Business Transformation

Creating Customers For Life – 3 Fundamentals for a Business of Any Size

One thing I’ve learned as an executive leader in a Fortune 50 firm and now a small business owner: size doesn’t matter.  For companies large AND small, putting the customer at the center of business decisions is key to long-term success. The Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) calls this “customer centricity”.

I’ve gained 35-years of corporate experience at a career with General Motors Customer Care and Aftersales; I am now venturing into another business opportunity, launching Classic Auto Management with my husband. And, although very different in terms of scale, the same core elements for creating an exceptional customer experience at GM apply just as directly to our family-owned business:  Relationships Matter.  Communicate, communicate, communicate.  Always close the loop.

Creating Customers for Life

Three fundamentals stand out for building positive relationships, communicating proactively and closing the loop effectively with customers:

Make Each Customer Feel Special – Every business is a “people business”.  Your product or service will get people “in the door” and perhaps even generate the first sale. But the relationships and reputation you build is what will keep them coming back.

Every customer contact is a chance to build your brand and earn their loyalty. With every interaction, ask yourself / your team: “Are you building your brand or deteriorating it?” At GM, each auto parts warehouse has a customer liaison focused solely on the dealerships serviced from that location. Taking the time to personalize business interactions and understand their specific needs were key to building long-term relationships and maintaining dealer loyalty… especially the past couple of years with significant supply chain disruptions related to a six-week union work stoppage and global pandemic.

Be Timely and Transparent – Whether digital or direct, communications must be timely and transparent.  This matters before, during and after each sale. Keeping your customers informed of their order / transaction status is one of the most critical factors in creating an overall positive experience… especially when the results aren’t so positive.

Effective communication is a science AND an art.  Trust your learned knowledge of each customer to keep them proactively informed without being overbearing or annoying.  Let them know what to expect, including how often there will be follow up / status updates of orders in process.

Transparency matters too.  Notify customers as soon as you know things aren’t going as planned. In both digital and direct communications, the key is to ensure there are no surprises so your clients can make alternate plans if needed. A 2020 consumer survey revealed that customers are more forgiving of delays in a pandemic. However, in return, 70 percent said they expect more proactive communication and transparency AND 70 percent are less likely to shop with a retailer again if they are not informed in advance of a delay.

Consumers will return to and frequent those businesses that keep them informed and provide an end-to-end frictionless experience. At GM, we often referred to this as the Domino’s or FedEx experience – two companies that have set the bar early on in this area of customer transparency. We were able to expedite progress by referencing these proven examples when developing GM’s aftersales digital order visibility platform.

Turn Lemons Into Lemonade – With today’s widespread product shortages, logistics disruptions and worker challenges, things WILL go wrong. Don’t miss the chance to turn a mishap into an opportunity to build your customer-focused brand. Jumping on these situations quickly and resolving to a mutual satisfaction between you and the customer are the intentional actions that will set you apart from your competition. This will ultimately create loyalty, good will and a high likelihood of gaining a vocal advocate vs being silent – or worse, spreading negative reviews and negative feedback about their experience.

When done well, effectively resolving a customer’s bad experience can actually prove to build more loyalty than if everything had gone as planned.  Don’t go as far as to create issues, but when you do have them, the focus should be on an outcome that your customer wants to share on social media.  My husband and I have been in the commercial and residential real estate business for years, adopting this philosophy from day one. Now also with our used vehicle business, we consistently focus on ensuring our clients know that their safety and satisfaction are our priority. They can count on us to be extremely responsive and thorough in closing the loop, regardless how small the issue. As a result, we have long-term / repeat clients who are extremely satisfied and often feel compelled to share their positive experiences.

The Bottom Line

It’s really ALL about the bottom line. An exceptional customer experience is a competitive advantage, positively influencing retention and long-term business results. While none of these concepts are new, these basics often get overlooked. Their importance gets minimized as time goes on and business pressures increase. And consequently, can be difficult to consistently and flawlessly execute. Specific focus on these intentional actions, and utilizing an approach like the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle to ensure consistent execution, will go a long way toward building and retaining your customer base… in a large corporation like General Motors OR a small family-owned business.

Paying attention to these customer service basics with every interaction will open the door for you and your company to Create Customers For Life.

The Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) is the global leader in supply chain organizational transformation, innovation and leadership. As the largest non-profit association for supply chain, ASCM is an unbiased partner, connecting companies and individuals around the world to the newest thought leadership on all aspects of supply chain.

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Lisa Veneziano
Lisa Veneziano is a global supply chain and operations leader with extensive experience steering high-volume business transformations and optimizing performance in a variety of functions. She led Global Aftersales Supply Chain, Warehousing and Logistics for General Motors Customer Care and Aftersales, an organization of 95 warehouses in 21 countries, and serves on the Board of the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM). Lisa has a tenacious drive to win and is recognized as a leader of high-performance teams.

Lisa Veneziano serves as an external advisory board member for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn.