20090308-disappeared-business

If your business disappeared tomorrow, would anybody miss you?

No one wants to close their doors. But let’s imagine the unthinkable: how would your customers respond if you did have to close up shop? Imagine two scenarios…

Scenario one: you disappear and no one notices… That would be a disaster, but what would it tell you? Maybe it tells you that whatever needs your service or product fulfilled, a competitor was able to replace. What you had to offer was a commodity, and all commodities are replaceable.

Scenario two: you close your doors and your customers wander around dazed and confused; they can’t imagine life without you. That would be remarkable, but again, what does this scenario tell you? It tells you that no one else could meet your customers’ needs the way you did. Whatever you had to offer was not a commodity.

We all want to survive and we all want to thrive. But how cool would it be if your customers needed you to survive even more than you did? What would you be prepared to do to be that irreplaceable?

Any commodity you sell can be replaced, often more cheaply, by someone else. People selling commodities are always looking over their shoulders. So what is not a commodity? What can you offer your customers that can’t be replaced? The answer is: a relationship.

A relationship is the opposite of a commodity.

Relationships are as unique as snowflakes. No two customers, no two businesses, and therefore no two relationships, are exactly the same. They cannot be reproduced – not more quickly, not more cheaply. Not at all. And what cannot be reproduced cannot be competed against. A relationship is the ultimate ‘unique competitive advantage’.

How do we create a unique relationship with our customers? You can start by answering some key questions.

  1. Who are your customers? Do you really know them? What do they want, what do they hate, what will they splurge on and what do they buy in bulk, where do they live, what excites them, what are their values?
  2. Do you know what your customers value your business for? What brings them through your door? What do you have that they want? What do you offer that makes them choose you over your competitors?
  3. What are your customers’ triggers? What ‘language’ do they speak? What gesture can you make that would make your customers feel like you ‘get them’? What can you bring to the relationship that will make them feel like they are truly important when you do business with them? What words and images speak to your customers?

Answer these questions with confidence and accuracy and you will already be huge strides ahead of others in your market.

Remember, the answers shouldn’t be about a product or service! If the only thing that you know about your customers is what your in-store stats tell you, or that your customers value your business for great parking, or that their trigger is a loss leader sale on detergents, you need to ask better questions. Without better answers, your business will still be about commodities. 2-for-1 pricing is not the basis of a great relationship.

When you can paint a picture of your customer, yourself, and your relationship, in sharp colours, then you have the most important part of creating the customer experience we are after. You are then ready to ensure that your customers have a relationship-based experience every time they do business with you.

There are many ways you can create unique relationships with your customers. Here are a few suggestions:

Treat your customers as individuals with names. Who doesn’t like to go into a shop to be greeted by name and to be asked if you’ll have ‘your usual’? Make it a practice to have a conversation with every customer who comes through the door. Exchange names if it is appropriate. Keep a few notes of key conversations, likes and dislikes. Share information about key customers at staff meetings.

Make your customers feel like they are on the inside. Everyone loves to feel like they are part of an ‘inner circle’. Give your customer insider tips on your industry. Give away trade ‘secrets’ for free; not big ones, not all of them, but enough to let them know that you are on their side.

Educate. Take the time to provide ‘rich’ information to your customers. Keep them informed about new developments in your industry, and about trends that are affecting the products and services they are buying. Everyone loves being ‘in the know’ and these days, particularly younger consumers, are educated and looking for the ‘back story’ on what they are getting.

Show your customers they matter more than their money. How did Radiohead and Trent Reznor make a fortune giving away music for free? They understood that relationships with their fans matter more than their money. And their fans reward them royally. You don’t have to give your business away, but you can find ways to go that extra mile without charging for it.

Get out there. Still on the ‘matter more than money’ theme, though on a larger scale, this is about community service initiatives. Become more than a business, become an active member of your community. Like any great relationship, you get back what you put in.

Give your customers something to talk about. Do something remarkable for them. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, it doesn’t have to be every time, but it has to be remarkable enough that it makes people talk about you. A little gift, a special delivery, a few more minutes of your time… Whatever it is, be consistently remarkable, and people will talk.

And most important of all…
Talk with your customers. There is no substitute for conversation to build a relationship. No survey, no marketing report, can take the place of a conversation. Never miss an opportunity to give customers a chance to talk about themselves, and about the things that have brought them into your business. Ask questions. And when they talk, listen. Really listen. You are listening for two things in particular: anything that gives you more information about who your customers are, and anything that tells you why they are with you now. These two pieces of information are critical, because with them you can continue to feed the ‘great experience’ positive feedback loop. If you know intimately who your customer is, and why they come to you, you are more able to tailor their experience of your business to their needs and triggers.

The more you can do to build relationships with your customers, the more they will come to feel that you understand them and their needs. You will have crossed that magical threshold where your customers come to you for a relationship and an experience, not for a commodity. They do business with you because they want that experience, and they value your relationship. And that cannot be reproduced.

If you were to close your doors after developing relationships based on these suggestions, you would be missed indeed. But even better, you will have the customer loyalty that ensures you will never have to close your doors!

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