Listen to your customers if you want to drive loyalty

Niall Baker of Breaking Blue discusses how asking the right questions and listening to customers can drive customer loyalty in B2B markets

In business there are always points when organisations are guilty of treating their customers as just that – a customer.  You take them for granted assuming that, as they come back to you time and time again, you’re providing them with the products and services they want, but how can you be sure that they’ll keep coming back?

We know B2B customers have become increasingly price conscious over the past few years.  There’s no doubt that quality is the overarching factor for supplier selection in nearly all industrial markets, but this is also an area that is becoming more and more competitive, just look at how Chinese manufacturing has caught up in terms of product performance and are still able to offer very attractive prices.

When supplier-customer relationships are purely transactional it makes it so much easier for customers to take a punt on someone new.  All they’re thinking is ‘those guys are offering me pretty much the same product at a far cheaper price, I’ll go with them!’  And who can really blame them?

In increasingly competitive markets manufacturers need to move beyond thinking of those buying our products and services as ‘customers’ and think of them as ‘partners’.  A ‘customer’ is someone you give your products and services to for an agreed price with little more thought beyond that, a ‘partner’ is someone you deliver products and services to based on a greater understanding of their needs and shared understanding that both parties are working towards common goals.  Customers come and go, looking for quality solutions at decent prices, but partners are long-term buyers who see the value in working with you because of your empathy with their challenges and willingness to help.

I’ve been really impressed by the way some of our clients have taken this to heart and set themselves the challenge to look at how they can become more effective in the marketplace by focusing on developing partnerships.  This goes beyond looking for satisfaction and importance ratings, to explore ‘whys’ and ‘hows’.  They know it’s all about listening and reflecting on where their clients are heading strategically, going beyond the simple, transactional approach to offering far greater long term value for money to the people they service.  It also involves looking beyond direct accounts at the end user to really understand how your actions impact further along the value chain and to anticipate your customers’ future needs.

Ultimately you want people to see the value in working with you, getting them to think along the lines ‘I really want to work with these guys, they know me, my business and my customers better than anyone else, I can’t afford the time and risk of trying someone else’.  This means being a bit bolder, not shying away from the difficult questions, being willing to take the criticism on the chin and learning to adapt in ways that lead to longer term partnership working.