It’s lunchtime on a busy downtown street corner. People are walking by and you’re conducting a short, one-question survey, asking, “What do you think the purpose of every business is?” I’ll wager the overwhelming majority will answer with the same three words: “to make money.”
However, according to Theodore Levitt, marketing professor at Harvard Business School, “The purpose of a business is to get and keep a customer. Without customers, no amount of engineering wizardry, clever financing or operations expertise can keep a company going.”
So the purpose is not to make money, but to get and keep customers. The goal of a business is to make money. If you confuse the purpose of the business with the goal of the business, you may not reach your goal.
Getting the Customer
Many people think customer service is something that happens once the sale is made. Or that customer service is a department people call when they have problem. However, I’ll argue that customer service is something that takes place throughout the entire customer experience, which may begin long before the customer decides to do business with you or make a purchase. In other words, customer service is part of the sales and marketing process.
In a retail store, customer service ideally begins the moment the customer walks through the door. Typically, you may have no idea whether this potential customer will buy something. Engaging with the customer, asking appropriate questions and showing you care may start the relationship in a positive way that can hopefully lead to a sale.
The same applies in a B2B situation. The customer’s purchase cycle may be longer and require a proposal or more before the customer makes a decision. If in the process you're anything less than customer focused, you may risk losing that customer.
Keeping the Customer
Why create a customer experience that makes customers want to come back?
- It can be less expensive to keep existing customers than to continuously have to acquire new ones.
- Existing customers may eventually become loyal customers.
- Loyal customers may buy more frequently.
- Loyal customers may spend more compared to other customers.
- Loyal customers may be more likely to tell others about your business. This may be your most powerful sales and marketing approach.
There are many similarities between the getting and the keeping of customers, at least as far as customer service and experienced are concerned.
Trust and Hope
People tend to want to do business with people they know, like and trust. Customers, whether or not they know it, may go into the situation hoping to do business with you. Therefore, the expectation can be that you’ll have to do something wrong to damage the relationship. While the customers may not yet know you personally, they may know of your company’s reputation. Or they may like what they see in your advertisements. Or they may have been referred by a colleague. If they're hoping for a positive outcome, they'll typically give you some benefit of the doubt unless you prove them wrong.
Now, achieving the “trust” part is often a bit more difficult. Trust has to be built. But it may not be as hard as you might think. Offering a predictable and consistent experience goes far, but to do that often means proving, over and over, in every interaction you have with the customer, that he or she made the right choice to do business with you. It can be as simple as calling someone back on time, or sending packages or emails in a timely fashion. These are touch-points that help prove to the customer that he or she made the right choice to do business with you. I call these trust-points.
Some simple ways to manage trust-points are to:
- Always do what you say you will do.
- Act with appropriate speed and urgency.
- Show respect and be polite.
- Value the customers’ time—show up on time, call back on time, etc.
- Exceed expectations. The adage “under-promise and over-deliver” comes to mind. Set expectations that the customer thinks are reasonable and acceptable, and then exceed them.
- Be proactive. Anticipate what your customer needs before he or she asks.
After the Sale
Try not to take the sold customer for granted. A goal in the sales process can be to build confidence, up to the point that the customer is ready to buy. Once the customer has bought, a goal can be to maintain that confidence and reinforce that the customer made the right choice to do business with you. You aren’t, as the cliché goes, closing the deal. Once that customers chooses to pay you for your goods and services, they've crossed the line from prospect to customer. That’s where the real relationship often begins. That’s when you have the opportunity to prove to them that they made the right choice. That’s when you may begin to earn loyalty. That’s when your customers can evangelize you with recommendations to their friends, colleagues and family members. That’s when companies can be achieving their goal: to make money.
Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, speaker and author.
Read more articles on customer service.
This article was originally published on January 30, 2015.