Customer Focus Is The Key To Unlocking Your Full Business Potential
You don’t report to Frank Sterns for 15 years and not learn a little bit about wine. Frank was my boss at both Niles and Infinity. And while you might not know him, you’ve probably sold, installed or even used some of the market-leading products he developed. Maybe you’ve even tasted his award-winning Aurielle wine. We both enjoy a passion for high-end electronics, and Frank’s love of fine wine has rubbed off on me.
So when I came home with a bottle of red from my local epicurean store, I immediately recognized it as being bad (Frank calls it being “corked”) from its aroma of wet dog ears. I returned to the store seeking a cure. With full bottle and receipt in hand, I approached the check-out clerk with my dilemma. But she wasn’t having any of it. Without blinking an eye, she responded in an abrupt tone, “We don’t take alcohol back!”
Well, I can’t say exactly what it was, but her delivery triggered my lizard brain to understand something quite different, and The Evil Sparky came out. After a meaningful conversation with the store manager I finally left with a different bottle of wine. But I also left with something else—trepidation about buying wine from that store again. And I never have. Now I take the extra time to buy wine from the shop across the street. This might not seem significant but on an annual basis, the store has likely lost $2K in revenue to their competitor who has a more customer-centric attitude.
While it’s easy to overlook a poor experience when purchasing commodity products, it’s hard to ignore poor customer service experiences at the top of the scale. Whether it’s specialty foods or custom retail electronics, customer focus can make or break a brand. That’s why clerks at Nordstrom walk around the counter to hand you your purchases and associates at the Ritz Carlton greet you when passing in the hallways. Luxury brands are expected to deliver something special. This means that high-end oriented companies like yours must deliver rich, personal experiences in order to charge the premium prices that are necessary to make a profit.
All too often we get caught up in the products we sell and neglect the memorable experiences we must deliver in order to keep selling them. The famous trainer Howard Hyden has made a career of teaching companies about how to deliver these experiences using a simple technique he frames as “outside-in thinking.” In other words, viewing things from the customers’ prospective, not our own. Here are a few outside-in techniques you can share with your staff that I hope will make your business even more customer-centric and unlock its full potential.
1. Customers are babies, but treat them as adults
By this I mean that no matter how tough they may appear on the exterior, high-end clients are sensitive. Teach your staff to recognize this, and to communicate in a caring and sensitive manner while being professional, informative and adeptly courteous. How easy would it have been for the clerk at my epicurean store to say, “To return your wine, I’ll need my manager’s approval. Would you mind waiting just a moment while I call him? If you’d like, we have a complementary coffee bar over there. I can hold your wine here and my manager will be with you shortly.”
Had she been trained to respond in that way, The Evil Sparky would have never come out and the store would still be getting my wine business.
2. People expect customer service; they respond to empathy
In today’s world, customer service is expected by everyone. Meaning that you really don’t get much credit for delivering the expected. Where you get the raves is when you make customers love you. Because when you do, they’ll reward you with more business. Let’s go back to my example above. How do you think my lizard brain would have reacted if the clerk had actually taken the bottle out of my hands, and reviewed the receipt I felt was so important to present? Those actions alone would have told me that she cared. And if she followed it up by saying, “Wow! Along with the wine, you bought a lot of other things today. I’m sorry for the inconvenience and will call my manager immediately to take care of you.”
Bingo! I’d have melted on the spot and a stronger bond between me and the store would have been established.
3. Recognize your opportunities to add value
Most custom retailers get so tied up in the products, they forget the value that human interaction provides to their customers. Regardless of whether it’s in the pre-sale process, during the installation or afterward during service, make sure your people are performing to their full human potential. Take the time to monitor, train and coach them to maximize every customer interaction opportunity so your business stands out in a professional and accommodating way. Post customer-centric sayings around the office and weave a customer focused attitude into your culture at every possibly opportunity. If you’re not sure how to do this, drop me a line and I’ll help you.
When I asked some of the best custom retailers in our business what their competitive edge is, I heard, “We provide our customers with an awesome experience.” Yet I’ll bet dollars-to-doughnuts you spend a disproportionate amount of time training your employees about products, not people and how to deal with them. Isn’t it about time to turn that around by investing in a customer-centric program of your own that unlocks your full business potential? I guarantee that you won’t regret doing so. •
Mike Detmer is the principal of Detmer Business Solutions and provides companies in the systems integration space with easy-to-use, business know-how modules that enable owners to better plan their business and their functional managers to execute key duties at higher levels. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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