Once upon a time, I did some research about customer transactions for a company that had an office where customers could come in, sign up for new accounts, make payments on existing accounts and otherwise transact business. My task was to learn more about why customers were coming to the facility to transact business when they could just as easily, actually even more easily, complete the transaction online. What I discovered from one certain customer caused me to rethink business transactions.
She was a senior citizen, not quite what one would call elderly. She waited patiently in line behind several others, then approached the counter and interacted with the clerk. It appeared that she made a payment of some kind. I approached her as she was leaving, identified myself and told her I was doing some research. She brightened up and told me she would be glad to participate. She told me that she had internet service, lived some distance from the facility and always made her monthly payment in person. When I probed about the reasons she did so instead of using her computer at home, she quickly responded, “Because Becky always asks me about my back.”
What I learned was that hers was as much a social interaction as a business transaction. I also begin to wonder if some businesses were placing too much emphasis on the mechanics of their customer transactions to the detriment of the emotional element of their transactions. Of course, I also learned that every customer is different and that not all customers value the same thing in a business transaction.
The key is to know what customers want. And not just customers as a bundle, but each individual customer. That can be tricky and time-consuming. Algorithms and artificial intelligence may be getting better at personalizing transactions, but sometimes it can backfire. Overuse of technology can remove that personal touch and cause the loss of a customer.
Recently, an employee of a nonprofit organization told me about a fundraising effort that was about to begin. She told me about the specific program that the funds would be used for. She also told me to mention her name when I made the contribution. She also suggested a modest amount. Any amount was fine as long as I contributed something and mentioned her name. I suspected some competition among employees was going on.
The initiative was something that I wanted to support, so I went online and made a contribution several times the amount suggested. The online transaction was efficient. It even provided a box to enter the name of a person who referred me if I wished to do so. Less than 10 seconds after clicking “Submit” on my computer I had a new email in my inbox thanking me for my contribution. It was the most generic, simple “thank you” I believe I have ever seen. Two sentences, no personalization and no mention of the person I said referred me. That was a month ago. I haven’t seen the employee or received anything else since then.
Here are my seat-of-the-pants recommendations for creating successful transactions:
Know your customer. Is your primary customer a male, female, young, old, new, etc.? Know the demographics of your customers. Who is it buying your product or service?
Learn what your customer really values. One of the keys to amazon.com’s success is that it has shortened the time between desire and fulfillment. Online customers probably value things like convenience, speed and the ability to shop more than the customer who goes to the mall.
Determine how to satisfy the customer. Once you know what the customer really values, then figure out how to fulfill that desire. I believe we have overused the term “exceed customer expectations.” I know it’s tough. Companies are trying hard. But some customers want more than just the basics of the transaction. Use technology, but don’t over-digitize. By the way, do you think most of the customers sitting in a Starbucks Cafe really are there because of the coffee?
Train employees — I recommend regularly checking the Gallup organization website to better understand what employees want.
Follow-up with customers. Maybe even make phone contact with them. Beware of online reviews. There are companies now that are paid to make phone good online reviews. When looking at online reviews though, pay attention to those from obvious real customers.
Monitor trends. What do customers want in the transaction, not just what they are buying. And keep up with society trends. I recommend faith popcorn.com as a good source for that kind of information.
Finally, let’s look to a couple of experts on this subject.
Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.”
There are customers out there who are looking for you. Help them find you by being where they are looking. Places like Yelp, Angie’s List, Google Maps, Google Search, Social Media and their peers. Yes, their peers. One of the primary sources of information is other people.
Jeffrey Gitomer, sales trainer, author and speaker, has said, “Your customers are judging every aspect of every transaction and rating everything, from friendliness of people to ease of doing business to quality of product to service after the sale.”