Customer Communication must be two way

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It is very easy to lose a customer but hard to gain a new one. Businesses only exist because of customers. If you cannot satisfy the customer you won’t retain them. Why is it that so many companies seem to go out of their way to avoid contact with their customers?

However, maintaining sales and income is dependent on the trust of customers and the continuing confidence they have in the product and its supplier. The internationally famous management consultant, Tom Peters said that the secret of business success was to make the customer “delighted” with the product or service. But it may also be said that what customers really want, is to have confidence in the reliability in the supply of a product which meets their requirements, delivered in the way promised, at a satisfactory price.

Successful businesses are based on sales that require the mutual trust of customer and supplier. Customers must have confidence in their suppliers regarding the quality of the product, service, delivery and credit control. Similarly, suppliers must have confidence in their customer’s order requirements, their payment and credit worthiness.

If a company cannot deliver as promised, it must tell the customer before they find out the hard way.
Should the supplier fail to deliver on their promises, the customer will lose faith and go elsewhere. “My word is my bond,” should be the statement on which all customers can rely, and on which they will regularly return.

To develop customer confidence, a Commercial manager should ensure that:

* All enquires receive full and prompt responses.
* Terms and conditions are clearly understood by both customer and supplier.
* All promises of delivery and communication are met.
* The sales process cannot be accused of miss-selling.
* All mistakes are identified and rectified promptly
* Customer feed-back is regularly sought
* Rate of order return and cancellations are constantly monitored.
* The number and type of customer compliant are monitored to detect changes and trends.

The purpose of a business is to make money, satisfying customers is not its purpose but only the way in which it gains profitable income. Effective communications with customers are vitally important especially for consumer based businesses.

A good relationship between customer and supplier relies on the service delivered and especially the quality of communications between them. While in many cases the bulk of communication may be expected to be from the supplier to the customer, the level of communication from the customer is often impeded by the difficulty of making effective contact with the supplier.

Many companies often give the impression that communication from customers, other than for placing orders and remitting payment, is generally not of interest and is possibly discouraged. Companies appear to hide contact links on web-sites, and make contact phone numbers difficult to find. In some cases, standard answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) may resolve customer requirements, but in others, only direct communication with the company will prove satisfactory. While Twitter and other media have their place on modern business and customer communications, they are still no substitute for direct personal customer contact.

Information from customers is vital for every business. Customers are not always intent on complaints. Many loyal customers want to help their suppliers with ideas, suggestions and other positive information, because it is in their interest to assist them to continue to supply the goods and services they require. Yet somehow, some businesses seem to treat their customers as “the enemy”, so that some refuse to give individual contact names on the grounds of “security”. But customers want to know the identity of an individual who can answer questions and resolve problems, even if that individual answers through a pseudonym for “security” reasons.

In considering customer communication channels, Commercial manager need to assess:
* Are all telephone numbers for customer service easily accessible? How do you know?

When away from the office, try telephoning, e-mailing and texting the company while acting as if a customer. Ask for help and see how well the system does or does not work. – How easy is it to identify someone in authority and to contact them, how long does it take?

* How easy is it for customers to find contact points on a Website, in order to send in an e-mail enquiry? – If directions are not clear and simple, the customer may give up trying, and important information lost.

* Are full contact details of key personnel available, including telephone, e-mail and postal address? If not, why not? Unnecessary secrecy is a barrier to commercial trust. (If security is a problem, provide pseudonyms).

* Are all telephone calls answered by personnel capable of giving adequate answers or referral to other authority?

* Do all e-mails and letters have a timely response? –

All e-mails should at least have an automatic response, giving details of when a full reply can be expected. – Why? Because there is nothing worse for customer relations than for e-mails and letters not to be at least acknowledged in a timely manner. Such inaction simply creates frustration and irritation with those who seek to correspond with the organisation.

* Are the number and type of received customer responses monitored and analysed? How they are dealt with? Is the level of comment indicative of a problem or a customer requirement?

Using pre-recorded answering systems may appear to be cost effective. But what is the effect on callers and prospective customers, when faced with a menu and press button selection, followed by more menus and press button selection? It creates annoyance and the impression that the company is not interested. Similarly, being put onto automatic telephone hold, while being told that “their call is really important to us” clearly demonstrates to the caller the exact opposite attitude

While businesses exist to produce money which they obtain from customers, customers should not be taken for granted. Showing that the views, comments, and interests of the customer are important and valued, encourage the customer to continue to return, even if they have encountered problems.

“He who has the money makes the rules”. It is the customer that has the money which the business wants. Business and customers are in partnership, but if the customer concludes that a business considers their opinions of little importance, they can always take their business and money elsewhere

© N.C.Watkis, Contract Marketing Service 29 AUG 22

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