Profitable Relationships

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Close relationships come at a cost. Really knowing the perceptions, preferences, expectations and buying habits of existing and prospective customers accord businesses considerable benefits, advantages and rewards.

Business owners, managers and staff members expect increased revenue, repeat purchases and recommendations in return.
 
Investments in data base collection, retrieval, collation and analysis require appreciable investment in time, money and resources. 
 
The information trails being exploited include reward programs, company badged credit cards, priority/reward initiatives and personalised direct marketing communications.
 
Information is power, and to many, a bankable commodity.

Higher Expectations

The latest consumer research into business practices reveals that clients and customers are aware of and sensitive to the “push” by companies to gain more information about themselves and their expenditure patterns.
 
Significant new, or perhaps previously unrecognised, findings reveal that as relationships are established with businesses, brands, services and service providers consumers develop higher expectations about customer service standards and product/service quality, they become less tolerant of suboptimal performance delivery, tend to be more expressive and, given the closer relationships, are more targeted (read: personal) in their expressions, be they positive or negative.
 
Thus, the widely held truism that customers are becoming more discerning and demanding is set on solid foundations.
 
It is a consequence of commonly applied business practices which are a conspicuous manifestation of the “relationship marketing” philosophy and era.

No Half Measures

Sadly, a significant percentage of small to medium sized businesses commit to embracing the concepts of relationship marketing, data base management, customer field farming and then decidedly compromise the principles and frustrate customers by providing insufficient funds, resources and times for the appropriate supportive infrastructure.
 
Large numbers of invaluable information banks on individual customers remain inert and rapidly aging to obsolescence because of under-resourcing ..
 
Ideally, internal or possibly external people should be assigned to work and to capitalise on the potential business enhancements for specific time spans and on specific dates to undertake nominated activities.  There is no room for “loose” undocumented, subjective expectations.
 
Close relations enable businesses, and fosters expectations among clients and customers, to customised, personal communications which provide unique and, possibly, excusive offers.
 
An active, current and malleable database enables firms and departments to fulfil the base desired performance standards of not less than 6 communications within a 12 month period (preferably, employing a spectrum of media including emails, text messages, brochures, telephone calls and personal visits)..
 
Moreover, the essence of an active data base is currency. That is, the information contained is relevant and pertinent.
 
Typically, some 1.2% to 5% of a database phase into obsolescence each calendar month.  This necessitates constant monitoring and effective management, with a total revision around every 9 months.
 
Clearly, such administrative details cannot be effectively undertaken by part time or casual employees or with a non-specific allocation of time and resources.
 
Customer relationship data bases dictate a disciplined approach. That is one of the reasons why so many are ineffective, contribute little to growth or enhance competitiveness and are perceived by some business owners, managers and staff members to be intolerable burdens.

Meeting Expectations


One interesting aspect of good performing relationship marketing data bases is that staff members are recipients of all communications before such is received by existing, prospective and past clients.
 
Low tolerance customers and clients are incensed when responding to customised communications they are confronted with an uninformed, often detached staff member who exhibits the characteristics of a person lacking product knowledge. It is not a scenario on which positive, long term relationships are founded and sustained.
 
So, getting closer to customers does come with benefits and advantages with the countervailing force of costs and obligations.
 
Relationship Audits

Important information can and should be elicited from all team members who directly interact with and service customers.
 
An audit of just how well they know their customers and their perceptions, preferences and buying habits can be enlightening, confronting and in some instances disappointing.
 
Often there is a considerable disconnect between the operation of customer data bases and an evident lack of knowledge about customers which permeates many entities.
 
The ideas and aspirations of relationship marketing data bases all to often falter because of the inadequate funding and resource allocation.  It is difficult to budget for the non delivery of potential and opportunities.
 
Like most things in life and business there is a need to recognise the inextricable association between rights and obligations, then to strike a balance between the two.


About

Barry Urquhart, MD Marketing Focus, Perth, is the author of Australia's top two selling books on customer service and is an internationally recognised authority on consumer behaviour and creative visual marketing.

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