Customers can sometimes be a bit of a double-edged sword. Much like family we love and need them, but there are times when we can be seriously challenged when engaging with them!
Before you think I’ve lost it, let me explain. It’s obvious that as channel players - system integrators, resellers and retailers (even vendors) – providing services and selling products you need customers to prosper and grow. However, certain customers simply may not be good for your business and can, in fact, hinder planned growth as well as damage your reputation and business operations.
The SME “bring it on” approach to success is to take every customer you can. If you continue to seal the deal and grow your customer base, it means you’re a success, right? Not always.
Pick up any publication over the past week and see how many stories there are relating to good partnerships/projects gone bad; that is, good relationships gone bad. To avoid becoming one of these “good bad news stories”, there are best practice disciplines you could implement at the start of any new relationship.
One of our best practice approaches, as a trans-Tasman public relations consultancy with a diverse range of clients, is through our “compatible clients” criteria. When we first meet with a client we review the following:
Company culture and staff retention: Expectations and demands placed on staff by customers can be alien to your company culture. New Zealand companies work hard to retain their ever-shrinking pool of talent and their staff is often their competitive advantage. A bad customer can impact morale and it only takes one unhappy person in your firm to spread discontent and, in an employees’ market, fed up staff will walk. If they stay it doesn’t mean they’re happy and demoralisation affects productivity, creativity and innovation.
Your reputation: If you work with customers who enable you to achieve great results, chances are you’ll look good as a result – from both an existing and new customer perspective. Too often companies hire people to achieve certain results only to then try to tell you how to do your work; choose customers who will allow you to do what they hired you for, with the least interference, and your results will speak for themselves.
Corporate values and behaviour: Never underestimate the value of that bandied about term “corporate responsibility”. To find out what a customer/partner’s genuine values are talk to peers, industry groups and associations. You’ll realise true corporate responsibility goes beyond those tidy little bullet points used in slick multi-media marketing channels.
Additionally, be aware of how they talk about their staff as they will be dealing with your team, and how they talk about partners, other customers and peers to gain insight into how they will talk about you. And finally be satisfied as a company that you don’t have a moral objection to what they are selling – this can be a more personal judgement call, but there is nothing worse than being unhappy inside that you are helping a client whose product or service you don’t really agree with.
Growth for you and your team: How many of you hire staff who want a new challenge and who are looking to grow their skill set? If you have reputable customers you’ll find many employees want to work for you, as they want to be associated with the customer. Always consider the opportunities your customer can indirectly offer your staff, such as having a good brand on a CV, challenging projects and so on.
From a bottom line perspective, it’s rewarding to have a relationship with a customer that allows “organic” growth as you develop and grow in line with their business.
Understanding of your business: It is remarkable how often a customer/client will hire professionals to do a particular job for them, without understanding what it is they do! Even the nicest customer in the world can have unrealistic expectations, which can add further pressure on those already too tight margins.
Gut feel: This is still one of the most powerful business assessment tools we have. If it feels wrong, it probably is. Steer clear.
We apply our “client compatibility” criteria to all who we work with, as we’re well aware of how much an incompatible client can not only impact our own business but the ultimate results we aim for, for our clients. Using this approach means we get to work with organisations and people we want to work with and so too can you – after all, unlike family we can choose our customers!