Past and present customers are key to your future, expert tells Yorkshire businesses
11 May 09
Businesses must make the most of their existing customer relationships if they are to survive the recession, a leading expert told a Bradford University School of Management briefing.
"Everybody's spent the last 20 years chasing new business, forgetting about the pot of value from existing customers." said Nick Bramley, Managing Director of NBA4Business and former chairman of the Institute of Directors, North Yorkshire branch.
"Existing customers are going to get them through the next 12 months because there might not be new business out there to be won."
More than 20 directors and managers attended the free breakfast briefing, organised by the school's Executive Education team. Nick told them that there was never a better time to get closer to their existing customers.
There are two main benefits: "First, to leverage sales from those customers to buoy up your balance sheet.
"Second, it may enable you to redeploy some of your staff who might otherwise face redundancy. So when things do turn around you'll be well placed to go chasing new business with the right staff in place."
Customer loyalty had to be earned. Even before the credit crunch, nearly a third of bank customers jumped ship because they didn't feel valued. Don't think of yourself as a supplier, Nick told business leaders, but as your customers' partner.
Communication is key. "You should be talking to the top 20 per cent of your customers regularly ¿ daily, weekly or monthly depending on the type of business you are.
"The eighty per cent of your customers who are less profitable still need engagement. That may be through newsletters, special offers or some other way, but they need to be engaged and feel valued."
Adding value didn't necessarily mean reducing prices. "Businesses should be thinking what can we give back to our customers. It might be information, expertise, service improvements, product innovation ¿ whatever puts you at the heart of the customer's thinking."
Ensure your customers know the range of products or services you provide, and ask for their thoughts.
"Without feedback on what you're offering you've got no chance of improving," said Nick, an associate member of the School's Executive Education team.
He had one final piece of advice - don't communicate at a distance. "If you should have a meeting with a customer, don't just ring them. If you should be ringing them, don't send an email.
"Good customer service is about biting the bullet and being prepared for the feedback and the consequences."
Bradford University School of Management is one of Europe's leading business schools. Its post graduate programmes are ranked by the FT in the UK's top 10, top 20 in Europe and top 55 globally. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks its distance learning MBA in the top 10 worldwide
11 May 09
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