Customer Relations

by Roisin Murray & Wallace Murray

How to keep ahead of the game

It’s pretty much the same as any aspect of business. The trick is to keep adding to what you do, to remain different from your competitors. Take the example of Waterstones bookshops. When they introduced coffee outlets, they were well ahead of the field. Now, everybody is doing it. So it no longer differentiates Waterstones from the others. It’s still a good experience, but it is expected. Customer relations become excellent as a result of giving customers regular pleasant surprises, not from doing what they expect anyway.

Customer focus groups may help, but they need managing carefully if they are to become imaginative. Transferring ideas from other business sectors is often a fruitful approach. Motorway service areas may have borrowed the idea of decent coffee outlets from the bookshops. Or was it the other way around? Whose idea was it to put Marks & Spencer food halls in motorway service areas? From the point of view of the service areas, that is the same principle as Waterstones.

Another approach is to take something normal to the extreme. There is a major department store in the USA called Nordstrom. They will give you your money back on a returned article without question. Nothing unusual there? They’ll do it even if you didn’t buy it form them! Crazy? They have done the figures, and reckon very few people take them for suckers – so few that the benefits far outweigh the cost.

Copying other people will only take you so far. You may need to do some creative thinking (you will find help on doing this in the Creative Thinking topic).

If you do nothing else, walk the talk – and keep walking. Within that, key elements of sustaining and nurturing customer relations include:

  • Culture
  • Management behaviour
  • Performance management
  • Continuous improvement.

This means

  • Maintaining a customer-focused and learning culture
  • Continually exhibiting appropriate management behaviour and leadership through example
  • Integrity in operating an appropriate system for managing people within a wider performance management system
  • Development and wholehearted application of systems for continuous improvement.