Important Questions

Do You Have Too Many Customers? This question was posed to a room of about 80 business owners and senior executives. Not surprising, there wasn’t anyone in the audience that said yes. In fact, there was a low chorus of chuckles and incredulity.

The presenter then asked: Are you making too much money? The collective response was the same, but noticeably even louder, with more laughter. The entire audience was fully engaged. EVERYONE wanted MORE customers and money. Go figure!

This presentation was about customer experience and journey mapping – very important topics for all businesses. Yet, it occurs to me that every business owner and executive charged to grow their business might reflect upon these two questions and arrive at completely different change initiatives to generate MORE customers and MORE money.  It might be improvements in IT infrastructure, operational efficiency, HR hiring practices, marketing communication, and/or a host of other critical business activities.

Our advisory practice helps businesses to improve “customer-facing” employee motivations, capabilities, and habits, and the company processes and business practices that support customer creation and customer retention. We help sales teams to sell more effectively and all employees to deliver customer services that keep more customers. Many business owners have concerns in this area.

While the challenges (we call them GAPS … hence our company name) vary in each company, it is important to frequently evaluate poor financial performance to determine what is causing the shortfalls.

For instance, if the challenge is weak revenue growth, the resolution of that issue may reside in the sales team, or it may reside elsewhere in the business. It may derive from dysfunctional company hiring or onboarding practices, or order processing procedures. Numerous factors can combine to have a negative impact on customer perceptions of the value delivered.

We believe all business owners need to understand the root causes of underperformance, the resources required to resolve those challenges, and how best to prioritize the resolution of those challenges.

The perspectives of independent expertise can help businesses in this discovery process, and implement specific initiatives that can move the entire organization to being significantly less forceful in answering the two questions posed in this post.

One final question: What are you doing about it?

 

Prospects and Persuasion

Every business starts with a belief that they have a product or service that others need and will buy. The business usually starts slowly, as time, energy, research, and an untold number of conversations with friends, colleagues, external advisors, and potential customers begins to congeal into a Vision, Mission, and Purpose.

Assuming the business has achieved a reasonable measure of market traction, and as the business pushes through its initial months and years, the structure, strategies, and tactics of the business solidifies. Processes and practices are formed, refined, integrated, and executed by employees, each with specific roles and responsibilities to create and retain customers. We call it Customer Building.

But, it’s not just about creating customers. Ultimately, it is about thrilling your customers to promote retention and long-term advocacy. To create, thrill, and retain customers is, truly, a never-ending set of activities.

What is included in the process of customer creation? It must involve:

  1. Understanding the opportunity and the prospect’s business needs and concerns,
  2. Creating trust in you and your company,
  3. Solving prospect problems aligned to your company’s offering,
  4. Effectively communicating how your company can and will accomplish the objectives, and
  5. Building an ongoing relationship.

Some would describe the above process as selling … the requisite steps in closing a sale.

In certain business settings and industries, these individuals would be titled as Sales Representatives, Sales Managers, Vice President of Sales, and similar titles. These companies are business-to-business oriented, and are in industries that are more typically product-driven and transactional.

Other businesses would prefer to describe the same process as customer or business development, and have the same objective – closing a sale.  These individuals frequently have titles that either say Business Development or Customer Development, or offer no indication that a core role and responsibility includes “selling” – regardless of the label assigned to it. These companies are also business-to-business oriented, but are in industries that are services-driven and far less transactional.

Many companies that emphasize “customer development” are lawyers, accountants, bankers, wealth advisors, consultants, architects, and engineers – and in other professions that have a longer vision of customer creation. Many of these individuals are owners, principals, and associates in their companies, or hold CEO, President, General Manager, and other titles that signify leadership rather than selling responsibilities.

Regardless of the title or label, the “selling” process is the same. Only the language is different.

You are persuading a prospect to become a client.

High Tech and High Touch

We live in a demand world. Technology has enabled businesses to push unlimited messages out to the consuming public. Emails with special offers pummel our inboxes daily. “Like us on Facebook today, and get a free doodad!” “Take our survey and get 20% off your next order!” We may tolerate the bombardment, but I’ll bet that most of us still don’t like it.

The more that “high tech” marketing and sales tools provoke negative reactions, the more crucial it is to differentiate your company—with positive “high touch” CUSTOMER BUILDING practices.

The thing is… human beings have real and specific needs. Have you noticed how you feel when you realize that a company really gets you? It is almost as if you don’t mind giving them your money—because they are providing you with what you really want.

It is not a mystery—we just want companies to understand us. That realization should be front and center for a business. Zero in on what people want, and then deliver it with good quality, and at a fair price. We call it the “FAIR EXCHANGE,” and we teach fair customer development and service practices at GAPWORX.

Your marketing messages should be understandable, and convey a clear value proposition to the prospect. Hire capable salespeople that can follow an effective and humane sales process. Teach them to ask probing questions, to uncover the prospect’s CORE interests and needs. Build capabilities in your sales team about product and service knowledge, so that they can answer any question about prospect FEARS, UNCERTAINTIES, and DOUBTS. A well-equipped sales person will be able to match real prospect needs, with your product and services.

The way your company sells… and the way your company serves, should be balanced to the same high level of performance.

Creating positive CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES should be a priority for every company employee who encounters a prospect or a customer. Just as with successful sales people, customer service employees should ask effective questions…to understand the customer’s problems, and their emotions about the problem.

You can’t fix what you don’t understand!

This does not happen automatically, but it can become the intention of a company’s CUSTOMER BUILDING strategy, tactics, and systems. It can work with knowledge, training, and perfect practice-practice-practice.

Build Customers That Advocate for You

If it seems that every company is talking about customer experience, it is because Customer Experience (CX) is one of the very hot issues in business management. As evidence of this – customers receive several requests each week to respond to surveys, and social media posts.

CX research has measured the “stickiness” of customer retention. Customers stick with companies, not only for the product and services, but for the emotional value of the relationship. The more the relationship goes beyond transactional, the more it becomes emotional. Obviously, companies want to minimize or even eliminate negative customer experiences. Neutral customer experiences do not build your competitive strength, or customer attachment. Your goal should be to design as many positive customer experiences as possible … ones that create customer advocacy.

For a customer to become an advocate for your company’s products and services, it requires passing the “warm and fuzzy” tests.  Advocacy requires trust and confidence. Advocacy happens when a customer feels good about exchanging their money for a fair deal. Advocacy happens when a customer feels understood, valued, and appreciated by you. Advocacy is built when you follow up, to understand how your customers experience your company, your products, and your services.

Twenty years ago, quality initiatives were all the rage, much like customer experience is now. We learned that evaluating processes, adjusting, and measuring outcomes were vital – every step of the way. Continuous measurement … and continuous improvement was the mantra.

It is the same with CX – evaluate every customer touchpoint. Examine how you sell, how you solve problems, and how you serve. Go beyond the simple feedback of surveys, and hold in depth customer conversations to peel back the layers of complexity. Use objective outside analysts to help you uncover problem areas. Positive customer experiences can reinforce your customer relationships, and help you build advocates for your company.

THE PROCESS CORNER – Change is a Journey, Not a Destination

There are many famous quotations dealing with change. Change is inevitable, like death and taxes. Change is challenging for most of us to embrace. Most of us prefer our lives to have certainty and predictability, with a comfortable routineness. Often unknown to us, we are creatures of habit.  

Change is frequently linked to acceptance, but few of these quotations link it to a process that makes its outcome more efficient and desirable. In our personal lives – and as importantly in our professional lives – we need to acknowledge that change is necessary.

For the betterment of our personal and professional lives – we must acknowledge that change is necessary. We know change is hard, but paradoxically we seek easy processes to make our lives better.

The premise of this post is that individual and organizational change is a journey that is never-ending. It isn’t a destination that you arrive at and it is done. Rather, change occurs constantly, and individuals and organizations can: (1) ignore the external forces that impact them, or they can (2) embrace those external forces, and seek alternative solutions to achieve organizational success.  

We recommend an initial AWARENESS PHASE that identifies Problems (we call them Gaps), the Drivers of your Business (Financial, ROI, Cultural, Customers, etc.), Resources (dollars, time, talent – internal and external), and your Priorities based upon company goals and objectives.

Then you move into an ACTION PHASE where you expand Awareness, to Assess, Analyze, and Plan for specific initiatives. As plans are finalized and vetted, select a champion to lead each initiative. A project or initiative champion is key to overall accountability and success – to implement specific metrics and explicit schedules, and mark milestone progress along your Roadmap.

Although somewhat a misnomer, the “final” step is the ACHIEVEMENT PHASE. Certainly, there must be achievement, but it is an incremental signpost on the journey to the organization’s long-term goals and objectives.

Celebrate signpost achievements, but continue the process to adjust to each new change. Create new Awareness, new Action plans, and set new Achievement goals and objectives. Change management is a process. Scale it to your market and organization. Keep it simple. Get outside help if the expertise and resources are missing inside your organization.