Does your company love its customers? Think about this honestly for a moment. Because the stark reality is that most businesses don’t love their current customers; they love acquiring new ones. If you’ve ever felt that your cell phone provider or other business is treating their brand new customers better than you, a loyal customer of 10 years, then you know what I mean.
In his report Competitive Strategy in the Age of the Customer, Josh Bernoff states:
“Lock-in mechanisms — mobile phone contracts, proprietary technology, and frequent-flier programs, for example — don’t create loyalty; they just create barriers to leaving… In the long run, you’ll always be able to use your iPhone on another network, migrate your Microsoft Word files to Google Docs, and plant your body on a comfortable plane from Virgin Atlantic that makes you forget your mileage balance. Customer-obsessed companies worry more about flexing to meet customer needs and less about ways to block them from fleeing.”
Yes, any business wants their customers to love them. Yes, any business wants their customers to stay and be loyal. However, you can’t focus on trying to get customers to love you; you can only love your customer and hope the feeling will become mutual.
As the CEO of a small company in a rather mature market, I quickly learned that loving our customers would be the only way to make any headway in a competitive field. For us, loving our customers boils down to five things:
- Know your customers: No matter how big your business gets and how much staff you bring on, I always advise business owners and top management to stay as close to their customers as possible. Talking to customers one-on-one is the best way to truly take the pulse of the market, customer needs, and just how your company is doing. Metrics and market data yield fantastic insight, but nothing beats personal conversations with the people that make up your target base.
- Listen to your customers (even the noisy ones): With social media, customers are sharing their experiences and airing their opinions louder than ever. Yet too many companies choose not to listen. Successful companies recognize that their customers possess good ideas. They gather feedback at any and every opportunity and track real-time sentiment and issues from monitoring social networks. There’s no better source to tell you how you’re doing than the customers themselves. And customers love a responsive organization; so keep people in the loop of how their feedback was used or why it wasn’t this time.
- Genuinely want to help your customers: I began my business because I love helping other entrepreneurs and I love the concept of the small business. If you don’t feel a genuine connection to your customers, you might want to consider a different line of business.
- Surprise your customers: Exceeding your customer’s expectations falls on the opposite side of the spectrum from those tricky lock-in strategies. The best example here is Zappos, who advertises free ground shipping, but mails most orders overnight. That’s a company that went from no sales to $1 billion in gross merchandise sales in just 10 years.
- Don’t be afraid of ‘Love’: The era of ‘feelings aren’t professional’ is over. When an employee or customer shows up with their heart, the end is always far greater. I’m an expressive person by nature. While I may have toned down outward displays of affection early on, I’m pretty well known now for ending calls with employees, contractors, or customers with ‘Love You.’
Of course, what’s natural to me isn’t going to hold true for everyone. As a business leader, it’s your job to intentionally set the emotional tone of your company, department, or brand. The key is to figure out what level of emotional intensity you want to bring to your organization.
Love can be an incredibly effective business tool. After all, it’s emotion that shapes our thoughts, words, and actions. Don’t be afraid to love your employees, your colleagues, your clients, and customers; you’ll get even more back in return.
*Original content written by Nellie Akalp for the Business Insider.