When the economy started to struggle in late 2008, so did the consumer – emotionally as well as financially. At first, consumers, like businesses, contentedly waited for the economy to bounce back. But, as the bounces took longer and were far less impressive than expected, consumer confidence began to wane.
Trust is not going to come easy with your customers. Study after study is showing that the spending habits of consumers have greatly changed since 2008. This economy is uncertain. The constant fluctuations have created a more cautious consumer. Consumers are thinking longer and more carefully about every purchase they make.
So today when consumers do want to buy – and they do want to buy – they also want to be sure about what they are investing in and with whom they are investing. It is not the product or service that consumers are searching for these days; it is the opportunity to find and work with professionals they can trust and those who value them as customers.
Globalization, advancement in technology and increased competition has put the consumer in the driver’s seat. They can easily find an alternate source for a product online, and some studies say as many as 90 percent of us Google (News - Alert) before we ever call, visit or engage with a business.
Technology has advanced, but our human capacity to process information doesn’t match the flood of choices in today’s buying decisions. While all this choice might seems great, it can also be debilitating.
A survey of more than 7,000 worldwide consumers cited in the May 2012 Harvard Business Review shows that choices can actually breed discontent. The study found that consumers spend much more time researching products today compared with the past, and yet 70 percent don’t decide definitively which brand to buy until the point of purchase. Ironically, post-purchase, one-fifth of consumers actually continue to research the product to affirm their choice. And 40 percent of consumers report feeling anxious about their decision after they’ve completed the transaction.
This information is invaluable. Your job from this day forward is to help your customers find their way through the clutter and make that buying decision easy. Remember, today’s consumers are not looking for a product or service, they are looking for someone they can trust to provide them with value for their dollar.
The challenge here is that trust and value cannot be traditionally sold. They have to be built. And don’t forget that while technology presents our consumers with unlimited choices, it also gives us business owners incredible capabilities to touch our consumers in ways that can help us start the process of building trust and value. We can now easily capture and manage relevant information, so we can engage with customers in meaningful ways and establish mutually beneficial relationships.
Here’s a few ways you can start reaching today’s complex consumers and keep your current clients happy.
1. To Keep Up, Out Pace the Customers
In the area of customer service, you cannot sit on your laurels. You must consistently evaluate and enhance the level of service you offer. The effort you are putting into retaining customers today is not good enough to keep them next year.
When people set out to make a purchase now, they are interested in the entire experience, not just in taking home a fancy box with a product inside. If your company does not make them feel as though they (and their business) are valued and important, they will move on to another provider that will make the extra effort to give them a positive experience.
2. The Sale is for the Customer, Not You
Chuck Walker, vice president of sales and marketing at Silver-Line Plastics, credits putting actions behind the words customers first as what has kept them exceeding sales expectations during these challenging times.
“Getting our sales and service departments working together to put the customer relationship first and foremost has been key in our ability to continue to grow in less than perfect economic times,” says Walker. “We have placed major emphasis on ensuring our sales team is well trained and owns the sale from start to finish.”
Walker has educated his entire team, invested in training his team, and held his team accountable to make sure no matter what – whether it is a sales issue, a service issue or an operations issue – that the sales team stays engaged. In addition, he has ensured that the service and operations team have been given training, motivation and support to move more into a sales role.
“While we know that things will turn around, on some level we are grateful for the challenges we have gone through, as now we are fully prepared to weather any storm,” reports Walker.
Since this economy started to shift, competition increased, and customers became more price sensitive, yet Walker and his team have seen growth rates of around 20 percent.
Many companies pressure their employees to make quotas, or offer incentives to people who reach goals, but these things must be accompanied by teaching what it takes to make the customer feel heard, important and valued.
3. Put Everyone on Your Team in Sales
The truth is that people do not like to think of themselves as in sales. As a society, we just don’t like the word or the profession. Most of us like to believe it is someone else’s job. However, in the current economy, every member of your organization needs to become a professional sales person.
It is a myth that the only people in your organization who are involved in sales are your sales representatives. Though sales professionals do, by definition, lead the way in generating revenue for your business, they are only a part of the equation. Everyone on your team needs to an active part of this effort.
From the first moment that a potential client comes in contact with a member of your organization, you and your employees are forming the very image that customer or prospect will have of your company. Since confidence in your company is an essential component in helping a buyer decide to purchase from you, every interaction at every level, no matter how big or how small, is a sales-related interaction.
4. Excel at Customer Service
When I worked in banking, we had studies that indicated that most people were reluctant to change banks because they believed the experience would be just as bad somewhere else. Isn’t that sad? Most people tolerate being treated at a level they feel is subpar because they have no faith that another company would treat them any better.
If this is what your customer is expecting, be the company that surprises them. Adopt a new approach and engage your entire team in the sales process. Doing so will ensure every interaction this new customer has with your organization, every interaction with your team, is about enriching and enhancing both their relationship with you and the overall goals of their company. Every member of your team understands and knows how to go further with the customer, to do more than just handle the issue the customer has called about.
It really all comes back to putting your customers’ needs first, which should be the guiding rule for anyone who is in business in this economy. Your company exists because your products or services are capable of meeting the real, important needs of your customers and your prospects. Helping your team to see themselves as partners in a wide, mutually beneficial network with your customers will encourage them to not only seek to understand the issues clients face, but also to look for ways in which your company can be a part of the solution.
Meridith Elliott Powell is an international speaker, certified coach, and strategist who helps businesses and people master the relational skills needed to be successful in today’s competitive environment. She is the author of three books, including the recently published Winning in the Trust & Value Economy, and hosts the Secrets to Success Podcast.
Edited by Alisen Downey