Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Resolve to Become Essential to Customers

By Nate Nicholson, Green Compass

Did your company resolve to build better relationships with your customers in 2010? The experts say that only a small amount of resolutions (about 10%) will stick for an entire year. Just a few weeks ago there was a promise of a fresh start, opportunity to improve, and accomplish more. But now, reality is setting in. Good intentions are bumping up against unforeseen obstacles. What can be done to make sure our resolutions to improve customer relationships really stick?

While the goal of getting closer to customers is an admirable one, it has an inherent potential to end up with the 90% of resolutions that failed to last. An internal focus is too often the culprit. In other words, companies decide what they think their customers need without actual input from, you guessed it, their customers. This could result in putting a lot of time and money into activities like an increased volume of direct mailers and emails, aggressively pitching additional services, or revising customer policies. But what if customers do not see the importance, despite the good intentions? Even worse, what if they see these actions as unnecessary and unwanted interruptions? Ironically, a completely inward point of view could drive customers further away instead of bringing them closer.

During a downturn, the tendency is for customers to look for ways to get more value for each dollar spent. They focus on essentials. If we are not vital, a sudden across-the-board budget cut could turn our best customer into our worst nightmare. Nobody wants to lose a customer, especially now.

So, do we really know what our customers want from us? Are we perceived as just another vendor or as someone who can be a vital partner during these tough times? Better yet, do we even know the criteria our customers use to determine if we are vital to them? Are there customers who are deciding right now if they should scale back or completely stop doing business with us? Or perhaps our customers are planning to shop for new solutions that we can provide, but they just didn’t know we provided them? How could they find out, so that they could give the additional business to us versus our competitors?

Without knowing answers to questions like these, how can we possibly “get closer” to customers? Even if we think we know these answers, if we haven’t asked them directly, there is a good chance we are at risk of guessing without connecting.

Instead of getting closer, perhaps the resolution is to “become essential” by having purposeful, ongoing dialogue that focuses on what customers truly want. No guessing. No speculation. No imposing. Just an open conversation that includes the tough, but important questions that get at the truth in each relationship. Working with customers to turn these discussions into measurable impacts – like avoidable costs, additional revenue, or improved efficiency – makes a strong case for becoming more essential. If we can deliver that kind of value on an ongoing basis, share-of-budget and referrals will likely grow, despite the economy. That’s just the type of reinforcement needed to become a 2010 resolution success story.

Find out more about protecting, retaining and growing existing customer relationships when Nick Nicholson and Nate Nicholson of Green Compass ( speak at the Dublin Entrepreneurial Center on February 11th, 2010 at 2:30 PM. For more details, please visit:


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