Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Repeat customers are our most important product

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 18, 2010

I am writing this as an installment in my Business Strategy and Operations series as bottom line, good customer relations are among the most important components to any organization’s ongoing processes and operations. Good customer relations should inform and help define basic business strategy and they should be taken into account in every aspect of the business.

• What are your core products and services?
• What are the target demographics you would market and sell them to?
• Who are the end users of your products and services?
• How do your products and services offer unique value to these constituencies, in the face of your marketplace competition?
• Even if you are operating in a blue ocean marketplace and without immediate direct competition now, how can you build and sustain a more effective market presence and long term?

This posting is about marketing. In an increasingly interactive, Web 2.0 and online social networking context this is also all about networking and community. But as a source of sustaining value for the organization as it seeks to offer products and services in a marketplace this is all about making that organization succeed. This is about strategy and operations, and about connecting them from the office to the surrounding world outside the business itself and its walls.

• If you start developing and managing good customer relations at or after the point of sale you are starting way too late.
• If you start in the earlier stages of product and service design, with effective user interfaces and usability as an over-riding design consideration you have a much better chance of building a customer relations capability that will help drive your business.
• If you follow through on this and throughout the cycle of marketing and sales, and customer support you can turn that better chance into a realized capability.
• This means knowing your target demographics.
• This means helping them to know you and what you do and what you stand for.
• Both of these last two points depend very strongly on feedback, and on developing active conversations.

In an increasingly interactive world and in increasingly feedback-driven marketplaces, customer relations cannot simply be something that you provide as to a passive audience. Good customer relations mean building and maintaining an active two (and more) way conversation and as a collaborative process.

I write this posting with this fundamental point in mind as even businesses that should know better, way too often still look at customer relations as through the lens of an earlier generation.

• Offering an online Web 1.0 oriented information repository with FAQ pages and product specifications offers value but this in and of itself cannot be enough.
• Offering online forms for submitting comments and questions cannot complete your customer relations capabilities and certainly where any responses have to be filtered through the limitations of some pre-selected drop down menu as to reason for submitting that form.
• Adding an online chat or toll free phone line does not automatically complete this as an effective capability either – effective either for you and your business or for your customers and prospective customers.
• I will add that simply including nice and even cutting edge Web 2.0 features is not going to be enough to turn your customer relations into the resource you need.
• You need to integrate the information sharing and communications tools and resources you offer into your basic business model as to who you are and how you relate to your marketplace.
• Information you share and information shared back to you should loop back into your ongoing processes of product and service, and business process refinement, and at both the operational and strategic levels.

I have written this posting in the abstract, rather than developing this as a story focused on specific examples. I am going to come back to this again and to how it is applied in the real world. I will simply add one more set of brief summarizing points here.

• If you want your business to succeed and thrive in our rapidly evolving marketplace you have to do more than speak – you have to listen.
• You have to do more than just listen – you have to really hear and to understand both the message and its context.
• You have to do more than just listen – you have to follow through and integrate lessons learned from this feedback into your business and into your products and services too.
• And this integration should including a continual and ongoing process of refining and updating your reaching out and connecting to your customers and potential customers and to the communities they live in, online and off.

The measure of your success in this is not new – ultimately it is in market share and in the levels of your repeat business, and in the viral marketing that your repeat customers can provide in helping you reach new customers too. It is how you get there that is rapidly changing and that is what this posting is about.

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