When in business we are constantly reminded of the importance of the customer. But at what point is enough enough? Does being customer centric really play a role in your success? Can great customer service alone do the job? Or can being customer centric be detrimental to your bottom line?
As a business coach I define customer service as "the provision of service to customers before, during and after a transaction." Yes, every business relies heavily on a certain level of customer service to retain those clients.
I also think of the term "customer centric" as "creating a positive consumer experience at the point of sale, or post sale".
Or put more simply, it means putting the customer at the centre of a company's marketing efforts, without the main focus being solely on closing the sale.
The question here, and I think it is an important one, is whether being totally customer centric is a beneficial or detrimental strategy for small businesses.
And before purists start attacking this left-of-centre stance, I need to emphasise that becoming customer centric implies that the customer is always right. And that suggests the customer shall be satisfied at any cost.
Most small businesses just don't have the financial or logistical resources to see this mantra through to that conclusion. And my business coaching approach is centred around the philosophy that business needs to be fun.
What sort of fun is there when you are trying to pacify grumpy customers who don't appreciate the value you bring to them?
I would recommend these minimum performance standards which bring a balance between developing an outstanding business and the need to make a good return and have fun in the process:
Awareness and Consideration: Be aware of what the customer is looking for and make sure you are offering that, at all stages of the communication.
Select and Buy: Streamline your purchasing process to make sure that it is as simple as possible for customers to buy from you. You can never make it too easy for your customer.
Initial Experience: Prevent buyer's remorse by actively engaging your customers from the initial buy, enquiring immediately about their level of satisfaction. In other words, nip problems in the bud.
Learn and Support: This is the crucial part of customer retention, post sale and follow up - you must continue to nurture the relationship at all times.
Repurchase and Recommend: A successful completion of stages 1-4 will ensure you arrive at the last stage where you have engaged your customers into generating new business seamlessly.
From a business coaching perspective, this would form a customer-centric basis that is sustainable and profitable.
I also find our customer centricity support tools such as the ones we use on behalf of clients that include Survey and Feedback features encourage customers to evaluate your services at all stages.
While customer centricity embraces the contested belief that the customer must 'always be right', in the long run, it is customer selection and retention that ought to be the key business coaching strategy for small business owners.
Mike Reddy is a Chartered Accountant, business coach and advisor helping businesses in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Gold Coast to easily increase their profits and cash flow. He is currently President of the North Sydney Chamber of Commerce, a Regional Councillor for Sydney North East and a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants Sydney leadership team. As well as advising businesses, Mike presents business development seminars and webinars and is regularly contacted by the media to comment on small business matters. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.