Cherish Your Customers December 2008

Last month, I suggested that you find the opportunities that the economic situation and holiday slowdown provide you. What plans did you make? Did you find a new direction? Or did you find ways to adjust your course?
Happy Holidays!
christmas stars
I hope you had as good a Thanksgiving as I did. What are your plans for the holiday season? Will your home be filled with family and friends or are you traveling? Whatever you do, please have a happy and peaceful season.

Discover their Needs
"The only foundation of real business is service." Henry Ford

I've met a number of business owners who really know their product or service well. They can list all the reasons why they have the best company to deliver the service and all the features their product has. But they tend not to discuss the benefits of their product or service to their customers.

Discover the needs
I think all business owners are guilty of this at times. We get too focused on what we do, rather than what problems we can solve. I learned some of this while working for state government. My job was to meet with employers to find jobs for people with visual impairment. I worked with some very talented people, who, given the right technology and a chance, could become excellent employees who would stay on the job. I could have walked into a business and found the easiest job for someone with visual impairment. Instead, I thought through the process from the employer's standpoint. One of my first questions to an employer was "Where do you have your highest turnover? What job has been the hardest to fill and keep filled?" Not always, but very often, that job would be one that with proper accommodation could be done by someone with visual impairment.

I knew the "product" I was trying to sell to the employers - capable employees. Product knowledge is extremely important. But the other side is equally important. You have to know what needs you can fill for the customer.

Ignore their needs at your peril
When business owners start to sell their products without first finding out the need of a particular customer, it can have disastrous effects. It's the appliance salesperson who doesn't hear the customer mention that she has six children. It's the waiter who recommends a steak to a vegetarian. It's the auto manufacturer who doesn't recognize the shift in the population toward concern for the environment and offers a gas rebate card upon purchase rather than retooling and building more fuel efficient vehicles. (Should they get a bailout? I don't know. I don't think the government should help me if I ignore the wishes of my customers and refuse to adjust what I sell. But then I don't employ anyone except myself.)

So here are some questions to ask yourself as you make plans for 2009:

  • What am I offering now to my customers that they obviously want?
  • What do I know about my customers' current needs that I am not meeting?
  • Could I meet those needs or are those needs too different from my line of business?
  • What does the future hold for my customers? What challenges will they have because of the business they are in, the loss of their retirement income, the cost of gasoline, the political shift? What advantages will they have due to these issues?
  • What challenges will I have because of the changes in the country and in the local area? What advantages will I have as a result of all the changes?
  • What one thing can I do to meet the needs of my customers in 2009?

Meet their needs and let them know
Once you have answered these questions, you will have a much better idea of how to meet your customers' needs. The next step is to make sure your customers know that you are meeting their needs. Don't add a product or service without telling your existing customers, even if you are certain that the new addition will bring in a ton of new customers. Build on the loyalty you have.

I hope you have enjoyed these columns on customer service. The subject will change in 2009 after I answer the questions above about my own business. If you have a particular subject that you need more information on, let me know. If I can offer worthwhile information on the subject, you may see it in next year's columns.

puzzle light
Last month, Barbara Robinson from Air-Stream Air-Conditioning and Heating knew that Abraham Lincoln was the President who declared the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving The person who led the effort to create this National Day of Thanksgiving was Sarah Josepha Hale. Barbara wins a $25 gift certificate.

This month, when and why did December 25 become the day celebrated as Jesus' birthday? The first person to send in the correct answer will win $25 of delicious food at Nicavid's. just in time to enjoy the holidays.

Crystallizations Training
I'll have tons of training open to the public in 2009. For a complete list of sessions, please click here.

This year, in addition to the one-session programs, I'll be offering longer sessions on Business Writing (January - March) and CHERISH Your Customers (April - June). These are sessions that are normally only available to large companies and government agencies. Email me if you are interested in attending these or the one-session programs.

Just $30 gets you a seat and handouts. (Group and multiple session discounts are available.) Space is limited so RSVP now . Please share with anyone you know who may be interested.

SMWBVO conference
Join Us at the Biggest Small Business Event
The 8th Annual Small, Minority,Women and Veteran Business Owners Conference will be held next week, on Wednesday, December 10 at the Freeman Coliseum, 3201 E. Houston St. You can register here.

The floor of the Coliseum will be packed with government agencies and corporations who want to purchase goods and services from you. Check this link for a list of last year's exhibitors.

If you need exposure in front of thousands of small business owners, consider volunteering. It's a great opportunity to bring your whole team to join this amazing small business event. Contact me for details.

Remember, Wednesday, December 10, from 7 AM to 4 PM! Free parking, free breakfast, free lunch, free admission. Oh, and amazing opportunities! Join us!

Upcoming Events
Small Business Conference Wed, 12/10, 7 AM More info...
Business Writing Basics and More Tue, 1/6, 10 AM More info...
Chamber Roundtable - I'm MC Thu, 1/8, 7 AM More info...
Managing CHANGE Thu, 1/22, 10AM More info...
Discover their Needs!
Thanks for reading. Feedback is always appreciated!
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