Your business wouldn’t exist if it didn’t have customers. They provide revenue and give you important feedback that helps you develop a better product. But sometimes, customer needs can get overwhelming because they surpass the reason your company even exists. You can only give solutions for so many problems.
“Why can’t you provide X service like your competitors do?”
You might have to bite your tongue at some of these comments. Weigh in a few factors first before you decide to implement a customer’s suggestions.
Your Company’s Purpose
While you should keep your customers in the forefront of your business, you should also consider their needs in lieu of your company’s purpose. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself nodding your agreement to every suggestion and scrambling to buy the necessary materials for an entirely new product.
Every customer has ideas about making your business fit their needs. But not all their suggestions should be taken at face value. You’ll have to figure out if their suggestion suits your purpose. Never forget your company’s true purpose.
The first step in balancing customer needs with your company’s purpose is to—define your company purpose! Many companies only know an inkling about their true intentions, but they haven’t clarified it on paper.
Roy Spence, president of advertising agency GSD&M, wrote an entire book about how a company’s purpose should drive their business. He defines purpose as “a definitive statement of the difference you’re trying to make.”
This purpose is not your mission statement or your vision since those ideas may change with the world around it. But your purpose is the higher reason your company exists and probably the entire reason why the company formed. Hint: your purpose should focus on customer needs.
For example, Zendesk broadcasts their purpose on their website. If you navigate through their homepage, you’ll notice how much they talk about customer service relationships. The answer for improving those relationships? Zendesk, of course!
Stick to It
Because Zendesk’s purpose is to help companies improve relationships, they make choices based upon that goal. They provide meaningful analytics during rough customer service seasons and maintain a blog that helps companies use Zendesk’s software effectively.
Likewise, you should evaluate every company decision with its purpose in mind. That includes customer needs. Your company should look at every suggestion and ask, “Does this fit our purpose?” If it doesn’t, trash the suggestion. You can’t fill every consumer void out there.
Roy Spence says, “Every company that’s survived and gone into the ‘thrive mode’ has a purpose or had one. Sometimes you’ve got to dig down because leaders will change purposes and, I’ll tell you something, that’s when companies get in deep trouble.”
Spence agrees that companies should stick to their purpose. They will thrive in many ways, including customer service, when they do so.
Of course, you do have to consider your customers’ needs. If you ignore them and blindly follow an outdated vision, your business will quickly suffer.
Gartner, a technology research and insight company, says you should assess the value of projects based upon the customer’s needs and your business’s ROI. On the other hand, they also stress a stronger value upon customer needs. While a fairly equal value is the goal, most companies have to focus on the customer’s side more. They already do a good enough job worrying about themselves.
Still, you can’t take every single customer complaint to heart. You see the teetering here, don’t you? It’s such a fine balance.
Focus on the 80/20 Principle
Barbara Shenk knows you can’t focus on every customer. According to this business strategist, you should zone in on your most profitable ones. She mentions the 80/20 rule in terms of business: 80% of revenue comes from 20% of customers.
She goes on, “Your job is to focus on the profitable 20 percent while not getting consumed by the demands of the costly few.”
Shenk’s strategy is gold. When you’re implementing a customer need into your product or service, keep in mind which customers you’re benefiting.
A business that produces Hollywood–quality cinema cameras shouldn’t modify their product for everyday consumers if they’re best clients are movie producers. They might lose their best clients. Plus, if the low–profit customers are complaining about the product a lot, the company will lose even more time and money dealing with those complaints.
Meet Them in the Middle
Maybe you have reviewed the customer’s needs and have determined that your business simply cannot meet them. Your company may even be working to meet that need in the future, but right now it’s a no go. Try offering a middle ground solution.
When I worked as a customer service agent, my company practiced this all the time. Customers would call in, seeking exceptions to our policies. Our products just didn’t match up with their life scenario. Instead of ditching our policies, though, my managers worked hard to provide a less obvious solution that still stayed within guidelines. I always marvelled at how often customers would hang up the phone totally satisfied.
Even if it’s not exactly what your customers are looking for, finding a workable solution will go a long way in great customer service. On the flipside, you shouldn’t be doing this too often. If you are, your company probably should further investigate the need.
Track Good Suggestions
Most of the time, your company will actually implement a customer’s suggested needs. After all, the business wants their products to be valuable to each customer. But to ensure a good balance between customer and company, the company should implement a feasible solution and monitor its results.
Whitney Wood, a managing partner of the consultant agency Phelon Group, says “The chore is not in the listening, but in the implementation and follow-up. As you launch feedback-driven changes, track which and how many of your customers offer up additional ideas and input.”
You’ll quickly tell from customers whether your solution actually helped or whether you have a few bugs to work out. If you track the solution for a few months, you might also notice changes in revenue. Implementing a customer’s suggestion is more than just tacking on a policy and deeming the case solved.
The way you track your solution will depend entirely upon your preference and the solution. You could use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as conversion rates, an increase in sales of a particular product, or even simply the decrease in complaints about this topic.
Even if you don’t track KPIs, Wood advises every company to follow up with the customer. Not only will the customer be grateful, but you’ll show them that you value their feedback and act on it. These conversations are usually the best ones to hold too. You’re almost guaranteed a happy ending.
Show them the Door
What happens when you realize a customer isn’t giving you enough bang for your buck? Some customers just bring too many problems to make it worth serving them. You might graciously show them the door.
Barbara Schenck suggests, “If you can’t reach an accord, make parting ways feel like a mutual decision by using a term like ‘not a good fit.’”
You might feel like burning the bridge, but you should still tread carefully and professionally. You don’t want to harm your business’s reputation.
Small–business consultant Nick Reese gives a few guidelines for letting a customer go. Reese’s four main steps for a successful conversation include describing your reason, being respectful, showing concern for the customer’s needs, and outlining expectations with your business for the next few days or weeks.
Even if the customer is just a hot–head, you still want to stay professional. One or two bad customer reviews could turn eyes toward your competitors. And if you’re an agent harming your company’s reputation? You might get the boot if you can’t watch what you say.
Promote a Healthy Balance
Too often businesses settle into the mindset that customers come to them and they should take what they get. Such a mindset is only partially true. You can use your company purpose to create your target audience.
Then, put feet to your words with advertising and networking to gain more of the customers that fill your purpose. You could set your prices at a middle range if middle class families are your target. Build ads on websites or shopping areas that cater to your demographic. If you only bring in customers whose needs are wholly filled by your business, you’ll promote a well–balanced business relationship with them.
The key word here is balance. I’ve heard many gripes about how customers react to customer service agents. And I have no doubt that many times the customer is actually wrong.
On the other hand, I have also talked to many customers who have received terrible service. No other company would listen to their simple request. Again, balance.
Our job in customer service is to serve, both the customer and the company. And we serve both best by cheerily attending to customer needs while we further our company’s purpose.
Sarah George is a flower–sniffing, homemade–cooking wordsmith who loves pounding out breathless stories until they fill with life. In her spare time, she loves designing her home with thrilling thrift finds and challenging herself with a good workout.