What do your customers really want?

With today’s pricing competition from mass retailers, trying to compete on price could put you on the road to destruction! However, here’s a little secret you should know: contrary to common perception, customers will not go almost anywhere just to save a few Rands!

So if you want to avoid getting beat up on price, stop trying to compete on price alone. What your business needs to stand out, is better customer service and satisfied customers. Yeah sure, you’re saying, I know that! Sure you do, but are you making it happen? Really? Well, let me tell you, it is a lot more than just adding the “please and thank you”, and of course, my pet hate: “Can I help you?”

Aim higher

One of South Africa’s most famous sportsmen is Okkert Brits. He became one of only seven people in the world to clear 6m in the pole vault event. How did he do it? Well, he kept raising the bar – a term we have all heard of before, but seldom implement. What would happen if Okkert raised the bar, stepped back and took a look, and said; “No way – I can’t jump that!” Well, he would not have achieved the world record! So, time to raise the bar in your business. Strive for excellence, standout, outrageously great service to make your business stand out from the crowd.

Dare to be different

You may have read the stories: there’s the legendary tale of a Nordstrom (probably USA’s best retailer) clerk who refunded the price of a customer’s tyres, even though Nordstrom doesn’t sell tyres. And who could forget the one about a Midwest Express (an airline company) employee who lent his own suit to a passenger whose luggage had been lost?

Will superior service overcome price? Absolutely, quotes a survey of over 100 000 small business and retail customers in America. (I know what you’re saying, but we just do not have these great surveys in South Africa). According to a four-year study conducted by the Ohio-based market intelligence firm BIGresearch, most customers will put service ahead of price, if you give them the chance.

Deep-rooted wisdom may be wrong!

BIGresearch asked tens of thousands of shoppers how they like to shop, what they look for in customer service and what it takes for them to buy. And according to T. Scott Gross, who turned the results into a new book called When Customers Talk, some of the most deeply entrenched wisdom about what customers want may simply be wrong.

For example, when researchers asked customers how far they’d be willing to drive for excellent service, 80% said they’d travel four or more miles (about 6,5km), and nearly half said they would drive 10 miles (about 16km) or more for the right combination of price, quality and customer service. I believe that distances would be far greater in non metropolitan areas.

“American shoppers are not the finicky, price-conscious bargain hunters they have been made out to be,” says Gross, adding, “Consumers will pay for good service with both their cash and their time.” Your job as a business owner is to deliver superior service that attracts and keeps customers day in and day out. Satisfied customers say they are willing to drive a little further for great service, but you’d better make it worth their effort.

Just how many service slip-ups does it take to send a customer off to your opposition? According to the BIGresearch survey, 17% will bolt after a single service blunder. Another 40% will jump ship after two instances of poor service, and 28% more are out the door after three. So for 85% of your customers, it is three strikes and you’re out!

What does the customer really want?

Knowledgeable and available staff: While a customer is making the buying decision, they want knowledgeable assistance, available when they want it. I have often found that the best salespeople in a store are on lunch when I want them. You must understand that plenty of people shop in their lunch break, so schedule your key people to take their breaks in quieter times. Customers place a high value on accurate information and want to be served by employees who know the product inside and out. Just last week, I went to two different supermarkets, (South Africa’s biggest) looking for couscous (semolina granules made from wheat). Nobody on either shop floor knew what on earth I was looking for. I then drove to my local Spar, where not only did the first lady I approached know what it was, she took me to the shelf, and proceeded to give me her favourite couscous recipe! Well, guess where I shop now.

Friendly people: Customers not only want product-savvy salespeople, they want them to be friendly and courteous. Your staff should value each customer more than any individual sale. It’s hard enough handing over my hard earned cash, but a lot easier when I’m dealing with friendly staff.

Good value: This is where price may play a part. But customers surveyed see price as only one component of the bigger picture of value that includes the service, information and follow-up they also receive.

Convenience: The service rule here is simple: make it easy! “Customers want merchandise that is well organised, attractively displayed, correctly merchandised and easy to find,” says Gross. That’s how today’s customers define convenience, and the easier you can make the shopping, the more money you will be lugging to the bank.

A fast finish: This final item is where too many businesses fall flat, right at the finish line. The dreaded till point! While customers are in the process of deciding to buy or not, they are proceeding on your time. They want thoughtful help making the right decisions. But once the buying decision is made, get out of their way because now you are working on their time, and they want to complete the transaction and be on their way as quickly as possible. Please bear in mind that nobody likes waiting in queues.

Putting it in the bag

In the end, it may be your service, not your price, which dictates whether or not you secure customers for the long term. If you give people what they want, the way they want it and follow through with a fast finish when it comes time to pay up, you are much more likely to turn them into satisfied customers, and they will return, again and again and again!

So, in a nutshell: hire great people, make service your core value, empower frontline staff, solicit and use feedback.

(Additional resources: BizBest Media Corp. BIGresearch. Entrepreneur.com)