In our last blog post on Managing your business, we concluded by covering the topic of dealing with Finance and Margins. Today we have a look at your Customer’s requirements.
In my experience, one of the biggest challenges for SMME’s (Small, Medium, Micro Enterprises) is retaining clients. Now I am really not sure why this should be since the fact of the matter is that it is easier to sell to existing clients than it is to procure new ones. So what’s the deal? Perhaps it is because we don’t really know who and what a customer is!
The Wiki says that “A customer (also known as a client, buyer, or purchaser) is usually used to refer to a current or potential buyer or user of the products of an individual or organization, called the supplier, seller, or vendor. This is typically through purchasing or renting goods or services.”
So how do we retain our customers? How do we ensure that we not only find new customers, but that we continue to sell our services and our products to current customers or even customers who we have not sold anything to in years?
Well there seems to be a whole host of different options and tips – some of these are (but not limited to):
- The personal touch. Here’s an example of both good and bad. I have been a client of Nedbank in my personal capacity for in excess of 30 years now, and in my business capacity for almost 17 years – quite frankly I bank with them through absolute habit, it certainly is not because of the service that they have given me over the years, but rather the perceived hassle of changing banks, debit orders etc. that keeps me with them. I have no idea who my ‘personal banker’ is, or if indeed I have one. I have been dealing with the Cresta branch for the last 20 odd years and sadly the only person who knows my name, when I walk in, is the security guard. In my opinion, the security guard should be doing their PR, he greets most people by name, always with a smile and a sunny disposition and the good that that does is soon smashed to pieces by the ineffectual, anal retentive service received by the branch staff. So make sure that you give your clients your absolute attention and use your personal touch as part of your branding and marketing.
- Assumption – I always say that perception and assumption are the two most dangerous words on the planet – and certainly what I am going to say now will bear that out. Just because your customers are not complaining, don’t assume that everything is peachy! Your perception of ‘everyone is happy because no-one is complaining’ is probably so far off the mark that it is scary. Many people don’t complain, they just vote with their feet or their wallets. Ask them if they are happy and if they aren’t do something about it!
- Expectations – all customers expect to receive good service and that is a reasonable expectation. Not only meeting that expectation, but exceeding it will bring them great delight and will go a long way to ensure that they become loyal customers. Remember though, do it once and the customer will expect even more the next time around, so don’t stop trying to do better.
- Customization – “One man’s food is another man’s poison!” Just because one client is crazy about your product or your service, doesn’t mean that everyone will be. Be prepared to ‘customize’ your product or service to meet the requirement of the client. In fact, make sure that what you are selling (service or product) is what the client wants, rather than what you think that the client may need.
Irrespective of how ‘uncertain’ times are and how difficult it is to get the business in or make the sale, or how much you have downscaled the expenses, the fact of the matter is that you have to keep your staff motivated if you want to still get the business in and the orders processed. Clearly I am not talking only of the sales staff here!
Here’s the thing, if you have cut back and trimmed away as much as you should have and tightened your belt as far as it can be tightened, then most if not all of your staff have taken over some (if not all) of the duties of the staff who have left and usually for no additional remuneration. That means that you need to implement some sort of reward system to motivate them. This is where you have to get creative, as you may not be able to reward them financially. There are many perks that don’t necessarily cost the company a lot of money but could have huge beneficial implications to the staff. Things like, introducing flexitime, so that they spend less time in traffic and therefore have more quality family time or even, if it can be done, allowing them to work from home. This could result in you renting out your excess office space and your staff member spending less on fuel and toll fees – a win/win situation, I am sure you will agree. Rather get rid of the ‘dead wood’ and poor performers and reward those who have invested themselves in your company and who work effectively and efficiently. Poor performers and ‘dead wood’ take up a huge amount of management time and ultimately increase costs in more ways than one.
One of the quickest ways to decrease costs and increase productivity is to ensure that your operational costs are kept to a minimum. Machinery should be well and regularly maintained to optimise efficient use and processes implemented and properly managed to ensure that both quantity and quality of output. This should also be measured to ensure that it is of the highest standard. Regular review of processes and procedures to ensure that they are both effective and efficient and that they comply with legislation will also ensure that workflow output is optimised and constant and that fines or penalties are not levied against you for non-compliance.
Finally, “always keep your enemies close”. Make sure that you know what your competition is doing to ensure that you are doing things better, more efficiently and more effectively. Make sure that your always give value for money and that you operate from a place of integrity and honesty with your clients, your suppliers and your staff.
In your Business – honesty really is the best policy!