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The Economic Downturn made You do What?

16/12/2008
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Using the challenges of the economic downturn as a reason (or read as an excuse) to neglect your commitment to offer superlative customer service is a huge mistake. As I see it, the current market correction will test the métier of every industry, business owner, and sales representative and what I see is tremendous opportunity to serve our market place with knowledge, integrity, honesty, solutions, and focus.

Regardless of where you work today; be it in real estate, auto sales, financial services, pharmaceuticals, luxury goods or in any number of people focused, product driven industries, your ability to rise above the morass and offer calm expert knowledge, creative yet clear solutions without feeding off the fear, fueling the hysteria or putting on a dog and pony show will make a difference.

Superlative customer service is not about fake smiles or basement prices, it is about attentive, value driven service.

The fact of the matter is that you went into business because you had an expertise, product or service to offer, I presume? This is not the time to let negativity vanquish that spirit of excitement that put your business on the proverbial map. This is, given the economic conditions, the time to recognize that your clients/customers will be judicious in selecting how and with whom they wish to continue to do business.

I believe that businesses that stay in constant honest communication with their customers, ask how they can better service the needs of said customers, and remain proactive in finding solutions to concerns will thrive in the current shift.

While my views might sound good on a blog, let’s look at some simple, yet practical applications to help grow our businesses in this downturn by translating theory into legitimate market practice.

Reach out and touch your customers by expressing your gratitude for their business and acknowledging them with a personal note, a call, a warm handshake and thank you when they stop in, or even with the true and tried “special” for their loyalty. Show appreciation by thanking them individually for their loyalty and by continuing to differentiate yourself from your competition with a positive attitude and great service. After all, loyalty does have its privileges and I have yet to meet any business owner whose services are indispensable in the I-am-the-only-one-who-does-this-so-take-it-or-leave-it mode.

Even so called specialty markets or business monopolies have a limited shelf life; sooner or later a competitor shows up or the customer moves on to other, greener pastures. Market competition means that your customers can always find alternatives for what you offer and if you have an indifferent attitude, you are two steps away from losing market share; the first step to losing market share is having a lousy product.

Re-ignite your passion by shoring up your knowledge base, evaluating the market for your product/service and looking for new ways to improve your product/service and revamp your business. Is there a business that is thriving in your field or locality? What are they doing differently? Are they building customer confidence by offering honest assessments of the market while continuing to service the needs of said customers?

Nothing is more annoying than to patronize a business that over time makes no attempt to introduce fresh approaches to keeping customers happy and interested; learn to shift with the times and innovate by finding ways to become more efficient and effective at delivering your services.

Don’t disparage the competition. Desperate times don’t have to call for desperate actions. Yes, it is tempting to lambast the competition while angling for that new account or new real estate listing but in the long run, your integrity is called into question when you either don’t deliver on your mealy mouth promises or the competition trumps your offer with far better delivery on their services. Stick to your strengths and especially your good reputation (assuming you have one), the value your business brings to the marketplace, and why you are committed to honor this business opportunity.

Quite frankly, claiming to be the best is irrelevant if it cannot be substantiated; outlining a plan on how you will do the best for the customer is a more credible approach.

Maintain a presence in your industry and community by sponsoring relevant events, attending productive business conferences where positive innovative trends are shared, and sharing your insights, success stories and expertise with a variety of media outlets. There is no point in treating your business as happenstance; exposure is critical to your survival and if you do a great job, let others know. If you have a fear of public speaking, select a reputable PR firm to represent your interests or a key employee whose vision mirrors yours and make them a spokesperson for your business. Taking a class to overcome your fear is another solution.

Furthermore, aligning your business with local charities, important causes and other businesses that do good deeds in your industry and local community will help you build trust, respect and ultimately customer retention.

Emphasize the uniqueness of your product or service by researching new ways to communicate and position your business in the market. Have you attended an event or conference organized by an unrelated industry? Have you sought fresh ideas by looking at how unrelated companies are responding positively to market changes?

I am emphasizing “positively” to remind you that in a downturn economy, there are reactions that are ubiquitous (cut costs, people, services etc) and then there are inspirational, innovative responses that reconnect the customer to the product/service. What are you doing to address this potential for developing new business opportunities and growth? How remarkable have you made your product/services to make customers clamor for more?

Encourage your employees, assistants, and any new hires by presenting an open, genuine forum for sharing insights and suggestions for improvements, by offering them necessary and adequate training, by sharing your vision/personal philosophy for the business and expected levels of service, and by teaching and modeling great service. Open, honest communication is fundamental to deflecting employee rancor; maintaining a respectful work environment where even dissenting voices are heard is imperative.

Surrounding yourself and your business with sycophants and mini-me minds is neither productive nor lucrative to growth. Motivate your people by applauding their efforts and encouraging everyone to contribute and achieve. Are you ready, willing and able to receive employee suggestions or is this a futile exercise? Some of the best advice can come from those whose views reflect the shortcomings of yours.

Ask for help when you really need it and check your ego at the door. If you do not ask your customers, with permission, for the extra orders, the bona fide referrals, the vote of confidence or support for your new options, then you are missing a terrific opportunity to provide meaningful services. It is also imperative that you ask for honest feedback from your customers and that you act, within reason, on those suggestions that are feasible to implement.

If you plan to implement a new policy in price, product availability or level of service, give your customers some notice, a compelling and logical reason, and a timeline. If not, they will see your actions as cavalier or as a disdainful decision that ignored their needs and the support they have continued to give to your business. Remember that asking for the deal, order, referral, and/or feedback demands a reciprocal commitment to deliver comparable excellent results on said requests. Of course, don’t forget to write and say “Thank You!”

Watch your hypocrisy meter and remember that while things might be great for you now, other less fortunate souls could use some sincere help and cheer. Remember that when one door closes for your neighbor, another far more lucrative one can open and so your gloating today over another’s loss could be their success story tomorrow. Then the loss will truly be yours. How can your business make a difference in the lives of real people around you? See the potential good in others yet stay away from negative people and environments that focus on fault-finding instead of solutions.

Surround yourself with people, places, and projects that keep you motivated and upbeat. This is not about seeking feel good, unrealistic assessments of the business environment but about looking at ways to stay rejuvenated and ready to effect positive change and growth; both personally and professionally. How rich is your spirit of giving this season?

Take time to breathe, take a walk, a coffee break, a rejuvenating class or two and to regroup. It is quite pointless to run yourself ragged because your industry is hard hit and your customers are headed south. Focus on the present and how to make your business relevant to customers who are in the here and now.

Even if customers leave, you can find new ones if you have been attentive to making your business valued and your services exceptional. Creativity kicks in when you give your body and mind the time and space to refresh and re-evaluate your current business structures and strategies.

Breathe deeply and conduct a reality check of what you do. Have you been attentive and offered product/services that meet the wants/needs of your clients or customers? Did you stay open to suggestions and in communication with your market? Breathe.

Breath is life and the time we spend breathing in deeply and exhaling fully can make the difference in clearing the fog and guiding us in the right direction for finding solid business solutions to persistent problems. A gentle yoga class could potentially add new life or rasa (Hindi for essence/character) to your body, your projects and your business.

Manage your budget, people and mind with clarity, integrity and a view to reduce excesses and maximize value. It can be difficult, especially with current market conditions, to stay focused on morale building and cutting excess without jumping on the lemming bandwagon and embracing its futile outcome.

Instead of the mass negative approach, start with calming the machinations of your mind, then focus on removing the non-essential business/office items that clog your daily operations. If/when you graduate to staff reductions, be fair and clear. Be proactive in mentoring and validating your workforce so that even those transitioning out will feel their contributions added some value to the whole.

Re-kindle your Can-Do spirit by revisiting those motivating, faith-increasing, elevating, activities that always picked you up when you felt anxious or overwhelmed in the past. Do you believe in a higher power or have a religious based faith? Do you have talents and skills that have fallen by the wayside and need to be rehabilitated? Do you have support teams, memberships, and associations you let flounder?

Reconnect with those positive past activities and communities as they can provide you with the necessary respite you need or even provide new ideas and resources to help you weather the storm and refocus on what you do best. After all, you are the BEST!
Happy Holidays!

Until Next Time…
Ask. Believe. Receive. ©
Elizabeth Obih-Frank

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Goz permalink
    23/12/2008 10:38 am

    Love the title. Loads of good advice… too much at a go?

  2. 06/09/2011 7:49 pm

    Yes, a bit much for a first go around… but valuable information nevertheless… te he! 🙂

  3. 23/08/2013 1:14 pm

    The economic downturn was all good who found the space to pause on the real values in life.

    Great post. An old one, but really valid.

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