Proper Care and Feeding of Your Customer

Every business has customers. Large businesses have customers within the business. Customers are what makes the wheels turn for business. How those customers are treated reflects on how the customers treat the business. It is a symbiotic relationship in some ways.

Business customers outside a business generally have the privilege of doing business with a number of companies which sell a product they need. That product may be anything from cleaning services to internal watch springs and gears. in respect to this thought, it is important to keep ones mind on the business at hand.

The closer a business gets to its customers, the more attention needs to be payed to interaction with the customer. The customer might decide the business contact is their soul mate, and wants to share life’s most intimate details with the contact, usually a business representative of some fashion.

Looks are deceiving. You have no idea who your customer really is.

The business representative always needs to remember this is a business transaction, no matter how personal the customer wants to be. In this mindset, the following guidelines should be in effect.

1. Gossip with the customer is losing business. Business relationships come and go. You do not want to end a relationship with a customer who knows things about your business and perhaps personal life you wouldn’t want shared in public. Talking generally and amiably about, sports, the economy, or the weather are safe subjects. Politics, religion, and other similar subjects are beyond off limits.

2. Keep your end of the conversation aimed on the business you are there to transact. Time is money. There is a line between between friendliness and wasting time you could be spending with another customer.

3. Over talking is bad for the business and the bottom line. Talking just to talk can lead to uncomfortable conversation, or conversation you may later wish had never taken place. Some customers have days where they are withdrawn and want little interaction. Be aware of your customers wishes, and your conversation.

4. Keep it professional. Sometimes it is okay to get a little loose, and joke around. Other times one off color comment can lose a valued account or customer. Off color, race, sex, and other jokes along these lines are taboo with your customer, even if they initiate them. You do not have to contribute to the conversation.

5. Don’t waste the customers time. Hanging around too long because of an attractive worker close by, or it’s only a few more minutes until lunch is bad business. The world if full of attractive people who are looking for someone like you. Don’t mess up a business relationship with a relationship that should not have happened. Spend those extra a few minutes reviewing your next customer, or going over what you could have done better with this customer.

6. Ensure the customer is comfortable. If you are busy and behind schedule, that is not your customers problem. Your customer needs to feel important to you, and know you have time for them. Appearing hurried or flustered raises red flags in the customers mind.

A good story about good business customer relations is a story of an ex neighbor who ran a wrecking yard. One of the car companies came out with a special anniversary edition car he fell in love with. The closest dealership that had one of the scarce cars on the lot was over two hours away.

Being frugal, he combined reasons for the trip. He would transport car parts to a wrecking yard a friend owned in that city, pick up two cars, and visit the dealership too. The next day, he loaded up a trailer with car parts, and headed out of town.

His parts transaction took longer than he had planned, and it was about two hours before the car dealership closed for the day. Rather than get cleaned up first and have the dealership close on him, he went straight to the dealership.

When the first salesman approached him, he told the salesman exactly why he was there. He was interested in buying this special edition car that the dealership said in a phone call they had on the lot. The salesman, after looking him over, decided he couldn’t afford such a car, but was polite enough to show the car to him. They discussed the car, and it’s attributes for a few minutes, exchanging thoughts on the car.

He told the salesman he wanted to take the car for a test drive, to see if the car was all it was claimed to be. The salesman who was so willing b.s., was not ready for this question. Looking at a man in scruffy worn work clothes, the salesman decided he could not afford the car and denied the test drive because it didn’t look like he could afford to buy any new car.

The neighbor asked the salesman to follow him to his truck and trailer. When they arrived the neighbor reached into the cab and pulled out a gym bag. They walked back over to the car and the neighbor unzipped the bag. Tipping the bag over, wrapped stacks of $100.00 bills fell out, covering the hood of the car. The stacks of money totaled the price of the car plus about thirty percent.

The salesman was overwhelmed. After some blubbering, he said he would be happy to go out on a test drive. Putting the money back into the bag, the neighbor said, no, he’d changed his mind, and he walked back to his truck and trailer and left the lot.

In this story, the salesman was so busy thinking about how great a salesman he was, he completely lost focus on what would what he was there for. The salesman lost what would have been a major sale, maybe bigger than this months commission.

When I listen to junior salesman give their pitch, I remember the wrecking yard owner and his dream car. He did buy one a few weeks later from another dealership. Often salesmen are so busy peddling a line, they either forgot, or never learned why they are part of the conversation.

Of course my neighbor venting his frustration told me and others about his terrible experience at the car lot. All of us listeners, of course shared the story, because that is what we do.

Internet Sales Bury Local Business

Everyone who thinks about where to locate their new business or open a new store has heard the phrase, “Location, location, location”.  What the big deal about location? The area a business is located can mean the difference between a thriving, growing business and a business that goes from startup to shutdown in a matter of weeks.

I want to focus on a local business that has been in business for decades. (What really occurred is unknown, below is my thoughts.) The business of this business is shoes, and a small amount of shoe accessories. Their business model is very good, and the customer base reflects this fact. Some businesses like to track where their customers live, this is one of them. Keep selling shoes in mind as you read on.

Tracking where customers live provides more insight in knowing how far your customers are willing to travel for your product and their likely economic status. This business tracks customers by zip code.

Over a period of time, say five years, you find your most active customers are within xx miles of your business street address. It is also obvious from your tracking that new customers are emerging from areas where the city is growing and expanding.  This is usually families moving into new growth areas, or perhaps the city has grown into one or more small communities and the roads have improved enough to bring consumers looking for better prices.

We have to be realistic here. Most shoes are not unique. Competing businesses sell the same shoes we do. Companies that produce shoes are more than willing to sell the same shoes to locally competing businesses. It is all one income stream to them.

This shoe store did the smart thing and opened a second store in a new location where competition between stores would not be an issue. Each store had its own area and market. Sales in the new location skyrocketed. New customers were coming in the door daily. The original store maintained all its previous business.

By opening in the new well chosen location, the second had thousands of potential drive-by customers every day who were eager to spend money. The new location was located in a stand alone building at a mall. Prime territory.

After a few years, the second location had to find a new location. No business would willingly want to vacate such a prime location. Sales were terrific, and the repeat customer base was large. It was apparently decided a move of a few miles should be a non-issue.

The move it turned out, was to not only an issue, but a deal breaker. The second store closed within a few years of moving off the mall property to it’s new home.

Sixty years ago this Gas Station was in a prime location. Slowly business dwindled as expenses increased.

 

What happened at the second now defunct store? The second store according to circulating rumors blames its closing on the Internet. Too many customers found they could buy the same products online for less and online their customer base ran away it was decided by rumor control. How about a reality check?

While the Internet may have caused some sales erosion, the first store is as healthy as before. The true cause of the second store closing was the lack of the thousands of eyeballs from mall traffic.

People generally want to touch and try on shoes. No matter how descriptive and detailed the online ad is, it does not give a customer the opportunity to feel and try out a shoe. People also prefer to support local business whenever possible.

The second store closed not because of the Internet, but because of location. Tens of thousands of mall shoppers a week knew they could probably find the shoe they wanted at the store across the parking lot, for less than they would pay in the big box mall stores. Mall shoppers flocked to the store across the parking lot.

Money is money and savings are savings after all. More importantly it was not two minutes across the parking lot. It was a headache of major proportion to drive to and from the second stores new location.

When the store changed location to their second less desirable location something major happened. The new store lost  the eyeballs of thousands of mall goers every day. The store had relocated to near a major artery road, but it was choked traffic with poor store access. The good times were over.

Location is critical in a saturated market such as shoes where almost every big box and Mom and Pop store is selling everything from $1.00 flip flops to high end heels and boots. If a business is selling a highly desirable product not readily available at every strip mall, customers will put up with a more remote location and poor off the street access if the price is right because of perceived need.

Before you decide on a location, ensure your business model reflects how serious location is for a business that depends on customers driving to your business. What does your future business have to offer customers in exchange for inconvenience? If the answer is very little, look for a new location.