Whether it is a consumer or business to business organisation, the customer should be at the centre, as the customer provides the income. But is this always the case? There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that for many business organisations, especially large ones, the most important factor is the “bottom line, and the share price”, where the customer is only the necessary cash-cow. The evidence for this lies in the ease or lack of it that customers have in communicating with the company or organisation.
In recent years it has become increasingly difficult to find an effective route of contact to many organisations especially large ones. Telephone numbers are withheld, or are automated into long choices of various directions with long waiting times. Information is placed on web-sites where it is difficult to access, or access is only via a web-site e-mail connection. The evidence suggests that many organisations want to ensure that they have as little contact with their customers as possible except when they want their money.
Businesses are not philanthropic institutions: they exist to make money in the form of profit. To make money businesses have to anticipate and satisfy customer’s demands, so that customers provide the necessary income to the business in return for the goods or services that they require. Identifying enough potential customers who have the requirement for the goods and services on offer, is the primary problem for every business. Having identified the potential customers, the next difficulty is to convert them into customers that pay for their goods and services.
It often costs businesses more than they realize in order to gain a new customer – and considerably more than it does to retain them, so it is surprising how businesses can often take a casual attitude to their customer relations and to retaining customers for their repeat business. Gaining and retaining customers is a privilege not a right. Customers don’t have to give their business and they are not obliged to remain customers, especially if the marketplace is filled with competing offers for products and services.
Smaller organisations stay close to their customers, but as organisations get bigger, the emphasis tends to change so that maintaining and developing the system takes precedence over customers and their service, e.g. replacing the personal contact with artificial intelligence, web-site, automated telephone answering, lack of named personnel for contact.
Commercial managers are responsible for the production of profitable income, but are not responsible for overall profit, which is the ultimate responsibility of the chief executive officer.
Organisations may consider that by the use of artificial intelligence, automated systems, web-sites and other methods that largely eliminate human involvement save money and improve the bottom line. While this may be true in the short term, it often alienates customers resulting in their loss. Commercial managers must concentrate and champion the need for maintaining contact with customers as they provide the income.
While some large organisations behave as though customers are a nuisance Customers are a necessary asset, providing not only the essential income, but also essential information about current and future demand, and competitive business.
If commercial managers are to maintain and increase profitable income, maintaining customer relations and communication will be essential, which may require countering an organisation’s trend to streamline and automate customer access to “improve efficiency.” In this regard a commercial manager needs to fully understand the customer experience of access to the organisation. This may be done anonymously, or via an independent agency, attempting to contact departments and individuals via the published contact system, in order to establish the customer’s general experience:
* How easy is it to find and use a telephone connection? Is the answer personal or pre-recorded? How long does it take? Is the desired contact achieved?
* Does the web-site clearly and easily direct a user to contact information?
* Is contact limited to only an e-mail form?
* Is contact only via an FAQ page?
* Is there a postal address clearly shown?
* Is there a telephone number clearly shown?
* Is there a personal customer service connection to deal with questions, problems etc.?
Maintaining good customer relations is essential and depends not only on how the product or service is delivered, but also on good channels of communication that are easy for customers to access.
Getting customers and retaining their custom is hard work which can easily be undone and negated by organisation system and procedure which distance the customer and actively deter their communication. There is no “bottom line” without customers.
© N.C.Watkis, Contract Marketing Service 20 May 21