Editor’s note: Joe Langner is executive vice president, midmarket solutions, at Sage North America, an Irvine, Calif., business management software and services firm.
The year 2012 was a whirlwind of influences on the business landscape – some of them good and some of them not so good. The fiscal cliff, the Presidential election, an anemic economic recovery and Hurricane Sandy’s effects on business are a few things that come to mind. Despite the ever-changing business landscape, one central tenet always rings true: keep your customers happy.
So what can we do in 2013 to continue this mantra?
At Sage, our focus is the customer experience. We’ve done a number of things in the last year that I’d like to share with you. While Sage is a large company, many of the lessons we’ve learned can easily be applied to any business – small or large, in services or manufacturing, a brick-and-mortar or e-commerce. Let me share these lessons with you:
Know your customers and adapt to them. We recognized that our customers had grown accustomed to purchasing products and services in their personal lives on a monthly subscription basis (Netflix is a good example of this) with the benefits of a short-term commitment and without the need to spend a lot of money up front.
To that end, we decided to offer our products in a payment method that our customers are already familiar with: as a recurring service based on subscription. Our business management software is now available as a subscription license, meaning no huge investment up front, which makes it easier for businesses to reduce initial capital expenditure to improve their cash flow and simplify budgeting. We knew this would significantly help our customers – especially in light of the recent economic situation.
Put yourself into your customers’ shoes. Perhaps you can offer more flexible payment or billing options that are more convenient to your customer. If you run an e-commerce business, consider extending your customer service hours by one hour in the morning and one in the evening – to accommodate shoppers in different time zones. If you are a distributor, consider a change to your customer communication regarding their sales orders, perhaps via text message or other more immediate modes of communication.
Give your customers more. As a big firm, Sage has the luxury of access to tons of data – something our customers (who are smaller businesses) typically cannot get their hands on. We took the data that we already had, analyzed it and turned it into actionable information that we could provide to our business partners. We are using the data to help our business partners better serve their clients and understand where there might be opportunities for growth. With this free data, they are now able to identify the highest potential sales opportunities, which, ultimately, help grow their business.
For many shoppers, the first thing they do before visiting a new merchant is check their reviews online and then look for discounts. How can you capitalize on this trend? You can offer coupons on your Web site or social media platforms. Consider developing a loyalty program that gives your most frequent customers discounts and other perks. Also think about other resources you could provide your customers. Perhaps you have a friend or employee who is an expert in an adjacent area who can offer free classes at your business. A bakery, for example, could offer free cake-decorating classes or even jam-preserving classes (adjacent, but still relevant). If you have a manufacturing plant, you could offer your customers discounted shipping during the off-season. If you own a consulting service, consider extending a free hour of advisory services for a particular specialty of your firm.
Show your customers that their feedback really matters. At Sage, we’re constantly reviewing our processes to determine the best ways to deliver a memorable customer experience – one of which is acting on customer feedback. One example can be seen with Sage BusinessCare, a service plan with different levels that provides our customers direction and support based upon how they are using our software. Our customers had provided feedback to us, indicating that the lowest level of Sage BusinessCare, the bronze level, was not providing much value to those who subscribed. We listened to them and, as a result, eliminated the bronze level. This is just one example, but you can use this lesson to do the same with your customers. Take “listening” a step further by backing it up with some action. Your customers will remember and value your business more than the competition.