If you buy into the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” then just about everyone you deal with is your customer, which means that you should treat them as such. Let’s look at our business and talk about who our customer really is.
First, you have your traditional customer, the guy you sell stuff to so that he in return can give you money that makes your business work. Some would say you have to be nice to this guy or you will go out of business. The first reason to treat this transactional customer like gold is because the other golden rule applies: he has the gold and you want it, so give him something. We get that, and it’s called business.
But customer service goes far beyond that. The thing is, when running a business, we do not want just one deal, one transaction, with any of our customers. We want to gain our customers’ business for life. Take the grocery business, for example. Grocers take the long view when it comes to their customers. They figure out how much the customer spends in the store every week, and they multiply that by 52 weeks; then they multiply that by 10 years and they get the true value of a customer. That’s why they offer you all those handy-dandy discount cards and other loyalty programs. It also doesn’t hurt that by getting you to join their loyalty clubs they also get to know everything about you, including what you buy and how often you buy it; this is incredibly valuable information that they then sell to big data companies for a lot more than the measly discounts they are passing along to you, their customer. But the important thing is that they spend time, effort, and money to study their customers, learning their buying habits to get to know them better, and to service them better.
That’s not a bad thing. In our business, we have to find other ways to do this. We must find ways to learn everything we can about our customers including their buying habits. We should find out the following:
- What do they spend every year on our product?
- What are their buying habits? When do they place their orders?
- When do they decide who their suppliers are going to be?
- What is their criteria for choosing a supplier?
- What really matters to them in terms of what they get from a supplier?
- What is the size of an average order?
- Who else are they buying from? Who is our competition?
- Do they have a high supplier turnover?
- Do they have a high employee turnover?
- Do they communicate well with their suppliers?
- What kind of business are they in?
- What does it take to be successful in that business?
- What position do they hold in their marketplace?
- Are they industry leaders?
- Do they have a great product?
- Do they have a product with a future?
- Are they innovators?
- What is their business strategy?
- Where will they be in one year? In five years?
- What services can we provide to help them be successful in their business?
- What do they look for in supplier?
- What do they consider an outstanding supplier?
- How difficult or easy are they to do business with?
- What problems have they had with suppliers in the past?
- If our business is building custom products, what do their tools (the data they provide you to build their products) look like?
- Is the company profitable?
- Do they pay their bills on time?
- Do they understand and appreciate total value or are they all about price?
- Are they likeable? (This is much more important than you think.)
- Do we believe we can have a future with them? Can they be a customer for life?
And one more, because we always under promise, and over-deliver (a great customer service tactic on its own): Is there chemistry between your two companies? Do you fit in well together? Can you work as partners in the future, sharing the same ideas, values, and goals? If you have that, you have everything.
If you ask all these questions diligently and you get all the right answers, chances are you will have a good idea as to not only who your customer is, but everything else about them, and that will help you provide great service and outstanding products. And that, after all, is the goal of being a great vendor.
It’s only common sense.