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Marketing: Are You Forgetting to Focus on Your Customers

Putting customer needs first is key to growing your business.

By Joe Lilly

Business people in a meeting

Dear Mr. and Mrs. CEO:

I have bad news for you. You’ve spent years making your company successful, more efficient and cost effective. You are the envy of other companies and other CEOs. You are well respected.

The bad news: It’s not about you.

It’s so easy to spend all your workday on spreadsheets, employee issues, business procedures, etc., that you forget to focus on the customers. What products or services do they need? What response do they get upon walking into your business? What happens when they call or email you?

A few days ago, I bent my glasses and needed to have them repaired. When I called my optometrist’s office, I waited for 90 seconds as the recording droned on about their menu of options. The eyeglass department was the final option, so I pressed “9.” I was then presented with another recording with more options. After another 90 seconds, I had the option of speaking with an operator. I pressed “0”… and got a recording, asking me to leave a message. I did so, but did not receive a call back.

So what’s my feeling toward them? I think they want to take my money when they have to see me, but otherwise they want me to leave them alone.

And in the future, I will leave them alone—and find another optometrist.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have an automated answering system. But if you do, have a friend call it and give you their honest impression. How long does the entire experience take? How frustrating is it? How quickly can they speak with a real human being? Are you damaging your reputation just to save a few dollars? Perhaps you should invest some money in a human being who will make those people feel welcome when they call you. It’s not about you.

This focus also extends to your website.

For years, I worked with companies looking for a new community in which to locate a new or expanded business.

Company site-selection specialists would get frustrated when they’d visit a community’s site and—on the home page—find nothing about available sites or buildings. Instead, they would find the names and biographies of city/county leaders, a history of their economic development organization, their mission statement, upcoming meetings or special events, or worst of all—broken website links.

Your website is your “virtual front door.” With a website that is not customer-focused, a community will most likely lose any chance of landing that prospective business. And most times, they will never know what they could have had.

In this case, the home page should answer all questions the site selector might have: what sites or buildings are available, what interstates and major highways are nearby, how educated and skilled the workforce is. Certainly, your website can include other information—but on separate pages, linked to the home page. You first want to get them interested in your community, organization or business, and let them see immediately how you can fit their needs. Then you can answer their questions, provide background and fill in the gaps.

Your staff also must realize that it’s not about them.

I was recently browsing in a store when I heard a clerk at an empty checkout counter complaining about an extra service she was being asked to perform for customers. She said, “We coddle these people (customers) too much. They need to learn how to do more on their own!”

Thank heaven no other customers were there, but she forgot—or was never told—that it was not about her.

That’s why employee training is so important. Their focus must start and end with the customer. They need to treat your customer the same way they want to be treated when they go shopping elsewhere. If you fail to train, your own people will damage your business and your reputation.

When you have an opportunity to show the customer that it’s about them, take it! And social media—properly done—is a great way to maintain personal contact.

But there’s a caveat. How many times have you seen a company or organization include the words, “Follow us on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc.” without saying why? Social media platforms cannot be simply all about you and how great you are. You must make your strategy focused on the benefits people receive when they follow you.

Here’s an example. As a hobby, I work part time at a small hardware store—a passion of mine. During the recent snow and ice storm, we were inundated with hundreds of telephone calls from people asking, “Do you have ice melt, sleds or shovels?”

We decided to use social media as the primary way to maintain contact with our customers. Every time we’d get a new shipment, we’d announce it on our social media channels. We’d tell callers to follow us on those channels so they’d be the first to know when a new shipment arrived.

The results were phenomenal. Because we immediately communicated the information people wanted to know, the number of phone calls dropped (allowing us to wait on more people in the store), and the “likes” and “follows” to our social media pages—and subscriptions to our email contact list—skyrocketed. Rather than telling people how great we were, we provided ongoing information, gained their trust and built customer loyalty. By making it about the customers and their needs, we benefited ourselves.

So here’s your homework: Write down all the ways you communicate with your customers—in person, by phone, email or social media—and honestly evaluate whether the focus is on you or the customer. If not, adjust your message or approach. While your message may not be “about you,” the results will be—in increased sales and a better, more respected reputation. That is about you.