Whether times are tough, or times are great, or somewhere in between, what’s the one thing you must do? Stay close to the customer.
Staying close to the customer is important because without the customer you have no business. You can be doing everything else right: implementing your strategy, managing your resources, reducing unnecessary costs.
But it’s all for nothing if you don’t have customers.
Two Certainties: In today’s global, hyper-competitive economy, we find two certainties.
1) One is that your customers will look for ways to cut costs and improve revenue and profitability. That could mean doing less business with you, or worse yet, doing no business with you.
Or, if you’re creative and innovative, it could mean more business.
2) The other certainty is that your competition will look for ways to gain new customers. And where do you think they’ll look? At your customers. Your competition is probably staying in touch with your customers. Shouldn’t you be doing the same?
If you’re not, you can bet that your competition is out there staying in touch with YOUR customers (your competition’s prospects), to find out what they need to do to get your customer’s business.
Staying close to the customer addresses both certainties (cutting back, and threats from the competition). But it’s like other areas that are easily neglected.
You get so focused on delivering products and services, the actual running of your business (or business unit, division, etc.), that you feel you don’t have time for other activities that don’t produce goods and services.
Those activities include taking time to think strategically; to get together with your direct reports to plan ahead; to provide training and development opportunities for employees. And staying close to the customer falls into this category.
And yet if you don’t make time now, you’ll soon find yourself in trouble.
So, stay close to the customer. That means finding out what your customers need to do to stay competitive, and then figuring out how your products and services can help them do that.
Questions: One question to ask customers is how you can serve them better. All you have to do is ask, and they’ll give you lots of pertinent information.
Another question is how you’re doing in serving the customer. Often you’ll find that you’re doing some things well, but that you could improve other aspects of service or product delivery.
More questions: How will changes in the economy affect the customer? What are their biggest challenges and frustrations?
Ask, “What are your plans for staying competitive? What can I do to better meet your needs?”
Assess, then deliver: Once you’ve gotten all the information, you have to assess your ability to help the customer in ways that facilitate that customer’s service and product delivery, or that alleviate that customer’s pain. You need to be creative and innovative in developing solutions. Then you must deliver.
And if you’re in a larger organization, where your customers are internal, all these principles still apply.
You need to find out what value you provide, and how you can increase that value. Staying close to the customer will do that.
What are you doing to stay close to your customers?