Never Forget Your Customers
They are the key to business growth. Meet or exceed their expectations and prosper.
By Bob Reiss
February 23, 2010
The No. 1 need for business success is a customer.
That’s pretty obvious, so why am I telling you this?
It may be obvious but most companies seem to quickly forget this essential fact. Small and startup companies desperately need customers to begin their journey to profits and sustainability. Many large Fortune 1000 companies forget the customers who made them successful.
Just look at all your daily life experiences in dealing with a phone company, an airline, a utility, your cable provider, a government provider, etc. In an effort to develop systems to deal with their size, they become impersonal and forget about the one constituency that propelled their success. In turn, the customers become increasingly frustrated with their treatment and become open to changes in their buying behavior.
You might posit that orders are most important, but, orders do not create more orders. Only satisfied customers do that. Happy customers whose expectations are met or exceeded become your best salespeople and effectively promote your wares by word-of-mouth, at no cost to you. You can’t buy more effective advertising than that.
Satisfied customers are likely to become long-term customers who will look forward to buying your new offerings. It is much easier to increase revenues through existing customers than to find new ones and much less costly. The bonus is that these satisfied customers get you new ones through singing the praises of your company, its products and/or services to their friends, family, and acquaintances.
Unlike other forms of media advertising, there is no cash outlay for this. There is, however, an investment in maintaining the quality, service, need fulfillment, value, timelines and warranty of your offering. If you deliver on these actions, positive word-of-mouth will enable you continued growth and sustainability. Likewise, if you fall short, you’ll have to deal with negative word of mouth, which can rapidly lead to your decline and is difficult and costly to reverse.
Your orders from products or services will eventually yield revenues which can be used for payroll, expenses, taxes, innovation. Most importantly, continued sales leads to profits.
So if we were to simply chart what we’ve said above, it would look like this:
CUSTOMER + ORDER = MONEY
Add the sales element to this equation and we have what I call the “Anatomy of a Business.”
SELLING + CUSTOMER + ORDER = MONEY
Sales is often demeaned and downplayed by academia, students, ordinary people and even some business people. However, sales is a profession and key to any organization’s success. As we see above, the customer is also a key element because they make purchases, which creates cash flow–the lifeblood of a business. Selling is the process of persuading customers to initiate these orders. It can be a simple quick one-on-one encounter or a complex long-term process. Without sales, you will not get orders.
These basic principles are easy to forget but it would benefit all entrepreneurs to remember the anatomy of a business in their hectic schedules Of course, it gets more complicated when competition is added to the mix. When you add in dealing with other issues like having the right resources to accomplish your goals and creating a culture of integrity and innovation, remembering customer satisfaction can fall by the way-side.
So, amid all the chaos, problems, uncertainties, new opportunities and setbacks, don’t forget for a moment how all your decisions and actions affect your customers. Neglect them and be prepared to pay a high price. Satisfy them and prosper.
This article is based on the contents of the book Bootstrapping 101 by Bob Reiss. Reiss is an Army veteran and graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Business School. He has been involved in 16 startups and is a three-time INC 500 winner. He has been the subject of two Harvard case studies and is a frequent speaker at University Entrepreneurial
The article Never Forget Your Customers has appeared in:
AT&T Small Business
The Washington Post
Yahoo Small Business
Great Post! I believe this is one of the most common problems in corporate America today. I was eating in a restaurant (will be nice and keep it un-named) and there were only a few parties in there, my party being included. The music was up so loud that we could not hear each other sitting directly in front of and next to; I asked the server to turn it down and she didn’t, so I proceeded to ask the manager and he said he “couldn’t”. Couldn’t I asked? Yes he said.
It was on the level corporate required it to be on and he could not change that. I said to him, wow there is no one in here and the music is so loud I can’t even think. I understand if the restaurant was full, how you may need to keep it at a certain level, but it is beyond background music at this point. His answer..? Well we are a restaurant who believes in this kind of atmosphere, you shouldn’t come here if you don’t like the environment!
Mind you this is at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and I shouldn’t be there if I don’t like loud music, so loud I can’t even enjoy my late lunch with my family?
I thanked him for his direct response and said I hate to inform you I will never be back to any of these chains. Luckily I received a survey from the meal. Called immediately and left a message, explaining how rude he was and how I felt he should have turned the music down, with only a few parties in the restaurant. Told them I would never be back to any of the chains of this restaurant and I never received a phone call back from corporate.
How can corporate America be so forgetful of who puts money in their pockets? It’s a good thing we consumers control the almighty dollar!
Briana, Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately Your experience is very typical. I recently had a horror story with AT&T. (I’m not as kind as you) I wrote to their President and told him of my experience in detail.I also suggested to him that he and his top aides should regularly,personally experience their service without letting the Employee know who they are,which is the only way they will know what is happening in the trenches.Imagine if the owner of the restaurant chain had your experience in one of his restaurants…By the way,as expected,I received no reply from AT&T. I am planning to drop them.