Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Building The Customer Centered Business
I have owned and managed my small software business for nearly 26 years. My average customer has been with me and used my systems for 17 years.
What is it that compels a customer to remain loyal for such a long time? Customers buy and use products and services that will benefit them in the long run. So how have I maintained this base for so long? That is what I will attempt to explain in this article.
My business has centered around the development and marketing of a fairly sophisticated high end accounting system for small to medium sized businesses. This system provides things like payroll, cash management, job-costing, inventory and other important accounting functions. My customers range from professional accountants to construction firms to restaurant chains.
How many of you have been enthusiastic about starting a business relationship with a new company, only to become disenchanted the first time you required some service, or needed a question answered? How many of you have found surprises in dealing with a new supplier after you have signed on the dotted line? It seems that customer service has been replaced by something called CRM (romantic, isn’t it??). CRM is a software program that is designed to manage customer relationships. This approach, if done properly, can be an excellent one to manage a large number of customers. A good example of a company that has done really well with servicing huge numbers of customers is Amazon.com. Conversely, if this approach is mismanaged, as it is in so many instances, it can leave customers feeling angry, cheated and unheard.
When customers call my company, it is usually because they have a question about how to do something, or something has gone wrong in an unexpected way. Very often, what has gone wrong has more to do with their computer environment, their Internet connection or some other factor external to the software. However, we do not play the “it’s not the software” game. We try to diagnose the problem, whatever it is, and get them help to get it fixed. If they have an accounting question or problem, we do what is necessary to get them an answer. When they want something in the software changed or something added, we work with them to iron out a solution that is economical and will meet their needs.
In our business we take the approach that there are no foolish questions, even when the question may seem, well, a bit foolish. My industry trade journals are full of amusing stories about computer users doing dumb things and asking questions that seem very elementary, for example. In truth I am sure I could contribute many similar stories myself. Regardless, there is no situation where it is a good idea to embarrass a customer or make them feel badly that they called. That is simply unacceptable customer service.
The software business model has evolved and consolidated to the point where there are fewer and fewer small shops like ours around. We ourselves have evolved into a new business model that will carry us into the future: on line accounting services. The larger companies with millions of users, take a very different approach to customer service than we do. Often the large companies’ methods result in unsatisfactory customer attitudes toward the product and frustration with its support.
We will continue to listen and to pay attention to our customers’individual needs. No matter how many customers we sign up in the coming years, we will always try to make them feel as though they are part of something special.