Making Customers Partners in your Company

“Customer partnership is a shared journey to create a future for both parties that is better than either could have developed alone.” – Emmett C Murphy and Mark A Murphy

Any company that claims to be customer focused, customer centric, customer aligned or any other such terms to indicate their affinity with putting customers first, will know that this claim will only be proven true if they are consistently making customers, partners in everything they do. Research however shows that a mere 14% companies said customer focus was what they were known for and also that only about 11% customers would agree with them. This also then means that making customers partners in these companies is not a practice.

I don’t believe that there is anyone running a business who does not know that customers are the prime reason for their existence and that they are the stimulus in every aspect of the business. Making customers partners in your company goes beyond putting the customer first but rather indicates that your company is committed to doing whatever is done for the customer so well that they want to remain with you for the longest time and contribute to your success and growth. It is about sharing benefits and happy times with your customers such that they are willing to stand by you in the toughest of times. There does not seem to be a more stable, sustainable and gratifying way of doing business that making customers partners. Doing so is a long term process but its effects include loyalty, profitability, security and the knowledge that you have gained for your company a solid foundation and foothold in today’s cut-throat and tumultuous business environment.

Making customers partners is also not just about considering them to be money making objects. Customers are real people who have the potential to raise a company to great heights by reciprocating the care and empathy showered on them and also to raze a company if displeased. Making customers partners also means that you constantly learn from them – their experiences and feedback will help you create, refine, innovate and produce offerings that could be potential miracles in today’s business world.

It is time to go beyond looking at customer service as the responsibility of one or two departments. If customers are the main reason and the motivation for companies, then having this narrow focus seems suicidal. It makes everyone else in the company believe that they do not need to and there is no requirement for them to assist with customer satisfaction which in turn serves to seriously impede the company’s growth and also limits the kind of service that the company will provide – a limited number of people within the company can only do so much, right?

Making customers partners happens when companies ‘actively listen’ to the voice of the customer. They weave the customers thoughts and opinions seamlessly and methodically into the framework of their company. Each person within the organization knows and believes customer service to be their responsibility. Such a ‘customer focused’ company will over time become more agile, have speedier responses and deliver great value not just to the customers but all those involved with the company – employees, shareholders, vendors and others.

There is no doubt that companies are constantly endeavouring to improve and even working on ‘innovative’ products and services to benefit customers. Wouldn’t it be better to check with your ‘partners’ first as to whether they see the ‘innovation’ as useful and of value? Don’t stop your insights and research at a company level – take it out there to your customers – a great way of making customers partners in your company. When you treat customers as partners you will understand them better and be able to come up with solutions and products that are not only interesting and useful but also ready for immediate ‘consumption. Rather than using customer feedback post venturing with something, it would much better to start with it. Making customers partners means that they will work with you to ensure the success of your ventures rather than oppose them because they were not consulted or because the offering does not ‘fit’ in with their thought process. If a company wants to be known as innovative then it would need to adopt a broader perspective and take suggestions into account especially from the people for whom these innovations are being done.

When you name someone as a partner, then you must truly involve them throughout the stages of the partnership. Making customers partners means that even at the start you engage with customers through online discussion forums, face to face interactions, social media ‘conversations’ and other methods that involve relational processes. It would save your company so much trouble and effort to sort out problems at a later stage with the new offering that occur because the offering does not serve a specific need for the ‘end user’, that is the customer. Wouldn’t it be motivating and stimulating to build on an idea that the customer came up with and therefore would already take in to account the specific needs of the customer? When the product finally takes shape it would already be ready for the customer, making the customer smile and be more than willing to continue partnering with you.

Making customers partners also means that you actually know your customers. This means being able to answer questions like whom in your company is the ultimate authority on customer service, how well do you and your employees know customers – starting with names and such other pointed questions. This does not imply that you have a close personal relationship with each customer – that is not feasible, safe or even required. However, what is required is having a cordial and courteous business relationship with each one. Customers need to like you, trust you and overall know that your company does not treat them well only for their business. They should see you as dependable and honest and know that they can turn to you for solutions even when the problem is not part of your company’s domain.

While you may be able to establish clout in the market place by bold numbers and data, don’t try to impress customers with just that. Making customers partners is not about throwing numbers and data at them – it is about providing them with information that will prove beneficial for them and contribute to their success. It is about challenging the traditional methods of doing business and focusing on the human aspect of such a partnership. It has to do with treating your employees right and well such that they too can make sense of seeing customers as partners. Making customers partners is a collaborative process that must be on-going and relentless. It is about addressing the emotional needs of the customer first – compelling them to look at you too as a value-added partner and provider.

Making customers partners also implies never assuming based on the past – history, data, behaviour, trends – keep it current, learn from today while only referring to the past. Let everyone in the company listen and react to the customer’s voice and then blend the thoughts and feedback of everyone to provide the best of everything to your valued partner – your external customer. The fact is that when you give your internal customers – your employees the chance to express their opinions they too feel valued and in turn show the external customers value. In today’s environment and business warfare, it will become impossible to sustain success or even run a business without actively collaborating and partnering with your customers.  Start now – it is still not too late.

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