In these recessionary, austerity and whatever else word the mee-dya is coming up with to talk about the economic situation at the moment, it’s easy to assume that you and your business need to be primarily competing on price, that consumers are making less purchases and that when they do they’re choosing the cheapest option.
Having seen what’s going on in our client’s businesses and even in our own however, I’m not convinced this is the case. Is price always the most important factor when someone is considering purchasing from you? And if it’s not, what is?
There are many factors to consider; the quality of the product or service is one. The brand reputation of the company or product is another and has been proven to be very persuasive in getting consumers to pay more. And another, and in my opinion, crucial factor is customer service. (And if you shine in all three areas like say Apple do then, bingo!)
In the good old days, customer service was really key. People lived in smaller communities, bought their goods and services locally in the main and had actual real life face to face relationships with the people they were buying from and selling to. Therefore the quality of the service on offer was key; put simply, you couldn’t afford to annoy people or let them down as the effect on your business could be disastrous.
Conversely, with the growth of big and global businesses, with their impersonal telephone and online support and sales, it seemed like customer service was at the bottom of the list for companies ruthlessly pursuing the highest profits, regardless of whether that left customers feeling frustrated by having to press 1 for this and then 2 for that before they had any hope at all of speaking to a human being about their enquiry or purchase.
Perhaps one of the positive things that has come out of the current economic situation is that people are thinking more about the products, services and brands that they want to buy and because more thought is going into their purchases and their perception of money is slightly different these days, they DO want more for their money but what they want is good customer service. They want to feel that you want their custom and that you are adding value to them in some way.
An example from my own life is the relationship I have built with a local garden centre called Cowells.
Cowells were recommended to me by Sophie Simpson, the garden designer who came up with the planting plan for our new garden. I was already following them on twitter and then also signed up for their email updates too, so I quite quickly experienced how they communicated with customers and prospective customers firsthand.
I chose to buy the plants for my garden from Cowells mainly because I was so impressed with how friendly, knowledgeable and proactive they seemed. I already knew I could get my plants cheaper elsewhere, both at other garden centres and online. Cowells are not extortionately priced and their stock is still very reasonably priced but none the less they are not the cheapest garden centre in my area. However, I wanted really good quality plants and I wanted a supplier who could give me advice and could source everything that I needed rather than having to go to several places. I liked the fact (picked up from twitter) that they regularly help out local charities with donations of plants to improve their environments (I’m a sucker for stuff like that) and I had been really impressed with how they seemed to go the extra mile for customers and were very happy to just offer free advice about plants and their care to anyone who asked.
Having visited the garden centre, it’s a fantastic place, the plants are healthy, well cared for and beautifully displayed, the staff are really friendly, actually know what they are talking about and seem genuinely happy in their work (trying getting plant care info – or a civil word for that matter – from whoever is putting the plants out at your local B&Q!) No-one seemed to mind my two year old tearing round the place either which is always a bonus! In short I was more than happy to pay a little more for my plants if what I also got was a better quality products backed up with good advice, friendly, helpful attitudes and the knowledge that the plants that I bought would thrive in my garden.
For me personally, the height of customer care came when I saw a particular plant that I wanted on a tv show and I tweeted Cowells to ask if they stocked it. They got back almost immediately to say that they didn’t and couldn’t source it at that point either but one of the owners Marty said he would try and propagate some as he could get seeds. How nice is that! But wait, it gets better… he contacted me a few weeks later to say that for some reason the propagation hadn’t worked. No that’s not the good part! Obviously I accepted this, he’d tried above and beyond what I had already expected and I was just happy he’d gone to the effort.
A couple of weeks later I was walking back through the village and saw a Cowell’s van and a driver and a clipboard looking a bit lost. I approached him and asked him which address he was looking for. Turns out it was mine and he had two of the plants that I’d wanted that Cowells had managed to find somewhere. And what’s more they were a gift – not for any reason other than that they valued my custom. You really can’t get better than that!
So yes I can get my plants elsewhere, garden centres are everywhere and places like Homebase, B&Q and even super markets now stock seasonal plants and the like. But what you can’t get elsewhere, in my opinion and experience, is this extremely high level of customer care and focus and as a customer and a marketeer that’s well worth paying a little bit extra for. No wonder they win so many awards and their business is literally flourishing!
So thinking about your own business, what are you doing to ensure that customer care is as good as it can be? And if you are concerned about the negative effects of the economy or increased competition, how can focusing on customer care help you turn things around?
Oh and if you’re in the North east and want to check out Cowells you can find them here