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Companies can no longer afford to pay lip service to listening…
Why companies didn’t bother to listen?
Customers want to talk, but manufacturing and service companies are rarely interested in listening. Not because they don’t want to. They think they aren’t equipped to.
Listening is an art, and most companies just don’t know it. Nor have they bothered to learn. For one simple reason: till recently they didn’t need to. Whatever they made, they sold. Corporate brand names – Tata, Modi, Shriram, Singania, Birla were sufficient. They seemed to assure, “We have been in business for ages, and our existence will be perennial. No need to worry.”
Yet when a customer had a complaint, he rarely got satisfactory redress. Forget redress, it was impossible to get heard. “Whom do I contact, whom do I call, what do I do?” Most customers never bothered to complain. They just endured problems, and dreamt of better days.
Choice was severely limited. You had to be content with what you bought. The most you could do was shrug and say, “Wish I could buy an imported brand.”
Why companies should bother
The old way of treating customers is now dead. Leading corporates of yesteryears are slipping behind more aggressive and more customer-oriented companies. Past lineage is no guarantee for success. In today’s world it just may be a liability.
Says Al Ries in his book FOCUS, “Today’s customer has a greater choice. His comparison parameters have changed – he expects more, demands more and is often willing to raise his voice – through a newspaper column, a petition in the court or consumer court.” In fact, consumer courts and consumer adalats owe their birth to more demanding consumers
Today’s customer isn’t shy to ask, and is still being wooed because he has far greater purchasing power than his parents.
Not surprising, companies that want to stay in business have geared up to meet their needs. For example, the 24-hour helpline outside USA owes it birth to Americans traveling abroad. They expected it to be helped wherever they were. Companies obliged, they had no choice. Provide round-the-clock, around-the-world service or lose your customer to a competitor.
The key difference between yesterday’s companies and today’s companies is their closeness to their customers.
What is customer orientation?
A successful company is customer-oriented. Rather, being customer-oriented is the foundation for success today. But what is customer orientation?
A customer-oriented company exists to delight the customer. It believes that a delighted customer is forever. He stays with the brand, continuing to buy it again and again. He influences others – family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, everyone who he can directly or indirectly influences – to try the brand. He buys across product lines. Thus increasing his share of wallet on the brand.
Today’s successful companies look at a customer differently. They have to.
It takes more to bring customers into the brand fold. Companies have no choice but to ensure that they get more business from the each customer. They no longer think in terms of single purchases, instead they think of all the purchases the customer can make over his lifetime. And all the purchases he can influence.
Unfortunately, long-term customers don’t exist. They have to be created, with sweat and patience the patience to listen to him, understand his need, appreciate his views and respond to them in earnest. Remember, everyone likes a warm handshake, none forgive a cold one.
Serious about CRM?
The acronym that keeps buzzing my ears is CRM, Customer Relationship Management. Not a day goes by without getting an enquiry or two on CRM. Clients ask, “Can you do CRM?” Acquaintances from ad agencies offer to introduce me as someone who can get CRM going.
I tell them, “CRM is about customer orientation. It starts with listening to the customers. And its first pre-requisite is a three-letter word: ear.”
While each of us has only two ears, companies have several. So, do all the end-users of your products know your address? Do you have a phone number where a customer can speak to a responsible person in your organisation? Does your web site allow customers to get in touch with you?
Remember, all that customers care for is how well your company listens to them, and what you actually do with their feedback.
They don’t care whether you have some fancy software or not, or if you’re consulting some highfaluting expert.
So if you can answer ‘Yes’ to the questions above, rejoice! You’re listening. Without realising it, you are practicing CRM, though the gurus may disagree. You are a customer-oriented company.
Your key business objective IS to acquire and delights your customers. Reasons for your competitors to worry!
(Also published in Business Standard in 2001)