As the biggest shopping season starts, we are all preparing lists of gifts for our loved ones, friends and family, to demonstrate our appreciation and affection. It is customary to use the gifts as a way to express our feelings and demonstrate the importance of the recipient in your life. I am of course not referring to the token generic chocolates you ask your secretary to send every year, or to the free calendar you produce which serves more as a free advertisement for your company than as a token of appreciation. I am referring to serious considerate gifts that show thought and appreciation.
How about your customers? The good customers. The ones that grew their business with you this year or the ones who kept it going when others departed? What are the gifts you are planning for them? In reality, for various reasons, we are not including our customers in our shopping lists. We somehow forget to demonstrate our appreciation to them for what they did for us all year long. But this is not the odd part. The odd part is the fact that coming next year we will expect them to do the same and even more.
Why is it that companies forget the customers in such an important milestone? There are several reasons for this inexplicable behavior:
Lack of Knowledge We simply do not know who doubled their business with us this year and who left us for the competition. I am not referring to the anecdotal story of one big order, but to a systematic mechanism that shows us customers performance and compares it to the previous years performance. Between lack of tools and lack of discipline, we simply do not know.
The Customer as a Destination and not as a Journey As much as we hate to admit it, we never structured the customer relationship to include long term planning and measurements. We rush from order to order and always assume there will not be another one. Every customer order is regarded as the achievement of a superstar sales person and not as a building block in a relationship. As such, we never bother to look at the long term view but, instead, reward the occasional order and not the accumulation of the relationship.
The Customer is Taken for Granted This we will never admit, but our culture glorifies the new customer acquisition. When our sales culture is all about new customers, and current customers are sent to low level account managers, the message is obvious. Our salesforce places the emphasis on new accounts and forgets the existing ones. It is called taking the customer for granted.
Shopping for customers is about maintaining and nurturing the relationship. It is about sending a message of sincere appreciation. It is about bonding the relationship for the future. Think about it as a competitive weapon. How much discount would you provide to beat your competition? Now you have the opportunity to beat the competition before they show up.
Rewarding customers should address the behavior you are seeking to reinforce and repeat. You must design your set of criteria which you will use to reward customers behavior. Examples for such criteria may include:
Self Reliance and Self Service If your customer is now more self reliant and consumes less resources from you, make sure you thank him. Otherwise the message you send is I want you to do most of the work, but I would still charge you the same. Not exactly an enticing message to keep the relationship going.
Relationship Longevity If your average customer stays with you for 3 years and a small group of customers are with you for 5 years, it is a reason for reward and celebration. You want them to stay longer, and they want to know you do not forget them as you pursue new customers. Find the way to share with them your appreciation.
Increase in Business If a customer doubled their business with you this year they need to know you took notice of their actions. They need to know that you value their efforts. After all, you do not have too many of those kind of customers.
Meaningful Insight Customers often deliver important ideas that then turn into new features or products. Do not forget to say thank you. There is no reason that you will benefit from the idea and the customer will be left out. After all, what message would it send to other customers with ideas?
Referrals and Recommendations For those customers who helped you generate more business from their friends and family, it is time to say thank you as well. If you want more referrals coming form these customers, reinforce the behavior by showing your true feelings.
Shopping for customers is not about being nice. It is about being greedy. It is a way to reinforce customer commitment to you through a demonstration of appreciation. It is the most affordable way you can deploy to get them to
continue and even increase the behavior you value the most. So check your shopping list, as usual you forgot someone.
This time however, you did not forget your usual suspects (Dave in accounting who always gets you those odd gifts), you forget the unusual, most important people. Those who delivered the amazing performance that deserve the appreciation. You have to first find who they are and then it is time to add them to your shopping list.
Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group, Inc. and the author of The Experience! (CMPBooks 2002) He can be reached at [email protected]
Em Foco – Opinião