Love Thy Customer

Rumor has it that we're becoming a service-based economy. Some say we'll be a country doing nothing else in the not-so-distant future. While I don't buy into that extreme, if it's remotely close to the truth, then most of us have an enormous amount of work to do. Either way, service and serving others is central to the success of companies, governments and healthy relationships between people. The relationship with customers and the importance of service are rich with interesting opportunities for new thinking to create a passionate following.

Love the ones closest to you

With product differentiation becoming increasingly harder to achieve, the relationship you have with your current customers is more valuable today than ever before. If we start with the premise that it's more expensive to attract new customers than it is to keep than the ones you already have, why aren't you investing more time, resources and money in serving the business you have? Why isn't customer service the most important department in your company? Why don't you have a Customer Love department? If you're looking for justification to think about investing in this part of your business, look no further than Zappos, who celebrated a meteoric rise to a $1 billion on the back of exceptionally well-executed customer service delivered by passionate and a "we'll-do-any-thing-for-you" culture.

People before profits

Make no mistake: service starts and ends with the orientation of your culture, from the top seat to the toilet seat. A culture that puts profits before people inevitably spends less time and energy connecting with and serving the customer, who, ultimately, drives the success of the business. A culture that puts the customer at the center of every decision operates with empathy, understanding and a greater likelihood of retaining customer loyalty and a share of their dollars spent. Look at the difference in the bottom lines of Southwest and its service-centric culture versus the tired and saggy legacy carriers, or compare the Four Seasons with the Marriott.

To know them is to love them.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually in the U.S. researching customer segments, profiles, needs, wants, preferences, likes and so on. Frenetic energy and significant resources are spent validating market share and the numbers, but you'd be shocked and amazed at how little people on the inside actually understand about the customers they're making products for, and selling to. How can you improve a relationship if you don't know the people you're supposed to be in a relationship with? Do a quick reality check among your colleagues, ask some hard questions and you'll find opportunities and good reason to bring the customer to life in dimensional and inspiring ways. Take a look at Starbucks's new loyalty program, which encourages a deeper relationship and delivers benefits to both the company and the consumer.

Is it love or a curious fascination?

Take a look at what you're currently doing to show your customers that you really care about them and that you understand them. Are you building a relationship with them, therefore gaining permission to connect with them? Is it love or are you behaving like a lazy husband or disinterested friend? There's been a lot of talk about random acts of kindness and millions of dollars are invested in CRM technology, the attraction of friends on Facebook and the explosion of social media as a discipline for getting closer with customers, but what are you really doing for your customer that builds loyalty? And I'm not talking about coupons and discounts. Compare what Zingerman's Deli and their related companies do for their loyal customers versus a Whole Foods.

Start by saying thank you.

When it's all said and done, being a customer-centered company means putting the customer first. There's a massive opportunity for every company, in almost every business segment, to explore what that means. If you start with the basic premise that it's more rewarding to give than to take, we'd suggest taking a step back and looking at what that means to fall in love with and court your customer. Virgin Atlantic show their love and appreciation by providing business class passengers with a limo pick up to and from your destination, on both ends!

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