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  Customer Focus - How to keep customers happy

Customer Focus Everybody has a customer. For some, this will be internal to the organisation they work for. For others, they will be customers in the traditional sense of that word. The main thrust of this article is on external customers. Much of what is said here can be applied equally internally, although a short section will deal with the internal element in its own right.
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The model to follow when thinking about customers is often referred to as 'The Ladder of Loyalty'. As we examine this, remember that this ladder also has a snake. Getting it wrong takes you all the way back to square one.

Prospects

The first rung on the ladder is 'prospects.' All organisations have prospective customers for their products and/or services. You may not even know who these prospects are. Alternatively, you may be targeting particular groups or market segments and actively promote your wares to them. Either way, at this point, they are individually unknown to you.
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Contacts

At some point, some of these prospects will make an initial contact with you. This may be by a variety of means. They may be 'walk in' contacts, such as in a car sales showroom. The may telephone or use email. This is a critical moment. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. You are precisely as good as the weakest member of your team. If they are the first point of contact, all may be lost at this stage.
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Buyers

If the above experience is a good one then that contact will become a buyer. In effect they are putting you on trial, they are giving you a go. How does your product or service measure up to their expectations? How well were they dealt with on a personal level? The package is a combination of product and personal. We all like to do business with people we like.
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Regulars

If the third rung of the ladder was successful they will return and buy again from you. They now concrete expectations. Further purchases will need to match these expectations. All quality organisations display consistency of delivery. Make sure you have constant service levels in place.
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Loyalists

Happy regulars then become loyalists. Loyalists are those people, who when they have a need for a particular product will always come to you without even considering alternative suppliers. They have brand loyalty. They like doing business with you. A recent survey looking at buying motives had all the usual responses: quality, price and so on. The number one determinant, however, was relationship purchasing. Build those relationships.
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Advocates

Loyalists above have one added dimension to them. They become advocates. They are your unpaid sales force. They are recommending you to others. Who are they recommending you to? Prospects, and the whole process starts again.

As a reminder, beware of the snake within the ladder. Unhappy customers talk too!
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Internal Customers

Much of what appears above can equally be applied here. Technically, because of the nature of internal service provision, your customers will already be, at least, regulars. You still need to be mindful of elements such as quality, cost effectiveness and how you deal with people personally. Remember the old adage, 'Colleagues are customers too.'

See your department as a business within a business and run it in exactly the same way. Do not think you are immune to competition. If you do not deliver, there are alternatives. Many organisations have, for example, done away with central purchasing departments and devolved purchasing down to individual budget holders.

In today's flexible working environment ineffective internal providers can find their services outsourced. Constantly be looking at what you do and how you do it. Ask yourself if there are any other related services you could be offering to the organisation. Seek and welcome feedback on those things that you provide. Spend time talking to your colleagues and monitoring everything you do. Above all else do not become complacent.
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Little Things

Often the difference between good and better is something small. An example here serves to explain this best. One small hotel chain, catering primarily for business people, does these two things at check in. You arrive tired from travelling, possibly having already done a day's work beforehand. You sit down to check in! What a good start to the stay. And this costs the hotel nothing. Whilst checking in, if you have used the hotel before, you are asked, 'And is it still a 7.15am wake-up call and a Times newspaper?' Yes, it is on a computer, but it is personal. Cost, zero. As a frequent business traveler, this may just give them the edge when you are deciding where to stay.

Think about what small, inexpensive thing you could do which may surprise and delight the customer. Think of what is little to you but lots to them.
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In Summary

In conclusion, it is well to be mindful that no customer means no job. There are very few instances where customers do not have a choice. Do everything you can to ensure they choose you, and continue to choose you.
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