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Shooting from the Hip — 14.10 (Making Customers Happy)

October 1st, 2010 COMMENTS
Shooting from the Hip (trade show tips)

Shooting from the Hip by Reid Sherwood

(4+1) Ways to Make Your Customers Happy

A while back, I posted “6 Surefire Ways to Tick Off Your Customer.” Now let’s address this topic from another angle, namely how to make your customers happy, satisfied, and most importantly, loyal. We all know how much easier it is to retain a customer than to find a new one. This applies to the manufacturer/distributor model as well as a typical retail setting. Since I’m most familiar with the manufacturer/distributor model, I’ll discuss it from that perspective.

Over the years, I’ve learned that there are many ways to make customers happy that don’t involve alcohol, massage parlors, or gift certificates from Rodeo Drive.

1. Make it a partnership not a dictatorship. I work for Classic Exhibits Inc. Every year we send a survey and ask what we can do to be better. There are a couple reasons for this. One — we want to know – heck we are begging you to tell us what we “don’t” want to hear. The other is because we value your input and you need to know that. Our customers’ input is priceless because it allows us to change, tweak, or implement policies, practices, and products that impact our customers and our business.

Are we sometimes disappointed by the comments or scores? Of course. Then we go to work and examine how we can fix the problem. After that we go one step further. We share the results with our distributors. They deserve to know what others said and how we plan to address these issues.

Happy Customers 2. Do the simple things. Return calls quickly. Admit when you are wrong. Fix problems as soon as possible. Keep them in your camp. You worked hard to cultivate a good relationship because you know that your customers are the “heart and soul” of your business. This isn’t rocket science — just good old fashioned common sense.

3. Visit them on their turf. Too often as manufacturers, we stage events either on at neutral site or at tradeshows and conferences and fail to put ourselves in our customer’s shoes. In our survey, we had a customer request that we visit their showrooms/offices more frequently. Optima Graphics was my employer for eight years. My primary function was to travel and see customers on their home court. Jim Hoffmann (CEO of Optima) had a goal of seeing every customer at least four times a year. That simple plan not only helped put Optima on the map, but it also put them on the fast track when nobody else was growing.

4. Be willing to help your customers when THEY have a problem. I am not advocating pointing fingers, but you have all received calls where someone says – “Hey! Can you help me? I have a problem.” Here is a golden opportunity to build loyalty, friendship, and sales!

Sometimes it is as simple as answering a question or directing them to the right person. Other times, your customer simply wants reassurance that what seems “odd”or “hinky” is not really odd at all and will be fine. Then there are the situations where your customer deserves to be compensated because, frankly, you screwed up. Or let’s say they screwed up and need your help. Yes, you’ll fix the problem but a little price massaging may take the sting out of an order that was placed wrong or where they received the wrong part. It could be anything. Take the opportunity to be the good guy and fix it at cost, or split the cost with them. They will forever remember that you were there when they needed you most.

+1. People want to buy from their friends. That is not earth-shattering news, assuming your friends are not criminals, idiots, or pyramid marketing zombies. Frankly, I like most of our customers, and I treat them as friends, because they are. When you work with them on their turf, you get to meet their colleagues, employees, and families. That’s a bonus. They are more likely to be themselves than at a convention or corporate meeting with other “stuffed shirts” there.

Cindi Cody @ XzibitsOn one trip to visit Steve Gable at Innovation Exhibits, I was expecting to go to dinner at the Springfield Grille with him and his wife Monica. I arrived in business attire. He looked at me and said, “Do you have other clothes with you?” I always have, but I wasn’t sure why he was concerned. He said, “Would you mind, instead of going to dinner, if we take my son Andrew to the county fair to watch the demolition derby?” No problem at all. I would love to do that. So now a few years later, Andrew is my pal and so are Steve and Monica.

Several weeks ago, Cindi Cody from Xzibits in Atlanta came to Michigan to fish with me. It was a good time to relax for several days with a friend, who just happens to be a customer. The loyalty this creates is priceless.

At the end of the day, business does not have to be difficult. Let your conscience be your guide and PLEASE make friends with your customers. The alternative is just too difficult.

Until the next time,

–Reid Sherwood