Products and brands appeal to our emotional psyche, but there is also a real need for practicality and functionality
I’ve just returned from speaking at a conference in Portugal, where I was asked to share my thoughts on what it means to be truly customer centric. In researching my presentation, the most powerful message I found was one simple image. A classic tomato ketchup glass bottle, screw cap, with a label saying “brand centric”, alongside the modern version where the bottle is squeezy, upside down and the lid is a plastic flip-top cap – labelled “consumer centric”.
Forgetting the environmental concerns, the powerful image indicates that the newer version has been created solely to suit the customer’s needs. In other words, the brand has listened to the customer and given them what they wanted.
Conversely, during my research, I found a fantastic quote from Henry Ford, creator of the motor car; “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses’,” he famously said. Ditto Steve Jobs with the iPod. “People don’t know what they want until you give it to them” was his mantra.
Fulfilling a need
So, how do we really engage with our customers to fulfil their needs by achieving an equilibrium between what they want and what we think they need? I concluded that it’s a delicate balance between the functional requirement and the emotional one. Products and brands appeal to our emotional psyche, but there is also a real need for practicality and functionality.
What became overwhelmingly apparent was that anybody wishing to appeal to their customer needs to do a whole lot more listening and a whole lot less talking. In doing so, they’ll find out where the sales niche for them is, and satisfy their customer too.
We all see sales reps in the course of our jobs and it never ceases to amaze me how spectacularly wrong they can sometimes get it. So desperate to go through their product spiel and presentation, sometimes they fail to do their homework and really question whether we actually want or need what they are selling. Because if we don’t it’s a classic short term-gain, long term pain. We will be left with something we don’t want, and they won’t get any repeat sales.
They tend to take an attitude that the strong-selling lines are doing fine so they should concentrate on the weaker areas, which may only represent a miniscule proportion of my total spend.
If they ditched sweating the small stuff and learned instead to “sweat the assets”, they could make a far bigger impact on their turnover, and mine. So busy telling me what they’re doing, they often fail to bother to ask me what direction my business (and therefore their sales) are going in.
In this age of emails and virtual communication, good old-fashioned conversation sometimes gets put on the back burner. We all work with younger people who let things slide because somebody “didn’t email back”. My screams of “well pick up the phone then!” can sometimes be heard from the other side of London. It’s enough to drive you mad.
Asking questions, gathering information, communicating well – its all part of what makes people good at their jobs, and sales are no different. Serving customers well means finding out what makes them tick and then using that as an “in”. After all, sales go up and down, but good service is forever.AA
Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London’s Sloane Square and chair of Trailblazers for the hairdressing sector.
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