Your best customers like you or they wouldn’t be your best customers. With so many suppliers to choose from, customers can simply walk away if you disappoint them. That means if you rely on your sales reps and ISRs to tell you how well you’re doing versus competitors, you’ll get an echo chamber of positive feedback.
The customers that hate you are more likely to complain to someone or leave a nasty review somewhere – I’ve even seen them on LinkedIn. That’s unpleasant, but it gives you a chance to rescue the relationship.
It’s those pesky customers who don’t care one way or the other who pose the biggest challenge; they have no loyalty to you, they don’t raise their hand to complain, and they remain anonymous. But they make up the bulk of market, so how can you grow your business by winning them over?
Energizing the Apathetic
Some topics are naturally energizing – like politics. I once posted a video from my Ring doorbell of an interesting-looking bug that buzzed by, and the comments section quickly devolved into a nasty political debate even though the insect itself was apolitical.
We all care about money. When Southwest Airlines’s holiday problems cost my wife and our friends a 12-day vacation in Kauai, I sent the airline a $7,200 bill for our non-refundable vacation rental for reimbursement. They paid it, which was quite a service recovery cost, but it worked – I’m still flying with them.
Some topics generate apathy. Every time I fly somewhere, I get a Net Promoter Score question from the airline, asking me if I would recommend them to a friend. I usually ignore these surveys because my friends don’t often turn to me for airline advice and also because there’s nothing in it for me.
Customers with no strong opinions about your company won’t seek you out to tell you they don’t care. But unless you can make them pay attention to you, you’re never going to win much wallet share from them, which is essential if you’re going to grow your business. But how?
Well, first, you should tell them you want their business. This has a strange effect on customers. I love making sales calls with distributor reps and many times I’ve seen a great salesperson win over customers by persistently telling them he really hopes they’ll give his company a try. I’ve done the same thing with marketing campaigns over the years and that works, too.
Do you proactively ask customers what it would take to win their business? If so, ask them what it would take: better availability, faster service, easier ordering, more sales contact, etc.
Customers are also interested in comparative questions: How do we compare to our other suppliers you use? Finally, you can pay them for their opinions: I’ll give you a $10 Visa card to tell me what you think. If the airlines offered me 500 frequent flyer miles to tell them if I’d be willing to recommend them to a friend, I’d answer every survey.
Employee Experience Drives Customer Experience
Have you watched those social experiments where an actor starts laughing uncontrollably on a bus, and pretty soon, all the other passengers are laughing, too? Joy is highly contagious, which is why happy employees make for happy customers. My wife and I recently visited “the highest-rated restaurant in Colorado” (according to the owner, who stopped by our table). It’s a plain little family-operated café by the side of the highway and the staff (which was mostly the owner’s family) was so exuberant that we can’t wait to go back.
The State Drivers’ License Bureau near me is staffed by the happiest people I’ve ever seen in a government office; I can’t wait for my license to expire. I might lose it on purpose so I have an excuse to visit them. I’ll bet you a fortune the manager of the place is upbeat, happy and delightful – does that describe you? Do your employees love working for you? If so, customers can tell; if not, customers can’t because they stopped buying from you.
Customers love doing business with employees like that and it’s within your control to build that kind of environment. Create great experiences for employees, and they’ll win over a lot of customers for you. But miserable employees – well, you know what happens.
You Don’t Know if You Don’t Ask
My first real employer was Grainger (circa 1948 … no wait, 1984). We did a lot of customer research, but I’ve found most distributors do little or none. They tend to rely on their sales reps and ISRs for feedback and guess what? It’s all sunshine and fresh coffee even if the business is flat or declining because the people who choose to do business with you generally like you.
Feedback from your best customers is important, of course – you don’t want to do anything to drive them away. The complainers are useful because they generally represent a larger population of disgruntled customers. But you need to reach that middle group – the ones that don’t care much either way – to know how well you’re really doing compared with competitors.
A great way to accomplish this is with an incentivized Net Promoter Score survey. But not something oversimplified, like the one-question, “Would you recommend us to a friend?” survey the airlines send out. You need to know what it is about your company that stands out – or doesn’t. So, ask about different aspects of your business and then invest in improvements in accordance with the feedback you get.
You can do this yourself; there’s plenty of material on the web about how to go about it. If you want some help, let me know and we can show you our cool new “NPS for Distributors” system called Customer Experience RX. In either case, you need to energize the apathetic, and gather good input on an ongoing basis to drive continuous improvement.
And don’t forget to create happy employees who create happy customers. If they’re apathetic, nothing else you do will matter.
Ian Heller is the Founder and Chief Strategist for Distribution Strategy Group. He has more than 30 years of experience executing marketing and e-business strategy in the wholesale distribution industry, starting as a truck unloader at a Grainger branch while in college. He’s since held executive roles at GE Capital, Corporate Express, Newark Electronics and HD Supply. Ian has written and spoken extensively on the impact of digital disruption on distributors, and would love to start that conversation with you, your team or group. Reach out today at email@example.com.