Monday, May 11, 2009

Keeping your customers

On the other day I was having a discussion with my new client when he popped the question, why do customers leave despite same offering from competitors? He was making an assumption that the offering from his competitor is similar to what his company offers. It was difficult for me approve or contradict that without knowing the details however I told him, "tangibles may resemble but intangibles may not" and there could lie the difference. Intangibles that I am talking about are given in the diagram below. There may not be anything new about them but just that one needs to realise that they, the intangibles, are very much part of an offering by a company to its customers.

Intangible aspects of an offer to customers

Pre-sale service
Few years back, in a seminar, one sales manager shot back at me saying 'service starts only after sales' when I drew the attention of audience to 'pre-sale service'. But when I asked him about information support given to customers on order status, delivery time, despatch etc. he said "they are part of the process". Then isn't post-sale service part of that process?

It's important to classify any interaction between a customer and a company, with regard to a sale, as service as it underlines the importance of the activity being performed. Any service before the product is delivered is part of 'pre-sales service'. The reason why I am emphasising on 'pre-sales service' is because people across the company are involved in this and not just sales department. Manufacturing, Accounts, R&D, Transportation are some of the departments that are responsible for some of pre-sales service activities. A well co-ordinated, unified approach is necessary to ensure that the customer gets what he is made to expect from the company. It's very easy for a company slip up here. Customer focus across the company is the only way forward in this regard.

Post-sales service
Ensure high quality standards timeliness in the delivery of your service. Keep improving your service standards through feedback / learning.

Commitments are of two types, one is authorised and the second unauthorised. Many companies face problems with unauthorised commitments made by their sales team to gain a sale. Some of these don't get documented and quite a few may never reach any other person except the concerned sales executive. Every commitment that is violated creates a deep hole in a customer's trust. A company should be mindful of commitments it makes in the form of concessions, additions, terms etc. and honour them without fail. With respect to unauthorised commitments made by salesmen, the customer should not be made to pay, for the mistake is not theirs. Companies must set their house in order and drive home the message that unauthorised commitments will not be tolerated and those who make them will be made to pay for it.

Beyond tangibles, service and commitment what else can a company offer? A relationship, certainly. In mid 1990's, besides poor service standards, many customers jumped over to new private sector banks due to poor treatment meted out to them by staff of Public Sector Banks (PSBs) in India. In fact the tide is now turning and more and more people are leaving for PSB's. Nowadays, customers get much better treatment from the staff of PSBs and their service standards have improved greatly.

Never betray your customer's trust

Customers can get vocal when their expectations on tangibles are not met but may not waste their lung power to get the message across when it comes to intangibles, barring may be post-sales service. They will just move away and the onus will be on you to learn why they did so. One of the basic tenets in business management is "never betray your customers' trust". When a customer decides to buy your product or avail your service he / she starts building trust in your offering and remember both tangibles and intangibles are part of an offer. If this trust is taken for granted or played around with, then those customers who leave you will take away much more business than they brought you in the first place.

Final words

Tangible aspects of a product / service may win you a customer but it is intangible aspects that help you retain customers. Intangibles carry your own mark and are difficult to duplicate unlike tangibles. They even mask some shortfalls in your products and services, albeit for a short period, therefore be mindful of them.

1 comment:

baskar said...

Great work.

This is where you belong.

I am getting jealous-like.



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