Sunday, October 21, 2012

Talking to your customers

When I worked as a community developer, I would bring groups of people together to discuss common issues  they were facing, in an effort to find some practical solutions and ways that the social services sector could help.

 The challenge was often the professionals believed they knew best about what families needed, and were locked into the programs they delivered instead of being responsive to the needs of their clients. It ended up being the same old, same old. 

Now I am not so sure it is any different  in the private sector, where we deliver programs and services that suit our needs, make us the most money, without really checking if this is in fact what the customer needs or wants.

All of this came to mind after hearing Marg Hachey speak at our Oakville breakfast.  What a wealth of information she shared.    As someone who owned a $50M business, she knew only too well how to listen and be proactive, and this ability to take the pulse of the sector and act promptly was one of the secrets to her success.

When her customers would ask her if she provided a certain service, she would quickly reflect on whether there was  business potential – and usually there was – and promptly say “yes, we do.” She would then set the wheels in motion to make it happen.  Her rationale was that if this customer needs this service, so will others.

Even when she had a huge team behind her, Marg kept in touch with her customers so they knew her door was open and they could approach her with a concern, or better still, another idea.

When we keep delivering the same old, same old, are we really delivering what our customers want, or more what we want because it fits our needs, particularly financially.  I am constantly asking myself that question.    I am always looking at what we do and how we can improve so we truly meet the needs of our customers – in our case, small business owners. 

 When we get caught up in playing the numbers game or where the greatest profit margins can be had, we may be missing the boat. Yes, you may make more money, but are you building customer loyalty?  Whose needs are you meeting?  

 Sometimes we have to give, to gain.  When we do something more as a bonus or added service which doesn’t bring in the same revenue but is valued by our customers, we build a stronger customer base.  

How often do you check in with your customers?  How often do you actually pick up the phone and call them – not to sell anything, just to see how things are going?  My sense is that if we did, we’d have a stronger customer base, and be more in tune with the marketplace out there. 

 Because at the end of the day, if we don’t listen and provide what our customers need and want, they will just go elsewhere, so it behooves us to be flexible and nimble so that, like Marg, we can pick up a new idea and run with it.

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