Ever been offered a service totally unmatched to your needs, like being sold a skytop pool experience when you are both afraid of heights and a bad swimmer, or being offered a cosmetic product for a skin type totally different from yours? A known concept in sales, the “solve, don’t sell” approach is the hallmark of need-based, targeted and customized offerings to customers. It can be linked to sales disaggregation strategies ranging from options of plans and bundles prominent in the Telecommunications industry to shades and palettes as common in the Beauty/Make-up industry. “Solve, don’t sell” involves matching specific, identifiable needs of customers to the specification and utility of products and services. It backdrops a dominant refrain in today’s advertising industry where we see brands speaking to the emotional and functional value of their products over bogus features and vague technicalities.
Customer intimacy, propagated by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema, draws from the reimagination of what “value” means to customers and the design of business systems that provide such value to match the needs of customers. With a broadened conception of value by customers in the digital era, customer intimacy stands out in Treacy and Wiersema’s school of thought as a value discipline that merges “detailed customer knowledge with operational flexibility” in order to meet exact, unique needs of customers. Whilst one might infer that achieving customer intimacy comes with cost implications or requires a degree of business eccentricity, it’s important to acknowledge the line that links customer intimacy to business gains. This linkage centers around its facilitation of customer loyalty and lifetime customer relationship. Using Zappos, the Amazon-owned online shoe retailer as a case study, the firm’s customer-centric culture placed the needs of customers so high that they were willing to recommend, in cases where they didn’t have the exact shoe stock customers needed, their competitors who did. With such a practice, the Zappos brands applies, in quite unconventional measure, the “solve, don’t sell” approach, which yielded them more than $1 billion in annual gross sales within a decade, a profitability they ascribe to repeat customers and word of mouth promotion.
Why should businesses adopt the “solve don’t sell” approach to their customer experience strategy? What is the case for customer loyalty spurred by this approach? Primarily, profitability and business success requires going beyond one-off sales. A first time sale is meant to lead to repeated sales which is the crux of customer experience – to ensure that customers are satisfied and receiving the value they require to keep coming back. Thus, focus on short-term incentive at the expense of long-term profitability on the heels of customer happiness, trust and loyalty easily becomes the difference between winning and winning big. To factor in the financial implication of retention and repeat purchase, a Bain and Company report highlights that a 5% increase in customer retention produces more than a 25% increase in profit, using the example of the financial services industry.
With these in mind, what then are the steps towards inculcating a business culture that favours the “solve, don’t sell” approach, a model steeped in customer intimacy? Here are four guides for businesses willing and ready to always address their customer’s specific needs and retain them for a lifetime:
1.Empower your employees to be customer-centric
Business efforts to improve customer experience are directly grounded in the strides of employees. Empowering employees to be customer-centred such that they can take ownership of situations to serve customers better, are willing to be flexible to customer needs, and are consistently operating from a standpoint of the customers’ interest goes a long way in shaping a sustainable customer experience strategy. To do this, it is important to create a culture of open communication where employees are able to share their opinions and suggestions. This goes alongside a strong feedback culture where employee growth and development is encouraged every step of the way. At the root of all these is the instilment of a customer-oriented organizational vision and value system to serve as a Northstar for employees.
2.Understand your customers and their needs
It is important to know your customers as much as possible. Understanding what they need, what they care about, how they engage with your touchpoints, and what their pain points might be goes a long way in helping you solve their problems. Data-driven decision making comes to the fore here, as consistent collection and monitoring of patterns and trends in the behaviour of customers should be the driver of product/service design and business strategy as well as iteration.
3.Be clear on the value your product/service offers your customers
Having set a customer-oriented employee culture and assured in-depth understanding of customers, it is important for a business to align its communications and messaging in a way that shows their clear understanding of their value to their customers. A business should be able to concisely communicate their value-addition – how they can help the customer, serve them, or solve specific challenges they face. This way, a customer knows what to expect from their brand from the get-go. When it is exactly what they need, then the customer relationship takes off on a smooth and seamless end.
4.Be present to add value to your customers
For a number of fashion lines, social media is a very effective tool for staying in touch with customers. For other organizations in industries such as Software as a Service (SaaS), phone and live chat could serve as useful channels for being present for customers. To stay present to customers goes beyond addressing queries and directing them to sales touchpoints. It offers an opportunity for brands to hone their understanding of their customers and showcase this awareness in their interaction with them or with causes that matter to them. According to a Salesforce research which compiled findings from 15,000+ consumers and business in 2020, in light of the coronavirus and its impact on business, 54% of customers surveyed expect that companies would expand their engagement methods. This finding reinforces the imperative for businesses to double down on staying connected with customers.
In all, to adopt a solutions-oriented, customer-intimate strategy, a business must be willing to invest in the combination of employee empowerment, customer knowledge, value-addition, and steady connection. If executing these in tandem leads to a pay-off in customer loyalty, what stops your business from going all in?