Always remember your customers

Or to put it another way – never forget who your customers are!

I remember well a poster on a warehouse wall, placed strategically above the packing and despatch desk, which read –

“Customers make paydays happen”

That was just as I was starting out in sales, early on in my career. But it struck me then as being very succinct, whilst at the same time, summing up the whole essence of what we were there to achieve – great customer service. The basics don’t change over the years!!

There have been many other well known phrases and sayings coined about “customers”, and a couple that come immediately to mind are –

If you don’t look after your customers, then someone else will – and

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”Henry Ford.

It always amazes me to see how some companies treat their customers. Almost with contempt – like an inconvenience.

The poster I mentioned above was displayed in the warehouse for good reason. Every person in an organisation, whether customer facing or not, has a role to play in providing the customer with the service they want (and expect) from their suppliers.

Long before Basil arrived at Fawlty Towers, John Cleese made several training films. They were memorable, not least because of Cleese’s comic delivery, but they all conveyed a serious message. One such was called “Who Killed the Sale”. I’m sure it’s somewhere out there on YouTube. It highlighted the point above very well, and showed clearly, that a sale can be lost by all and anyone in an organisation, not just the salesperson dealing with the order up front.

Another (sadly) great example of what happens when companies forget who their customers are and what they want, can be seen the length and breadth of the country, on today’s High Streets.

Whilst the immediate cause of a great deal of the retail failures announced in the last few months has been laid at the door of “the pandemic”, the truth is that many of the companies concerned were struggling already, with dwindling customers and a consequent shrinking of sales revenues.

If, for example, we look at how some well-known and long-established traditional brands, have been recently bought by newer, more current brands, branch estates closed and the new look (no reference) organisations re-focussed on online only sales, it provides an insight into what the future retail environment may look like. Certainly, where a younger target audience is concerned.

So, to conclude on this example, it’s not all about COVID-19, but partly it is down to companies not providing the service their customers are expecting in today’s market.

Simply put, those that ignore this face difficulties, and companies who adapt and change, live to fight another day. Just look at the investment made by the likes of John Lewis and M&S in online sales over the past couple of years.

One huge irony in all this, is that whilst large companies often have the resources to spot these trends early, they are unable to react quickly, for many reasons. On the other hand, SME’s, being more nimble and less encumbered by sizeable infrastructures, are able to react quicker, but need to be able to read the market early.

One keyway to achieve this – stay close to the customer!

Communicate regularly and make it a priority to understand what they want.

I was sent details recently of a campaign called “Hello World”. It is run by Enterprise Nation, and consists of a series of pop-ups, set up temporarily in an Oxford Street premises and run by entrepreneurial businesspeople, to ask the public several key questions, relating to their business ideas –

  • Is my new product/service of relevance to you?
  • What is your view on physical vs online retail?
  • What is it you most want from your retail experience?

The results will be fascinating, not least to those potential start-up businesses.

Earlier in my career, I ran a field-based sales team of around 15 people and would make regular visits to our customers (large and small) with the “Account Manager”.

The purpose was not to check up on the salesperson (a point I made very clear), but to ask 3 main questions of the customer –

  • How are we doing currently (for you)?
  • What can we do to improve the service we provide (to you)?
  • What else would you buy from us if you could? (we were an IT products distributor)

The feedback was invaluable. Both about the current market conditions and about what our competitors were up to!

There is so much choice in today’s market. With only a little research, buyers can prove very knowledgeable to salespeople today on top of this, there is always an eager competitor, ready to “drop the price” or give away another aspect of the service, to win the customer sale.

It is therefore vital for every business owner, MD, Sales Director, or indeed any customer facing member of the team, to stay close to their customers and to know what they need. Customers are the life-blood of any business, without whom there would be no business. As some of the whitewashed windows in the High Streets today prove.

The point about all this is – as the saying goes –

If you don’t look after your customers, then someone else will.

John Milner
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John Milner

When the opportunity came about to set up his own business, John decided there was an opportunity to help SME business owners gain a quicker, more effective presence in international markets, based on his own experiences, gained from within a multi-national distribution group. He has more than 20 years under his belt and many happy customers. He works with business owners to help them make a success of exporting, enabling them to win and retain new customers quickly, while minimising the costs and risks, often associated with breaking into new markets.