. You cannot please everyone nor should you try. The better idea is to execute on what you set out originally to do and do it better than your competitor. it’s foolish to think you can be everything to everyone and still have a brand at the end that recognizable.