In today’s article, we focus on the only employer of labour – the customer. It is not news that all economically productive Nigerians (paid and unpaid labour) are engaged within the context of a defined arrangement to render services or deliver products. At the extremes, house-wives are engaged within the context of a family (delivering service to the home), and politicians engaged within the context of a political party and constituencies “to serve” the public’s interest. The organisations that demand our time and service in exchange for wages or other forms of compensation are either profit oriented or not-for-profit oriented. Further classifications of for-profit organisations range from Corporations (large corporates) to sole proprietorship (the classic one-man business) while not-for-profits include Non-governmental organisations, Foundations, Government & Government-related establishments. While there are differences among organisations’ arrangements, businesses and structures; there is a unifying element called CUSTOMER and there is also a consensus that the customer is important. Even the average Nigerian politician now know that electorates “the politician’s customers” are important.
How Important is the Customer?
There is a popular saying that “the customer is king”. But is the customer really king? Let us quickly test this with a few questions: Have you ever got stuck on an idea because you are unsure if the service or product to be produced will sell? Have you ever launched a product or service you thought would be successful but didn’t sell enough to break-even let alone make a profit? How about business promotions, incentives or loyalty programs offered that you were sure will move the market but did not? Ever wondered why you keep losing customers to competitors, or outcomes of several planning sessions, professional advice and consulting-spend that did not make significant difference to sales nor profit?
The answer to all questions above and many more is the psyche of your CUSTOMER! The interesting thing is that the handlers or owners of organisations are worried about making their products or services appealing to customers because buying decisions positively connect with organisations specific outcomes such as a mandate, sales target, revenues, profit. However, the open secret is that customers are not interested in the organisations nor their financial performance. On the contrary, organisations are dead without customers. Therefore, it is safe to say that the customer is not only king but the life blood of every business.
The Pitfall to Avoid About the Customer
Many businesses (small & BIG) echo their customer focus and initiatives for customer satisfaction, but unfortunately, they plan and implement in the wrong direction. The cause of these is closely related to the fact that the hearts of many organisations (people, process, systems, structure, rewards, etc.) remain rigidly product-centric, channelling attention and resources towards developing products or services without careful attention to consumers’ expectations. Most organisations therefore live in an alternate reality to their customers, holding an assumed belief of customers’ perception of their products and/or services as true when many times it may be wrong. Organisations that enforce their commitment to customer satisfaction from this standpoint will continue to lose large numbers of customers in the increasingly competitive marketplace.
The Journey to Satisfy the Customer
To demonstrate how the journey of customer focus should take-off, let me share two examples:
- A baker who specialized in baking bread located his bakery in a densely populated settlement in Ibadan. The baker started his bakery believing he knew what the customers will want in a bread, the usual he said, “competitive price, nutritious bread evidenced in taste, relatively heavy weight, attractive packaging and of course with NAFDAC registration number”. Alas, while the business owners’ perceptions are all lofty, after about a year in business, the baker learnt the sad truth that what he initially thought was important to the customer turned out to be the least of their priority. While speaking to a good number of his customers he learnt their true priority. They echoed to him, “what we really want is a bread with inner space that can be loaded with protein – bean cake, eggs (this clearly contradicts the baker’s initial perception that customers wanted a relatively heavy weight bread), and we buy the tallest bread within the same price range on the shelf (neither weight nor width mattered, only length!). Disappointed, he said to himself, if only I knew this earlier, my focus would have been sharper and my sales, better!
- A Lagos & Abuja based consulting firm named Management Transformation conducted a survey on factors that influence customer’s choice of Quick Service Restaurants (QSRs) in Nigeria. Findings showed that while restaurant owners held ambience, variety of dishes, prices and other factors in high esteem, customers are all about the old faithful’s – quality of food and service, as they represent the most important factors to customers’ decision making on a restaurant choice.
So, from the above examples, the first simple principle to being customer focused is to know your customer. Many have been in businesses for years and they truly don’t know their customer. In-fact; you, your friends, family, neighbour, your average church or mosque members may not be the definition of your customer. Hence, wholly adopting their wants and suggestions can be damaging to your customers’ satisfaction. Imagine the irony of asking your grandparent on the type of a mobile phone your spouse will like, even with the best of intentions, it is unlikely to be on point! Therefore, it is fundamental that organisations begin to re-think approach to customer satisfaction and seek ways that guarantees competitive edge. The most effective way is by adopting the business specific customer-centric mindset, starting with a clear understanding of your customer.
The second principle in this article on the journey of being customer focused is another simple and obvious principle which can be picked from the examples above. If you want to know how to serve your customers? Ask them. Many businesses embark on unnecessary projects and schemes aimed to impress the customer but end up adding no value to the business and sometimes destroy value. Imagine a company that felt an internal push (not customer) to rebrand and successfully changed a product wrap that the customer still wanted. The result was a decline in sales contrary to the intention.
The third principle I invite readers to note is that when your customers finally speak to you, take it as being entrusted with the life blood that the survival of the business is hinged on, and don’t betray their trust. Don’t be arrogant, act on your market’s feedback because if you do not, others will and remember the customer is not interested in your company but relative superior satisfaction.
Businesses (existing and start-ups) that can embrace the above principles will do well in their customer satisfaction journey and in-turn have their business generate better sales and profitability. Examples abound of businesses and industries that are listening to their customers and acting on the customers’ response. Industries examples include the Nigerian Fashion & Music Industries that have continued to evolve and currently being shaped by entrepreneurs who listen and act on customers’ and markets’ request.
Businesses that will not embrace the customer centric principles have unknowingly adopted a strategy tagged “picking up coins in front of a bulldozer”, you may have momentary gains, but such businesses are unlikely to exist profitably in the long-run. Let me leave business owners, intrapreneurs and aspiring business owners with a few questions; Who are your customers? How are you presently pursuing or plan to pursue your customers satisfaction? Are you getting ahead and getting the results you want? What needs to change? Based on the principles described in this article, are you ready to make the change? These are the relevant questions I invite readers to reflect upon and provide objective answers to because change cannot occur until you realise the need for change by acknowledging the limitations in your present situation.
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