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customer retention

What do your customers believe?

As we slowly move toward whatever the next normal, think about how your customers navigate this week or next. Perhaps more than ever, it seems like an ideal time to lock yourself in your office and do the things you’ve always done better than they’re being done today. While I’m all about continuous improvement, hunkering down may not get your business from the before times to the after times, much less through the during times. For consumer-facing business, listening is as important as ever – thus the image. Noting the image above, restricted traffic in Glacier National Park after Labor Day is not a thing anyone has seen before. These days, normal is not a thing. Being good at adjusting is a valuable skill.

It doesn’t care what we think

It doesn’t really matter whether you believe about the pandemic because the virus and the impacts of it don’t care. The economy doesn’t care what you think about it. Customers (mostly) don’t care what you think about it.

What matters is your execution: What you do to deal with the what’s going on today, which I call the “during time”. Even though it’s a slightly different during time than May / June, which was considerably different from March / April – despite all of them being part of during time.

Customer behavior in the during times will continue to adjust. Think about how behavior of restaurant customers has ebbed and flowed over the past few months. My guess is that these changes will continue until there’s a widely-trusted vaccine – but that doesn’t really matter.

One thing that matters

What does matter is how the during times alter the behavior of those who spend money at your business. Let’s say you have a restaurant. I’d say there’s a good bet that demand for your outside seating has outstripped the outside seating you have.

That’s a good place to start even if you don’t have a restaurant because it’s easy to think about. Here in Montana, our smoky 93 degree days are probably gone for the year.. maybe. Our friends in Oregon may send us more smoke because they’re a sharing kind of folks.

Our recent cool overnight temperature are a little reminder that winter is coming. Depending on what phase we’re, some restaurants are surviving (or at least coping) thanks to carryout and outdoor seating. The reason for expanded outdoor seating is primarily sunshine and ventilation. What has to be done to take ventilation issues off the table as winter approaches?

There have been a number of studies about in-building airflow. They might be right. They might be wrong. By its very nature, scientific research starts as inaccurate because data / testing / research is sparse, then it zigs and zags toward a conclusion as data / testing / research increases. It’s similar to how businesses (generally) get better at what they do as they zero in on the right product/service formula for their market.

What do customers believe?

Ventilation studies don’t care what we believe. What matters is what restaurant customers believe. Whether your restaurant is setup for maximum outdoor seating and no inside seating, or the opposite doesn’t really matter as long as the health department is happy with the setup.

The gotcha is that customers also have a choice. They’ve probably sent a message already, by either showing up as if nothing has changed, or by just telling you (or “demanding”) outside seating, or more outside seating, or even by leaving because there isn’t outdoor seating.

For businesses dealing with those customers, it’s something you have to address before the weather turns. I am sure there are a number of companies willing to upgrade your ventilation system to eliminate any concerns about ventilation. Even if you spend 100 grand to neutralize the air so that every cubic foot of air through your place gets nuked or at least satisfactorily sanitized… it doesn’t matter.

What matters is what your customers think about it. They might be “Facebook doctors” or they might be a world-class scientist. Their concerns might be irrational, or spot on.

All that matters is “Do they believe in whatever you did?” based on their beliefs.

As with any sales job, you have to think how they think. You have to choose to have the conversation with specific subgroups of those people. You can’t talk to the millennials in the same way (mostly) that you talk to the boomers or the way you talk to the greatest generation.

For now, we’re all figuring it out as we go along – regardless of what we believe. Start the conversation on those terms.

Categories
customer retention Customer service Getting new customers Management

Eliminate customer service

What would happen if 80% or even 90% of your customer service calls went away?

Wait, what?

Oh, I know. You’re proud of the quality of your customer service. I suspect that if I asked your customers, they’d tell me all sorts of great things about how you took care of them, fixed a problem, have a wonderful service team, wear Tyvek shoe covers into their home, etc.

That’s good. Great service is important – right down to the shoe covers. So important that we’ve discussed it repeatedly. Thing is, there’s something better than great service: Service you never have to give because your customers never needed it.

I’m not talking about providing no service at all. I’m talking about taking steps to ensure that the amount of service you have to provide to resolve problems is tiny. Not just any problems – simply the preventable ones.

Damaged during shipping

Outside of very serious package damage that sometimes happens in transit, imagine if you no longer had to provide customer service related to a shipped item showing up broken. You can’t prevent incidental breakage, right?

Let’s try. Have your team back a box like they usually would. Go upstairs in your shop. Ask your shipping team to watch from outside as you toss that box out the window. Did anything break? Pack it better. Did the box crush? Try a better box. Wash, rinse, repeat. If your team is watching, they’ll have ideas to get it fixed. You won’t have to test anymore – they’ll get it and take over.

Obviously, if you ship heavy items that will always break the box during a fall like that, a different test makes sense. Your service and shipping departments probably know what kind of damage is in that 80-90% of damage claims.

If you can eliminate 80-90% of the “my stuff arrived and it’s broken” customer service, how much labor, time, re-work, COGS, repacking expense, reshipping expense, employee frustration, and customer first impression damage can you save?

Some of that will fall to the bottom line. Increased margin. More profit without making a single additional sale. No one wants that, right?

It’s a simple example, and perhaps one that you’ve explored because there are hard costs and well, it’s pretty obvious. But did you take the idea further?

Eliminating service

Eliminating service may not seem obvious – even if you’re service improvement oriented. Many of us focus on optimizing support responses and minimizing support ticket turnaround times, only to completely forget to see what could be eliminated, rather than simply working toward making our responses better and faster.

So, back to the original question. What would it take to eliminate 80 to 90 percent of your service “events” in a few departments? What if you only manage to eliminate 50% or even 20% of these events across a few departments? It adds up fast – it’s all overhead.

What could the staff who currently handles these service calls get done that would help the customer (and your company) even more?

Ever have to go back to a customer site to fix something that didn’t get done right the first time? Ever have to go to a customer site to fix something some other company messed up? How does this impact your customer retention? Referrals?

Getting it right the first time is a competitive advantage. Every visit to a customer’s business or home wastes their time and increases the cost of whatever you do – both to you and them. It increases the likelihood that they’ll call you again, much less refer you to a friend who needs the same sort of work done. This isn’t about their desire to help you. If they refer you, it’s because they want to recommend someone who is going to help their friend have a good experience. Otherwise, no referral will come.

Eliminate friction

Preventable problems are the kind that create friction. Friction that slows down adoption of the product or service you sold them. Friction that increases their frustration with something they just purchased. Friction that creates negative first impressions. Friction that creates second thoughts and buyer remorse. Friction that slows down payments.

These problems may seem out of your control, but they aren’t. They may seem may seem expensive to fix, but their prevention saves money in the long run. What service can you drastically reduce or eliminate and in doing so, create a better client experience?

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

Categories
Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Getting new customers

The end of delivery?

You might be thinking “When this is over, I can’t wait to get rid of ‘contactless carryout’ and the hurriedly-implemented delivery that’s keeping us afloat right now.

Don’t.

At some point, people will resume visiting your business in person. Some will wait longer than you expect. Some may never return, but not necessarily because they don’t need what you sell.

People have seen how a delivery-mostly world changes their lives – in particular, what it gives back to them: time, fuel, and maybe a little sanity. Even the most selective shoppers have been shopping online while supporting local businesses – without spending time in the aisles.

They see the benefits of discarding the recurring, time-consuming effort that used to consume part of their precious off-hours and weekends. Ever get home from a busy afternoon in grocery stores (etc) and wondered where your trail, bike, river, kid, grandkid time went?

Now, there seems to be more of that time. Yes, I’m talking about the time that was previously consumed by navigating parking lots, tolerating crowded stores, and standing in checkout lines because some stores have fewer checkers than ever.

Of course, some will resume “normal” shopping because it’s what they’ve always done, and because they enjoy getting out. Some never stopped. And some will never go back to their old normal.

People are picky

“Yes, but people are picky”, you might say. “They want to choose their tomatoes and broccoli.”

Yes, they are. Yes, they do. There’s room for that.

Delivery can focus on things like commodities, cans, jars, and bags of national, regional, and generic brand items that can easily be specified in their online order. This allows a delivery/carryout customer to get exactly what they’d choose without the time & hassle. After all, a can of DelMonte corn is a can of DelMonte corn.

With delivery, there’s no parking lots, no traffic, no aisles, no checkout line – and all that time can be spent doing something else. With carryout, you still avoid the aisles, checkout lines and parking lots since stores with carryout typically have designated areas for those activities.

For the things they’re choosy about, people can shop the farmer’s market, pick up their CSA allotment from a local farm, order from their favorite local butcher, and pick up their favorite “I’ve gotta choose” items from their favorite grocer. CSAs are already available for contactless pickup. Butcher shops and farmers markets will adapt as the market indicates.

Not everything is groceries

“Simple” situations like getting our groceries make the impact of these changes easier to see, but there’s one group this isn’t simple for: the businesses themselves. Their systems must be adapted. Their people must be trained for these new functions. The physical organization of a grocery store that’s ideal for a hundred or so simultaneous retail food shoppers is not ideally laid out for a crew of workers picking orders for grocery carryout and delivery. Your business may have a retail shopping vs. delivery/carryout order picking organizational challenge to work through.

But not every business is selling groceries.

I’m reminded of my mom and my grandmother. Both widowed, both avid gardeners and yard workers. They have their mowers serviced every spring and in grandma’s case, winterized every fall. Neither of them have a pickup. I don’t live near them. Somehow, their mowers get to the shop.

Obviously, someone picks up their mowers, takes them to the shop, services them, and delivers them to their home. Service.

Service: Still stylish

This isn’t only about older customers, nor is it only about mower shops.

Everyone has responsibilities, wants, & needs pulling them in different directions. It might be a month before someone can do the prerequisite tasks required of them to prepare to give you money. Pickup, delivery, & carryout can eliminate that delay. You get your money faster. The customer gets the work done earlier than they expected. Fewer people enter your business. Your employees are exposed to fewer people without impacting sales.

Even for those who are able to get their equipment (or whatever) into their vehicle, then drive to your shop, lift it out, & take it inside to get it worked on… Why should they ever have to do that again?

As economies reopen, you have a unique opportunity to create a new relationship with your existing customers, and build one with new customers that’s better than what they’re accustomed to.

Photo by Rémi Müller on Unsplash

Categories
customer retention Customer service Employee Training Getting new customers Management

Got a reopening plan?

As economies start to reopen (like ours here in Montana), everyone’s trying to figure things out. What’s going to be different? What’s going to be the same? What should we do & say? One of the most important aspects of your reopening is the communication to your employees and to the public – your customers.

Employees need a roadmap

Training is essential. Make sure they know specifically what new tasks are expected of them, when, how often, & why. Don’t assume they know exactly what to do. Document new processes. Advise about old processes that are gone. Observe how these processes are executed. Let the best ones train & observe the rest so you can deal with more important things.

Yes, management 101.

Explain the impact of these things on your customers. Their actions, or inaction, could make a client for life, or repel someone forever.

They need to understand what’s being done to keep them safe. Employees need certainty. Their family needs to know their health & income aren’t being placed at risk.

Customers decide

I mentioned employees first because if they aren’t prepared, your customers will notice. They’ll watch how your business responds. Most people know someone somewhere who has gotten sick. Some are scared (or at least concerned), and some aren’t.

The busier your business was, the easier it’ll be to avoid. You may need to meet your customers where they are – just like always.

Make sure your customers know exactly what you’ve done to make your business safer for them. They need to know exactly what you’re doing each day. If they see things indicating that you don’t care about your people, why wouldn’t they assume you feel the same about them?

Make sure they understand what the new rules are, whatever that means for your business.

The logistics of all this are not easy. It’s probably work you haven’t been doing, at least not at the scale reopening requires.

Your customers need certainty. They decide whether when (or if) they return to your business. Your actions, people, & communication will impact their choice.

Customer experiences

I ordered carryout pizza from a place that brags on their contactless carryout. I arrive to find employees without masks or gloves. The same pen & clipboard is used for every other pick up I watch while waiting in the car for my order. I get the same clipboard & pen to sign with, despite the fact that I paid online. Keep in mind that the employee delivering the pizza and handing over the clipboard/pen is touching the same items that every customer touches. When I touch the pen, I touch everyone else who touched the pen.

A week later, I order carry out from a local pizza place. They’re sharing pens/clipboards & requiring signatures for an online payment. There’s no PPE.

A week later (you’ll notice a pattern here), I order carryout from a different national pizza chain bragging about contactless carryout. Same deal. No PPE and a shared pen / clipboard.

A few weeks later, I used the drive through at the third place. After speaking with their national office a week earlier, their contactless carryout truly is.

I had allergy testing scheduled for a while and surprisingly, it didn’t get cancelled. Everyone masked up – even the receptionist. When I arrived, they had a clean pen jar & a used pen jar. A sign instructed you to use a clean pen and place it in the used pen jar when done.

At grocery stores, there are signs identifying sanitized carts. The clerk wiped the pinpad after the person in front of me was done – a process that didn’t happen two weeks earlier.

I placed an online pickup order at a brewery. When it was ready, I received a text message. When I arrived, it was ready to carry to the car.

I haven’t heard from the other two “we’re contactless but not really” pizza places.

Reopening Processes

What processes had to be changed? Don’t force your team or your customers to figure it out during their first encounter with your reopened business. It’ll frustrate them & make you look unprepared.

If signs will help, make signs. If a sequence of signs will help, or a checklist will help, use them. Warn your customers in advance of any orders and repeat the advisory when they place an order. Let them know what to expect. If your new process needs explanation (regardless of reason), explain it.

Photo by Birgith Roosipuu on Unsplash

Categories
Customer relationships customer retention

Remember the feeling

Lots of folks out there are concerned about their customers. Some… for the first time in years, having taken them for granted for a while – perhaps from day one. If your behavior toward clients has noticeably changed in the last month, ask yourself why. How does it feel to find yourself scrambling to keep those clients?

Remember the feeling.

Do you get the idea that everyone knows you’re trying to save yourself? Have you experienced difficulty gaining their trust? Do they believe you’re really thinking about them for them? If that hurts, or if it bothers you…

Remember the feeling.

The next time something like this happens, will you have to rethink how you care for your customers, or will you already be in the right place with your clientele?

Remember the feeling.

Likewise, if you’ve noticed that your vendors are acting different… If they seem interested in your concerns in ways you haven’t seen in a while…

Remember the feeling.

When the phone rings and you see a name on the caller ID, do you mute them or roll your eyes? Consider whether your customers feel the same way about you.

Remember the feeling…

Even if you don’t, they will.

Photo by Atlas Green on Unsplash

Categories
customer retention Sales

Maturity matters

Have you spent any time looking at the differences between your newest customers and the customers who have been with you for years or decades? I’m not speaking of age, but of their maturity.

Imagine asking your customers “Why did y0u buy from us vs every other option you had, including buying nothing?” A new customer is likely to say something like “you offer the options we needed at a reasonable price”, and / or that your reputation helped them make the choice.

The “old” ones

However, the customer you’ve had for decades might respond that “you were the only one who had the product / service at the time”. While it’s possible that you’re still the only supplier, it’s unlikely that is the situation today. So why are these long time customers still around?

If the product you provide has a recurring income component, or you sell something consumable that will be purchased repeatedly (food, a service, supplies, raw materials, etc), ask your long-time customers an additional question: “I get that we were the first – but you still use us. Why? What’s kept you from switching to another vendor?”

While it’s great that they’re still around, their continued use of your solutions is not likely because you were the first vendor they bought from. The reasons they stick around are the same reasons that you might be able to flip a customer from another vendor. These reasons are also important for customer retention, so listen closely. Ask why when you get an answer. Keep asking why, if it makes sense. Dig deep on these answers – “anyone” can close a sale. The key is closing them and keeping them.

They get started differently

Another difference you might notice between new and long time customers is their maturity as a user with your product / service. I don’t mean that they’re young or old. They might be new users, or they may be long-time users of a particular type of product, whether we’re talking about software, 3D printer resin, garlic, or fertilizer.

What I mean is that some of your customers are new or at least less experienced at using whatever you sell, and others are experts at using whatever you sell. The new customer might be experienced – having switched from another vendor. However, they could be inexperienced, having just gotten started with products / services like yours.

It’s important that you know which type of customer you’re dealing with. The onboarding with these two types of customers almost certainly needs to be different because of the difference in experience and skill / maturity with your product / service. The ability of the sales and support people assigned to these two groups needs to be considered – and you may need to break down the groups with more granularity beyond novice and experienced. A novice support or sales rep assigned to a very mature account might be a good learning opportunity for the rep, but it could be a disaster for customer retention unless you pair them with an experienced mentor for a while.

More than maturity

The differences between these two types of users include more than their product / service use maturity, but that maturity relates directly to the self-described needs of each group. Think about the questions and improvements you receive from customers with lower experience levels vs the requests from mature customers.

Power users tend to ask for more refined features. You have to be careful how you implement these requests. If your product / service becomes so hard to use that novice users get stuck, it can impede your growth. People will gravitate to solutions that are easy to use & simple to get started. Novice customers don’t want to get mired in a swamp, particularly with a new supplier or a new product / service. High maturity customers don’t want a product that’s too simple to serve their advanced needs. It’s a careful balancing act.

A Farewell

Columbia Falls started off the year with a tough loss – the passing of Karl Skindingsrude. It would be an understatement to say that Karl was an enthusiastic promoter of Columbia Falls, her people, and her businesses. It will be tough not seeing him emcee future Night of Lights and Heritage Days parades. Columbia Falls will certainly miss his smile, his enthusiasm, and his service as Columbia Falls’ friendly unofficial ambassador. For me, his passing served as a powerful reminder of where home is.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Categories
customer retention Customer service

Customers for life are often made rather than found

We all want customers for life – at least if they’re good customers. The challenge is finding them, right? Once you know what they look, sound, and act like, you’ll know what to look for. For some, that’ll probably work. For others, you’ll have work to do.

Finding customers for life

Finding customers for life should start with how you find new customers. There’s a decent possibility that you can find more of them by doing a close analysis of the ones you already have. That assumes you can identify which customers have been with you “forever”. A fair portion of them should exhibit similar needs, wants, responses, purchase habits, and other tendencies / similarities.

Depending on the information you have about your customers, it might not be terribly difficult to discern these subset of things that trend for lifetime customers. Having figured that out, you could use that information in your marketing copy and to emphasize where you market (ie: which types of media, which publications / sites / locations). You’d also want to use this information to segment your leads if the critical lifetime indicator data is available for your leads.

Creating customers for life

Perhaps easier than finding customers for life is taking exceptionally good care of everyone and paying attention to the things they appreciate most. Once you identify those things and have observed customer reactions to them, you’ll do more of them – and which ones to emphasize.

Taking extra steps

Recently, I witnessed a family member making calls to financial firms, insurance companies, and similar businesses after a relative passed. Listening to the calls was excruciating to me – not because of the loss of the relative, but because of the incessant frustration they subjected their decades-long customer to after paying these businesses for a very long time. The worst part was that this customer was dealing with accounts, policies, etc involving the person who passed – and didn’t seem to be getting the least bit of empathy, no matter what the result of the call. I heard this sort of thing on call after call – it was rather unbelievable and pretty frustrating even though I wasn’t directly involved. I wondered how a company could possibly do something like that – intentionally – at what was clearly during one of the worst parts of their customer’s life.

After dealing with that, can you imagine that person’s comments to other family members who are considering updates to their insurance, banking situation, etc? Who would they recommend to a friend or family member? Who might they offer a negative recommendation about?

These are the kinds of observations you need to make to not only make someone a customer for life, but to turn their entire family into customers for life. More importantly, how should you do these things differently? Remember that protecting the company on these calls isn’t just about the explicit protection of observable company assets. It’s also about the customer – whose relationship with the company is also a valuable asset.

Things to consider

It struck me that the very best people doing customer service for these companies should be segmented off into a group whose only responsibility is taking care of long-time customers who have just lost a spouse (or similar).

A department designed for this and whose staff is trained solely to deal with those situations (even if by the book) would likely behave a bit different than the average and typical team of customer service reps who are trained to handle a wide scope of situations. They’re often monitored for time on the phone with each customer and/or number of calls handled per day. These are not metrics that you’d want to use when handling someone who recently lost a spouse. Yet that’s exactly what happens if the primary customer service team handles these calls in the mix with everything else they do.

Would an elder law firm handle clients like this in a similar situation? I’m guessing not.

Consider the situations your customers for life will face throughout their lifetime as your customer. Whether they’re buying cars, insurance, web sites, or whatever – there’s a sequence of life events that the customer deals with during that time frame. What can you do to consider those in advance, perhaps reduce their impact, and at the absolute least, do what’s possible to soften the blow and make the customer’s situation better, less frustrating, and memorable in a positive way?

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Categories
customer retention Customer service

Can you help your customers too much?

Can you help your customers too much? Have you ever wondered where to draw the line when providing support / customer service to your customers? Or how to react when support starts becoming the focus of every waking moment, much less the thing that wakes you up in the middle of the night? Consider the question below. Once again, the context is software, but these business model structural design failures can just as easily face your plumbing firm, Crossfit gym, or mortgage brokerage.

I have a question about supporting my end users of my software. How do you take care of users who call about their printer not working, or they can’t get the software to open up because of a networking error? Do you charge for these things? Do you somehow let them know it’s not your problem but do it nicely? I feel like we are getting way too many calls that have nothing to do with our software. Just today a customer wants to print to a different printer and I asked if it was installed on her computer. She answers “I don’t know how to check that.”

You might be wondering how you’d get into a situation like this. Maybe you don’t clearly define what your business does and what it doesn’t do. Perhaps it happened because we’ll often do “whatever the customer asks” during the early days when you’re clawing for business. In that mode, you’ll do (almost) anything to please a customer & get/keep a sale. Trouble is, you may eventually find yourself trapped because this kind of business model doesn’t scale well. Even if you’re being paid for the help, it can create a large support infrastructure. Is that the business you designed?

Once you’re in this situation, the far more important question is “How do I get out of this mess?

Help! We already do too much.

There is some good news. If you’re being asked to help, it usually means they trust the advice you’re giving them. The challenge with this is that you’re often doing this for free, which is another reason they’re asking you for help. While you could start charging then by the hour for help that is not directly related to what you do, is that the business you’re in? Looking forward, is that the business you want to be in?

Let’s rewind a bit. When you selected a market to enter, did you also consider the type of customers involved? Did you consider what sort of help they would expect? Consumer users need a lot of help. Most of them aren’t tech people. They depend on tech to remove problems, not create them. When the latter happens, it usually coincides with use of other technology, like yours. It’s the nature of the beast.

Your consumer users need your products / services to help them, heal themselves and when that fails, communicate all pertinent details to you as automatically as possible. Anything else creates a situation where you’re buried in a pile of conversations with frustrated users who don’t know how to answer your legitimately nerdy questions that your software should’ve already figured out.

Understandable. It’s not difficult to get buried by consumer or small business support / service. The consumer issues are noted above, and the small business ones aren’t much different. Few small businesses have an IT staff. Some have their brother-in-law the IT guy (translation: maybe a gamer, maybe a real IT person somewhere), and a scarce few actually have a professional firm contracting this sort of help. Even for the latter and most proactive group, this help can be quite expensive. Result: They’ll still try to get you to help before falling back on the external IT group.

So how do you fix it without aggravating your entire user community?

Most likely, you don’t. There is no shortcut here. Admit that you can’t do it any longer and decide what you will do, then communicate the situation to your users. At the very least, you have to communicate it to the ones who are consuming the most time on things that are ultimately not “owned by you”.

What you can’t do: Continue being your customers’ service desk for HP, Microsoft, Dell, etc. There’s too much hardware changing too fast that’s affected by too many things. Remember, this isn’t the business you’re in (unless it is).

No easy answers

This support / service load has a cost – sometimes a substantial one. You have a few choices, including these:

  • Shoulder all of it and raise prices across your entire customer base.
  • Shoulder none of it and take the heat. Probably a lot of it.
  • Choose a solution somewhere in the middle and stand firm on the things you simply can’t afford to do without being paid, if you do them at all.

If your software demands hardware (such as point of sale devices), then choose a very short list to support from specific vendors, certify it with your product – and support it very well with your hardware partners’ help. Make it clear prior to purchase that you cannot support other hardware, unless you’re willing to accept the cost of doing so (You probably can’t).

No matter what you decide, you MUST communicate your decision and new support policies / approach to your users. This is not the time to “get all corporate” in your communication. Be clear and real about it. Small businesses may not like it, but they’ll understand that you have to contain it. Enterprises will likely begrudgingly accept it – knowing that they’ve been getting a screaming deal for some time. Consumers won’t like it, but you simply can’t replace vendor support for every piece of hardware &software ever made – much less whatever you sell. It’s not feasible. It’s time to stand up for yourself – and the future of your business.

Overwhelmed by the enterprise?

Enterprise customers usually don’t need help with printers and other rudimentary things. The exceptions are those with an IT team that’s difficult to deal with. They’ll call you first because you actually help them. You have to be crystal clear (in advance, on paper) about the details of support / service with enterprise clients or the sheer volume of questions can bury your support team. Badly structured pricing of support can create severe pain and impact your ability to support the rest of your customers.

This is the situation “shadow IT” ultimately grew out of. It happens when a department gets fed up with IT & rolls their own solutions. They go to this trouble because they’re fed up with the inability to get help. You might end up being a part of a department’s shadow IT solution. Is your sales process designed to detect how purchasing and support are delivered to internal customers at your prospective customer? If you’re part of a shadow IT solution, your price better reflect the real needs of that department.

As with consumer solutions, a self-healing, self-diagnosing solution will save a ton of time, money, and frustration for everyone. These self-healing, self-diagnosing solutions don’t have to be perfect. If they can handle the most frequently reported issues, it will give your team breathing room to make headway on the rest. “Oh, that’s common sense” you might say. Yes, it is. Does your product do it?

Avoid doing too much for too little

Think hard about the future of what you’re building. How will your team, product, service, delivery, operations, & accounting look when you have 100 or 1000 or even 10000 clients? When you’re scraping for revenue, it may seem silly to consider how your business model will look at 1000 clients. Do it anyway, as it’s much easier to design a model that works at any size while your office is the kitchen table. The investment in time and thought will pay big dividends 9999 customers from now, if not before. You can get by on seat of the pants management when you’re small, but that sort of business model will create pain well before you’re ready to redesign it.

Operations will look different at 10 clients than at 1000, but the business model doesn’t have to. You can do it, but it’s hard to change your business model while 1000 customers are on board. Invest even a little bit of thought up front to make sure things make sense five years from now.

You may not remember 10, 15, 20 years ago when software companies provided perpetual licenses and never charged for support. The boldest proudly offered “lifetime support”. What most customers didn’t consider was that it was the vendor’s lifetime, rather than theirs. Vendors suffers the same shortsightedness. Their business model flipped over when their ninth year sales pace didn’t match that of their second year. Suddenly, they had updates and support to provide to more people every year while revenue slowly dropped off. Their market penetration rose, but their annual revenue didn’t.

Decide what your business model will support and price accordingly. Communicate clearly what you do, what you don’t do, and how you charge.

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customer retention

Two out of three

Recently I spent some time in the town where I went to college. One of the things that tends to happen when you meet old friends from those days is to check out your old haunts and see if how they fare against your (probably) inaccurate memory of them. From the business perspective, it speaks of consistency – but also of gaining return clients. Any college town that hosts a school with sports and other major events is likely to be judged like this on a regular basis.

Still holding their own

The first place is a rather old barbecue place, but not the one I mentioned last week. It was closed for a little bit, bought by a competitor some time later and has remained without significant changes for the last three decades.

It’s a unique place in some ways. You order your meal the same way you did over 30 years ago – via an old school wall phone in each booth. The current owner has a few other local BBQ places under different branding – and all of them are solid locations. More importantly, the current owner of this old BBQ place has kept the qualities that people remember from decades ago. They’ve kept most of the menu, the funky booth ordering phone system, and did so while keeping the food quality at the level of their other locations.

Recognizing and promoting the story of this old place and the memories people have for it wasn’t all that hard to do – but someone had to recognize the value of retaining these things and execute them well. Keeping all of that intact despite having a multi-location barbecue business with different branding is a good example of understanding what makes customer retention and return visits happen.

Fresh face, old place

This place is unrecognizable compared to the original. It’s on the same site, but the original building was torn down back in 2015. The new place is bigger, brighter and frankly – a serious improvement. I worked at this place back in the early ’80s while I was in school. The business has changed hands at least once since that time and there’s a lot of water under the bridge. However, this place also had a lot of long-time customers and, of all things, is “famous” (if not memorable) for the old building’s iconic blue metal roof.

Customers remembered it so much that when the new building went up with a silver metal roof, you might say they received “a little” feedback about it. So much feedback, in fact, that they changed the color of the roof on the newly constructed building and included a reference to the roof (and its color) in the new name of the business.

Best of all, when you walk in the door, you see a large photo of the original building on the wall, along with another large sign next to it that tells the story of the business. While all aspects of the business have moved forward and improved substantially, they’ve remembered their past and helped their customers do so as well.

No mas

Unfortunately, not all of the old haunts in my alma mater’s town are showing the life that the previous two displayed. Many are closed, replaced by new things and / or new buildings. While the loss of some of the more revered ones is sad, after 30 plus years, you have to expect it.

One of the old joints now has numerous new locations, but has closed the original location on the college’s main drag / hangout street.

Unfortunately, the resemblance ends there. While the menu is largely the same, not much else is. The food’s gone downhill, even from our last visit two years ago. The service? Missing. Locals now comment that it has become a BYOF (bring your own food) restaurant because the food and the service are so bad.

The lesson?

The lessons in all of this come down to a number of things:

  • Knowing why people love your place, even if it wasn’t (and still isn’t) perfect.
  • Knowing why they come back to a place you recently bought.
  • The importance of the story that existed before you were involved – so that you can respect & leverage it, even if you need to make big changes.

Talk to your customers. They’ll tell you what you need to know. Don’t make it harder than it really is.

Photo by greatdegree

Categories
customer retention

Horseradish & the pursuit of perfect

Last week we talked about what it takes to be the perfect place. Not really “perfect”, but something that feels perfect. Thing is, perfect is quite often different for each person. That’s why it helps to decide who your ideal customer is and zoom in close to eliminate who they aren’t, AND more importantly, zoom in super close to determine who they are, what they do, who they do it with, and so on.

When you zoom in that close, you’re far more likely to notice the small things that are important to them. Whether you look through a telescope or a microscope, you have to pay very close attention to what’s in view in order to know what to do next, what decisions to make about what’s important and what’s not.

Under the microscope

When examining something under a microscope, you’re looking at tiny little things, but in the context of the viewing area, they’re still important despite their size. The same goes for little things that your ideal client cares about.

While the lack of those little “insignificant” things might be ignored by your ideal client, the situation changes when those insignificant little things exist. It might not make sense, but here’s what happens: That little insignificant thing isn’t expected in most situations, so it doesn’t count against the business that doesn’t provide whatever that little thing is.

However, those customers are always looking for those little things. They might not be disappointed when they don’t find them, but their sensitivity to their presence is always high. When that tiny item IS present, everything changes. The ideal customer is looking for it and the presence of that item, no matter what it is, is transformational.

It changes their opinion. It changes everything because it changes the lens they see that business through. Suddenly, that business “gets” them. It understands them. They know that this business understands the minute little things that “fussy customers” are looking for.

You don’t miss what you don’t care about

Like a rest area on the highway, people who aren’t looking for them don’t miss the ones that don’t exist. Even when one appears after many miles, they won’t necessarily appreciate it if they don’t use it. Likewise, those who have been waiting for that rest area are thrilled to encounter it, even though it’s only a rest area.

It’s a bathroom and maybe a place to have a picnic and walk the dog.

Even so, it’s what you want, when you want it. You can probably name a few examples of this kind of appreciation that you have in your world.

Horseradish

Here’s a simple example: horseradish. Years ago, I stopped into a barbecue place for the first time with a couple of friends. This place had a special take on things. All the walls in this place were lined with three rows of various hot sauces, barbecue sauces and the like. I had never heard of most of them, but I surely tried a few.

That, however, was not the thing that brings me back to this place. Their barbecue is excellent, but even that is common in the southern midwest.

What brings me back every time is the fact that in addition to their barbecue and vast array of sauces is, of all things, the cole slaw. While this is not uncommon given that you can get into downright religious arguments about cole slaw (acidic, on the sandwich, on the side, etc), what’s different about this place is that their cole slaw contains the perfect dose of horseradish.

Yes, horseradish. That’s it. I drove by this place today, as I happened to be in the same town for the first time in 16 months.

Of course, I haven’t quite perfected this touch on my own, as simple as it might seem, so that makes it even more of a draw. Anytime I’m in this town, I MUST visit that barbecue place (For those hankering for detail, it’s Buckingham Smokehouse in Springfield Missouri).

This is a perfect example of a trivial little detail that raises your business’s game above others every time. Do I have high expectations of them as I do every business I return to? Sure, but that detail is what pulls me back.

That is how a tiny insignificant thing can pay off.Photo by mbtphoto (away a lot)