It’s pretty well established that customers care about value. If you provide it, they buy from you. It’s as simple as that. But I wonder, are you getting all the value you could be from your customer relationships? Are your customers doing as much for you as you are for them? Your business will be more successful if “value” is a two-way street. I believe that each one of your customers provides you with three distinct levels of value.
First is the value of what they’re buying from you now. Second is the value of what they could be buying from you. Third is the value of influence; the ways in which current customers can help you develop new customers.
So, are you getting anything close to maximum value from your customers?
The first level of value is all about what they’re buying from you now. What’s important about this level is that you protect it. In other words, that you don’t lose customers. Here’s an obvious statement: Happy customers don’t get lost!
Now an obvious question: Do you have happy customers? Here is a series of exercises to answer that question. First, sit down with a list of your customers. If you have lots of them, you might start with the 25 you consider to be most important. Next, give each of them a “temperature” rating, using 98.6 degrees as the temperature of a healthy relationship, as it’s the temperature of a healthy human body. A rating of 90 degrees might indicate a relationship that’s mildly stressed; not really threatened, but not quite as strong as you’d like it to be. A temperature of 80 degrees would indicate more serious stress, and so on. After your own rating, I’d encourage you to ask others in your organization, perhaps your crew chief or accounting supervisor, for their perspective.
Next, make the first of a series of “interval” calls on those customers. This call has two purposes. First, confirm your temperature rating. Second, establish the appropriate interval for future calls. It needs to be long enough that you won’t be smothering them, but short enough to avoid a problem that you don’t find out about until it’s too late to save the relationship.
Back to confirming the temperature. I hereby give you permission to blame me for this call. Here’s what you might say to your customer: “I recently read an article by a consultant who works in our industry. He was writing about tracking the temperature of customer relationships.” Provide the scale, and say, “I have an idea where we are, but I don’t want to presume anything. I wanted to ask you today, what do you think the temperature of our relationship is?” That question hopefully leads to a frank discussion, and from there, you can talk about the frequency of future “How are we doing?” calls.
The second level of value is all about what they could be buying from you beyond what they’re already buying from you. That raises the question of how you describe what you sell. I suspect that the words complete and comprehensive are part of your description. But this question may be not so obvious: What does complete lawn care or comprehensive irrigation services actually mean? I know that, as an industry professional, you know. The real question is whether your customer understands it as well. Which of these statements has the better chance of connecting and educating? “We’re a comprehensive lawn care company,” or, “We do A, B, C and D.”
What’s important about the second level of value is to maximize it, and education is the key to that process. No one will ever buy a thing from you if they don’t know that you sell it. But let’s also consider this: The worst way to sell is to make a canned presentation. The best way to sell is to ask questions, establish interest and then take the next step if there is any. No customer will ever buy anything from you if they don’t want or need it.
Here’s the conversation I envision between you and your customer: “You’ve bought quite a bit of A from us over the years and a little bit of B. But we also do C. So I wanted to ask you today, do you have any want or need for C?” If they do, you have something to talk about and the real possibility of increasing your sales to that customer.
By the way, this could be something very good to talk about on one of those “interval” calls I suggested earlier.
Spreading the word
The third level of value is all about influence, the ways in which current customers can help you develop new customers. Here we’re taking about two things: referrals and testimonials.
In order to fully appreciate this opportunity, let’s understand that there are referrals and then there’s something called word-of-mouth. That term is often used to describe the phenomenon by which one of your customers says something nice about you to a friend or colleague or family member and that person in turn initiates contact. Word-of-mouth is really more of a testimonial than a referral, but more importantly, it’s mostly a passive strategy. By that I mean you’re probably appreciative when word-ofmouth brings you a new customer, but you don’t do enough to encourage it.
Encouraging it is simple. Just add an element to your temperature tracking. When you confirm that the temperature is high, go the extra step and ask your customer to tell someone else about the experience of doing business with you. It’s been proven that it might happen if you say nothing. Doesn’t it make sense that it might happen more often if you encourage it?
Alternately, you might ask a happy customer for a testimonial that you could put on your website or your Facebook page. If we’ve learned anything from the modern marketplace, it’s that testimonials and customer reviews have real value.
Let me end this with one more question. What percentage of maximum value do you think you’re getting from your customer base right now? If your answer is 90% or higher, you still have some opportunity here, but I’d say you’re doing a really good job of getting value from your customers. If your answer is 70% or below, you have a lot of opportunity, and depending on how well you’re protecting the first level of value, you may have a lot at risk.
From what I’ve seen, the majority of businesses are in the second category. Hopefully what you’ve just read will get you started on doing something about that.
Dave Fellman is the president of David Fellman & Associates, based in Raleigh, North Carolina. He’s the author of “Rules of Engagement: A Guide to Better Communication and Better Relationships With Everyone Who Is Important To Your Business.” Visit his website at www.davefellman.com, and contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.