Service? What service?

2009-04-09 00:00

There has never been a better time for companies to review the manner in which they do business with customers. While the South African economy is facing a difficult time, globally, many economists are convinced that the current crisis is of historic proportions. Yet the number of companies across the business spectrum that still make it difficult for existing and potential customers to do business with them, never ceases to amaze me. The inflexible and often indifferent attitude towards customers displayed by many businesses reflects a culture where looking after one’s customer is viewed as a secondary requirement. This is not necessarily the case with many senior management teams (although ultimately they must take the blame), but usually with employees further down the hierarchy. A client company of mine recently wanted to purchase a certain product from its supplier of 27 years’ standing. The supplying company’s manager was so inflexible, adopting a take-it-or- leave-it attitude when asked for more favourable terms, that my client’s CEO issued a directive to his buyer that an alternative supplier be found. Not only was a 27-year relationship damaged, perhaps irreparably, but the supplying company’s manager committed the most heinous of “crimes”, a failure to lock in one’s customer, while simultaneously locking out the opposition.

Business organisations must ensure that every employee is made aware of a particular key factor in doing business in the current environment. It is a point that is often lost on many employees, mainly because management has not taken the trouble to educate them accordingly. The point is simple yet potent. Understanding it can create the difference between winning and losing a customer; between survival and extinction. Put simply, customers, especially those in a business-to-business setting, are also under extreme pressure. Chances are, their own customers and competitors are pressurising them, and their CEOs still need to deliver results to shareholders. This means that buyers, if they are adopting a professional approach to their jobs, will be scrutinising their purchasing and procurement methods in order to help their organisations through these difficult times. Supplying organisations therefore need to provide customers with proof that the relationship should be extended, or in the case of potential customers, initiated. This demands that one must never sow any seeds of doubt in customers’ minds. Customers need to feel that value is being added to their organisations’ abilities to remain competitive, and that suppliers are playing their roles in providing them with competitive input. Standing shoulder to shoulder with your customers in the current crisis is an investment, the dividends of which will be reaped when the upswing takes place. Creating any doubt in the customer’s mind about your willingness to be of real and valuable service can allow your opposition to get a foot in the door. A useful method for simultaneously locking in your customers and locking out the competition is to identify all the points where customer companies are touched by your organisation, and to establish a system of adding value to customers at each of those points. From switchboard to sales to accounts, delivery, complaint handling and operations, opportunities exist for suppliers to prove to their customers just how serious they are about being a valuable input into their customers’ value chains. Now is the time to create a competitive advantage over your opposition with each and every customer you serve. Every interaction you have with a customer is a great opportunity to prove that your company is not only different but also better than your competitors.

• Paul Dorrian is a management consultant, author, speaker and business thinker.

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