The current unsettled economic environment is creating more and more skittish customers. Patrons who have been previously content with their normal purchasing activities are now giving everything a second look. Many of your regular customers may now fall into one of these three categories:
– those that will look for less costly options when doing business with you
– those who will start looking for less costly suppliers
– those that will just stop buying all together
At this particular time your main focus should be on keeping the customers you already have. King Solomon advised, “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your heads; for riches do not endure forever…” (Proverbs 27:23-4 NIV). You need to pay close attention to your customers and make every effect to understand what they need and what they are willing to pay for.
Restaurants may now consider offering lower cost alternatives like pasta dishes, less expensive cuts of meats, or lighter portions along with their staple offerings to give the more value-oriented customer a choice.
An office cleaning company began offering customers less frequent cleanings at a reduced price. When this less costly alternative was offered to one of its customers, they accepted the option rather than making the decision to do more of the cleaning themselves to save money.
Providing less expensive alternatives goes beyond just offering a cheaper version of the same thing; it is offering solid, value-orientated options for your customers.
Providing the Best Value
When under pressure some customers will be more inclined to accept competitive bids and check out other companies. In a past job position I took care of the purchasing in addition to other operational tasks. During an economic down turn I allocated more time to my purchasing duties by researching more cost-effective options. My research resulted in a change from some of our current suppliers, saving the owner of the business substantial money.
Lower cost suppliers may actually increase their opportunities in a tough market. For example, one company supplies replacement parts for mining equipment. During the boom in commodity prices many customers were inclined to automatically order from this original equipment manufacturer, placing their emphasis on fast delivery and a brand name.
However, during hard times, more customers were looking for an average savings of 15% an alternative supplier could provide. The alternate supplier actually began to increase their market shares and sales during the current slump.
Some customers just stop buying, or at least drastically reduce their spending when they feel economic pressures. Currently, more restaurant tables are empty, car lots are void of customers and clothing stores have fewer patrons as many decide they can do without the extras or the luxuries
Those who are severely pressured by the economic down turn probably cannot be enticed to buy. Others may be persuaded if you can clearly demonstrate certain benefits they find difficult to refuse.
For example, a dentist can explain the long-term consequences and costs of not treating a cavity. An oil change shop can remind potential customers of the repair costs that can present when routine maintenance is omitted.
Because your current customers are often your best prospects for new business, try bonuses like loyalty cards that offer a free meal after the customer has purchased ten meals, or offer greater discounts to businesses that purchase more volume or agree to long-term contracts.
Providing High Quality Service
Businesses must provide good value and high quality service especially in today’s environment. A deli near my house was struggling with slow business days. In order to cut costs they began using day old bread and some of their salads became a bit tired looking. As a result, a slow business became no business and the place soon closed. The Prophet Amos wrote warned about this, “selling even the sweepings with the wheat” (Amos 8:6 NIV). Customers simply will not tolerate poor quality or service.
Always remember to return calls promptly; getting back to everyone quickly is very important. I needed an electrical repair job done recently and I contacted by email a man named Frank, an excellent electrician I had used in the past, leaving three phone messages over a week’s time.
When I heard nothing back from Frank, I gave up and called someone else. When Frank finally did return my call, he told me he could sure use the work. I explained that when he did not call me back, I assumed he was not interested. While I could have waited a week for the work, I didn’t want to wait a week for his return call.
Keep Your Focus
During this current economic challenge continue to focus with great respect on your current customers and treat them as you would desire to be treated at all times, not just during economic hardship. By offering less costly alternatives where possible, providing the best values, enticing with bonus incentives, and always keeping your quality of service high, you will have a greater percentage of your customers remain faithful to you and your company until the economic pendulum swings the other way once again.
By Steve Marr