Great question that. If you buy into the golden rule, not that “who has the gold wins” rule, but the real one, “do unto others as you have them do unto you”, then just about everyone you deal with is your customer, and yes you should treat everyone as a customer, because that is the way you want to be treated in return.
That being said let’s look at our business and talk about who our customer is?
First of all, you have your traditional customer, the guy you sell stuff to so that he in return can give you money and that makes your business work. Some would say you have to be nice to this guy or you will go out of business. The first reason to treat this transactional customer like gold is because, yes in this case the other golden rule does apply. He has the gold and you want it so; give him something so he gives it to you. We get that, it’s called business.
But customer service goes far beyond that. The thing is, when running a business, we do not want just one deal, one transaction, with any of our customers. We want to gain our customers’ business for life. In the grocery business, for example, they take the long view when it comes to their customers. They figure our how much the customer spends in store every week, and they multiply that by fifty-two weeks, then they multiply that by ten years and they get the true value of a customer. That’s why they offer you all those handy-dandy little discount card clubs and other loyalty programs. It also doesn’t hurt that by getting you to join their loyalty clubs that also get to know everything about you, including what you buy and how often you buy it, which is incredibly valuable information. Information that they then sell to big data companies for a lot more then the measly discounts they are passing along to you, their customer. But the important thing is that they spend time, effort, and money to study their customers, learning their buying habits to get to know them better and also to service them better, which is not a bad thing.
In terms of our business, we have to find other ways to do this. We must find ways to learn everything we can about our customers including their buying habits. We should find out the following:
- What they spend every year on our product?
- What are their buying habits? When do they place their orders?
- When do they decide who their vendors are going to be?
- What is their criteria for choosing a vendor?
- What really matters to them in terms of what they get from a vendor?
- What is the size of an average order?
- Who else are they buying from? Who is our competition?
- Do they have a high vendor turnover?
- Do they have a high employee turnover?
- Do they communicate well with their vendors?
- What kind of business are they in?
- What does it take to be successful in that business?
- What position do they hold in their marketplace?
- Are the industry leaders?
- Do they have a great product?
- Do they have a product with a future?
- Are they innovators?
- What is their business strategy?
- Where will they be in one year? In five years?
- What services can you provide to help them be successful in their business?
- What do they look for in supplier?
- What do they consider an outstanding supplier?
- How difficult or easy are they to do business with?
- What problems have they had with suppliers in the past?
- If your business is building custom products, what do their tools (the data they provide you to build their products) look like?
- Is the company profitable?
- Do they pay their bills on time?
- Do they understand and appreciate total value or are they all about price?
- Are they likeable? (This is much more important than you think)
- Do you believe you can have a future with them? Can they be a customer for life?
And one more, under promise, and overdeliver right? (And that by the way is a great customer service tactic on its own). Is there chemistry between your two companies? Do you fit in well together? Can you work as partners in the future, sharing the same ideas, values, and goals? If you have that, you have everything.
If you answer all of these questions diligently and you get all the right answers, chances are, you will have a good idea as to not only who your customer is, but everything else about her and that will help you to provide her with great service and outstanding products. Which is of course the goal of being a great vendor. It’s only common sense.