Those of us in marketing talk about customers all the time. We've all heard the age old classic 'the customer is always right' and have had heated debates about how to interpret and use that statement effectively.
Clients tell us that ‘customers are everything to my business' and that 'my business is built around serving the needs of my customers’. They work hard to retain customers, not just because the cost of acquiring new ones outweighs the cost of effectively servicing existing ones, but because they care about the businesses they built and they want their customers to enjoy their experiences.
At Mezzanine we conduct customer satisfaction studies that help clients understand how customers perceive them and what they can do to better engage and service their customers’ needs. In these studies we identify the core issues that are driving satisfaction, and more importantly, areas of dissatisfaction that our clients must address. In the end, we develop benchmarks, a scorecard, and a list of recommendations on how to improve scores in the future so that our clients can more strategically build better relationships with their customers and be thought of as preferred vendors.
But what about the flip side of that? What does it mean to be a good customer?
Over cocktails last weekend, a new acquaintance was boasting about the demands he’s making on his vendors, ‘squeezing every dime out of them’, and ‘pushing hard to get more for less’. He was quite proud of the leverage his large, stable company has in this economy and is clearly using it to his short-term advantage.
In a b2b relationship where referrals are critical to growing your business, and where service providers offer expertise that you’ve strategically outsourced, this is a bad move.
Good customers recognize the expertise that their vendors have developed and reach out to them for advice. They involve their vendors in their business planning, and invest time to share and gather insights that could lead to the development of new opportunities. They pay their bills on time, and don’t threaten to cut contracts short or pull the plug if further concessions aren’t made when times get tough. Good customers respect their vendors’ time, forgive honest mistakes, and give advanced warning when things are starting to get tough.
The vendors this new acquaintance was referring to are smaller businesses (revenues from $100K to $5M from what I gathered) that are unlikely to rapidly expand during a turn-around. For this type of business, the clients that beat you up in bad times are the easiest ones to replace when new opportunities come knocking.
Think about the time and costs involved in replacing a trusted vendor and building a new relationship. Ask your vendors if they can think of ways to help you grow your business, and if they would share the risk in new ventures involving their services. You might be surprised to learn about the true breadth of their capabilities and the lengths they will go to help you grow rather than to help you save.
Good customers are often referred to as trusted business partners – and this is no subtle change in terminology.