It takes two to tango--a customer-company relationship with only one partner doing its part will fail.
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Much has been written about organizations' responsibility to delight customers by improving their experience and solving their problems--in short, about loving them. Very little is written about customers' responsibility.
Strativity Group has, through customer experience workshops, looked at the role of the customer in an optimal, long-term business relationship. The reality is that companies have failed to develop workable models of what good customer relationships are, to say nothing of what companies must look for in customers. If enterprises are seeking a single transaction, payment will be a sufficient outcome. If we invest in long-term relationships, however, the role of the customer must expand. Customers should be responsible and be accounted for when firms measure profitability and the prospect of keeping the relationship.
In relationships--as opposed to transactions--we expect the customer to
purchase, and pay on time;
forgive when we make a mistake;
have reasonable expectations;
upgrade to newer models when applicable;
accept some of our accessories;
not focus just on price;
give us a large portion of her budget allocated to this product or service;
recommend and evangelize if we do a great job;
notice the value delivered to her and not take it for granted;
be honest and not try to take advantage of us; and
not rush to competitors at any possible opportunity.
These customer roles and responsibilities bear specific financial consequences. Imagine working with a customer who expects perfection and does not forgive mistakes. How to live up to this expectation? Do logistics support such requirements? What will be the costs of pleasing her when mistakes are made? The conclusion, when measuring all these factors, must be that this particular customer will not be profitable. If this is the case, let her go--the competition can lose money on her.
We often avoid these tough choices in the name of market share, but it is time to make them. A company should, to be profitable, establish relationships with customers that include an outline of mutually agreed upon roles and responsibilities. Sure, every organization has its share of responsibilities to take care of and businesses are far from perfect, but making sure to work with the right customers is a priority. A company that allows vague, undefined customer roles and responsibilities easily experience misunderstandings and abuse. Customers will take advantage and the relationship will not be reciprocal or profitable. Without an appreciative customer willing to carry her weight, a company will not be able to provide delight, let alone be profitable.
Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group and the author of several books. His latest book is Passionate & Profitable: Why Customer Strategies Fail and 10 Steps to Do Them Right! (John Wiley & Sons, 2005)
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