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The year 2015 has been predicted to be a difficult year. The reasons for this negative prediction are not far-fetched. International oil price has dropped below $50/barrel. Oil is the main driver of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP measures the size of the economy.

The revenue base of the Nation is highly skewed towards oil revenue. Little wonder then that the current southward trend in international oil prices impact negatively on the economy. A downturn in the economy definitely affects general consumption and purchasing power. This will impact aggregate demand.

Therefore, businesses will normally witness slowdown in sales and profitability in a period of recession like this.

When the going gets tough, it is said that the tough also gets going. The key to attracting and retaining quality customers in and out of recession remains great customer service. Passion for excellent customer service should be at the Centre of your business strategy this year.

To be effective, the business strategy must be communicated to every member of staff, internalized and shared by all and sundry from the man at the gate to the Managing Director.

The first step towards guaranteeing great customer service that exceeds customers’ expectation is team spirit. If all departments and staff do not work with each other as one team pursuing the same goal, it will be difficult to achieve harmony in how customers are treated. Production/operations departments and Sales and marketing department must share same attitude and behavior towards the customers.

While businesses must strive to offer the best products and services than the market/competition, ability to deliver such promises must be ascertained. It is better to under promise and over deliver, than to over promise and under delivered. Consistency in quality service implies that businesses always keep their words.

Effective customer services demands investment in people and machines. There should be no cutting corners if you truly want to consistently deliver quality to your clients. Just like individuals should improve their talents if they want to succeed, businesses must sharpen themselves by the use of technology to improve on service delivery.

An upgrade of your production infrastructure may be necessary to meet the current taste of your clients. Training staff to use the new technology to improve service efficiency is imperative. In addition, staff must be trained on good customer service and engagement. In today’s world, the use of social media as the fastest means of customer engagement cannot be over-emphasized.

How you communicate through social media should concern you as a business owner. The company can easily suffer reputational damage if unwholesome messages are released through such platforms using the company’s identity. Facebook is one platform that you must be careful about.

As a businessman, you must appreciate the true value of a customer, which Andrew Reid says goes beyond their wallets. Customers are willing to provide attention, data and opinion that will go a long way to drive quality customer service if the business will understand the true value of the customer.

How do you deal with customer Com¬plaints? Do you just consider such customers as troublesome ones? Do you investigate their complaints and quickly get back to them? Truth is; it is only customers that love you that will complain about poor services. Others will simply take a walk. Research has shown that one dis-satisfied customer will certain cost you eight others.

Customer preferences and tastes are dynamic. This must be closely monitored and responded to. The market and the entire business environment change with time. You must offer the type of product and service that is consistent with today’s demand. Otherwise, your offering will be out of tune with today’s realities.

Richard Branson (founder of Virgin group) says “if you wish to win in business, make sure the customer wins also”. You must ask the question about what customers’ needs your product/service are meeting? How do these products/services serve the customers’ needs? Branson says if you get into business only to make money, you won’t. But if you try to make a difference, you will find success.

Business success reflects in sales volume and profitability – sustainable ones at that. What the foregoing means is that you must not set profit target as an end in themselves. The mantra should be to “seek first to offer consistent and reliable customer service, and every other thing shall be added on to you”.

You have got to build sustainable relationships if you are to attract the greater share of customers’ value. There are two surest ways of doing this: Be personal and customize your services according to key customers’ needs and preferences.

Some businesses treat customers as mere nominal phenomena. They forget that customers are not just data as delivered by CRM vendors, but humans with both social and psychological features. Time is gone when we think that one-size-fits-all service models still work. There is need for personalized services. Bespoke services are the in-thing if you want to make a difference in the market place.

Most people make the mistake of focusing only on financial gains in every encounter with customers. Experts advise that in pitching for any sales contract or customer acquisition exercise, focus more on what the client stands to gain by buying your product or service, rather than beclouding your mind with the inordinate quest for profit.

In the bid to secure sales and profitability, most sales people fail to even under¬stand what the client’s pain-point is. This is a sure way to deliver the wrong solution. But if you pay attention to the major reason why the client is looking for a new service provider or product, you will gain insight into how best to serve the new client.

Just as no idea is a virgin, every new customer you have has been someone else’s customer before you. A satisfied customer will not only guarantee repeat buys, but will also give you referrals to friends and associates, thereby maximizing the life-time-value of such a customer.

This year, can you measure the sales and profits from existing customers? Remember we said in our last edition of this column that whatever goal that you set must be measured. Setting goals on customer satisfaction is crucial this year 2015, and the best way to measure this should be sales from existing customers, which includes repeat buys. You also need to track the value of referrals from existing customers.

NB: Mark Oguh, a Fellow of Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and a Financial Management Expert wrote in from St. Anthony’s Parish, Gbaja, Surulere, Lagos. Contact mark.oguh@ gmail.com

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