Business Reporter guest blogger Nicholas Watkis explains why it is important to allow even difficult customers to get in touch
Whether it is a consumer or business to business organisation, the customer should be at the centre, as the customer provides the income. But is this always the case? There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that for many business organisations, especially large ones, the most important factor is the “bottom line, and the share price”. The customer is only the necessary cash-cow. The evidence for this lies in the ease or lack of it that customers have in communicating with the company.
In recent years it has become increasingly difficult to find an effective route of contact to many organisations, especially large ones. Telephone numbers are withheld, or customers are forced into automated systems where they are faced with multiple choices with long waiting times. Information is placed on websites where it is difficult to access, or access is only via a web-site e-mail connection.
The evidence suggests that many organisations want to ensure that they have as little contact with their customers as possible – except when they want their money.
Businesses are not philanthropic institutions. They exist to make money and profits. To make money businesses have to anticipate and satisfy customer’s demands, so that customers provide the necessary income to the business in return for the goods or services that they require.
Identifying enough potential customers who have the requirement for the goods and services on offer is the primary problem for every business. Having identified the potential customers, the next difficulty is to convert them into customers that pay for their goods and services.
It often costs businesses more than they realise to gain a new customer – and considerably more than it does to retain them. So it is surprising that businesses can often take a casual attitude to their customer relations and to retaining customers for repeat business.
Gaining and retaining customers is a privilege, not a right. Customers don’t have to give their business and they are not obliged to remain customers, especially if the marketplace is filled with competing offers for products and services.
Smaller organisations stay close to their customers. But as organisations get bigger, the emphasis tends to change, so that maintaining and developing the system takes precedence over customers and their service. For example personal contact may be replaced with artificial intelligence, websites, automated telephone answering, and a lack of named personnel for contact.
The problem is that commercial managers are responsible for the production of profitable income, but they are not responsible for overall profit, which is the ultimate responsibility of the chief executive officer.
Organisations may consider that by using artificial intelligence, automated systems, websites and other methods that largely eliminate human involvement, they save money and improve the bottom line. While this may be true in the short term, it often results in alienated customers going elsewhere.
Commercial managers must concentrate on and champion the need for maintaining contact with customers, because customers are a necessary asset. They provide not only essential income, but also essential information about current and future demand, and competitive businesses.
If commercial managers are to maintain and increase profitable income, maintaining customer relations and communication will be essential. This may require countering their organisation’s desire to streamline and automate customer access in the name of “efficiency.” A commercial manager therefore needs to fully understand the customer’s experience of accessing the organisation.
This insight may be gained in a number of ways including using an independent agency to contact departments and individuals, in order to establish the customer’s general experience by answering questions such as:
- How easy is it to find and use a telephone connection? Is the answer personal or prerecorded? How long does it take? Is the desired contact achieved?
- Does the website clearly and easily direct a user to contact information?
- Is contact limited to only an e-mail form?
- Is contact only via an FAQ page?
- Is there a postal address clearly shown?
- Is there a telephone number clearly shown?
- Is there a personal customer service connection to deal with questions, problems etc.?
Maintaining good customer relations is essential and depends not only on how the product or service is delivered, but also on good channels of communication that are easy for customers to access.
Getting customers and retaining their custom is hard work which can easily be undone and negated by organisation systems and procedures which distance the customer and actively deter their communication. There is no “bottom line” without customers.
Nicholas Watkis is a professional interim marketing manager and specialist consultant in marketing performance management. He is a Certified Management Consultant and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. www.businessperformancemaximized.com
Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com