Every businessperson wants to engage with customers in a thoughtful, meaningful and dynamic way. Often, though, entrepreneurs find themselves entertaining fears and navigating around nonexistent obstacles when they imagine customers' perceptions.
Instead of making assumptions or guessing your way through your relationships with customers, have a better understanding of what they want and expect.
Here's seven misconceptions that you should promptly set aside:
1. All customers are the same. Many companies claim to have a customer-centered strategic game plan, but I've encountered few that truly do. This plan should be designed to meet the unique needs of everyone throughout your customer base. Although many customers want the same products, what attracts different customers is often very different. Poll your customer base regularly to know how best to peak their interests.
2. The customer is always right. At times customers are aggressive or passionate about issues that they simply are wrong about. Having said that, there is some sense to the notion of allowing customers to save face or feel as if they have benefited from engaging with your business -- even if this means nothing more than allowing them to vent.
3. No news is good news. That way of thinking can quickly lead to your company's demise. Be sure to regularly solicit feedback through surveys, questionnaires and opinion polls. Keep in mind that many customers do not bother complaining or sharing feedback due to the effort, time and hassle that often accompanies such an endeavor.
4. Apologies are a sign of weakness or worse -- admitting fault. Not at all. In fact customers appreciate an apology after a screwup. Although this process can be humbling for an entrepreneur, it can result in customers’ loyalty over the long term. Your pride is duly noted here. But if you cannot train your customer-service personnel to apologize on behalf of your company gracefully and with genuine intent, then you will lose customers who might have otherwise stuck around.
5. Customers don't care about the reasons. Oh, but they do. When something goes wrong (a product is broken, a slipup in the shipment, a late delivery), an explanation is often very much appreciated -- after a well-delivered apology. Furthermore, it's useful to remind customers that human beings are on the other side of the phone and explanations about why something went a little sideways can convey this.
6. They won't come back. Actually for the most part customers are more forgiving than business owners generally give them credit for. And even if they choose to not forgive your distribution center for sending them the wrong widget, they will forget about the mishap over time. If you continue to strive to offer good customer service and quality products, then your core following will come back around.
7. Consumers don't care about a company’s culture, social and environmental actions. You cannot afford to continue thinking like this. The millennial generation may turn out to be the most expansive, dynamic and philanthropically minded one of all time within 10 or so years. So you must recalibrate your mind-set about your company's visible workplace culture and social responsibility. In the 21st century, customers are interested in what goes on behind the scenes. And customers enjoy seeing that their purchases of their favorite products are benefiting the employees that make it all happen.
Gaining better knowledge of who your customers really are and what they desire most (apart from quality customer service and a great product) is the best way to retain them over the long term. Remember that customers’ expectations are focused more on excellence than on perfection. Occasional errors and mistakes are OK as long as you have a good customer follow-up plan to remedy the situation fully and timely.
Patrick Proctor is vice president of operations at Stash Tea Company in Portland, Ore., and is an experienced organizational development/HR and strategic business planning leader. Patrick writes about workplace issues in the areas of leadership strategy, business operations and continuity planning and personnel/HR development.