If you’ve ever listened to a futurist, you’ll soon realise that nothing about the future is predictable. As a business owner, however, you’re often tasked with making decisions about what you can do now to ensure your business remains viable in the coming years. Longevity comes from canny investment in the right things: quality, valuable ongoing customer engagement, and independent accolades.
Lead with quality
Quality products and good customer service are the best foundation you can have for a business. You can have all the bells and whistles, with a great-looking website and the best search engine optimisation and marketing your money can buy, but if the customer receives a product that doesn’t meet expectations, all trust is quickly eroded. Consistent quality in both product and service not only builds people’s trust in your brand, it is also essential to bring in repeat business.
Invest in product quality, even at the expense of giving up the mantle of being the cheapest. Relying on your business’ products or services being low cost isn’t sustainable because there will always be someone who will undercut you—even if only temporarily until you go out of business—to gain market share.
My family has been making furniture in Australia for more than 60 years and I have been raised to be pedantic about product quality. Close to the furniture manufacturing process from a very young age, I have been able to put stringent processes in place with our factories in Asia to ensure the end product meet the highest standards, in both product quality and packaging.
We quality check every single order, which may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it prevents the much bigger expense of the furniture not being right and costing us our market. It’s important to understand the lifetime value of a customer if you plan to be in business for the long run.
Why ‘10 per cent off’ is a turn-off
As well as investing in measures to earn repeat business, you should also value your customer by putting a premium on their engagement. This is especially true for any point of communication, including via social media, and any marketing efforts you undergo. The currency is not their time but their attention. If you waste their time, you will erode any attention they have in reserve for you.
Build a community where there is genuine engagement rather than a one-way street of you marketing to them. Not only will this give you an insight into what your customers are saying—including the things they like about you and the things they don’t—it means you can tap into their ideas and suggestions. When a customer feels their opinion is heard and valued, they are more likely to possess brand loyalty, which goes some way to future proofing your business.
Similarly, don’t waste customers’ time with bad offers. We never send out an email offering 10 per cent off our products—it’s simply not attractive enough. Customers will respond well when their time is valued, so only send marketing material and deals that are worth their time. It may mean you make fewer marketing offers, but you’ll get a better hit rate on the offers you do make because customers will learn that messages from you are worth their attention.
Find an independent advocate
A great business cannot be great only on its own terms—for true longevity you need independent recognition of your efforts. This engenders trust in potential customers and it provides existing customers with confidence in their choice of your products/services.
Independent referrals come in many forms. Reviews are often a good way to engage your customer base and even bad reviews can be beneficial so long as you act in a way that eventually satisfies the customer. The transparency of the process is key.
In addition to informal customer reviews we like to seek recognition from trusted brands. At the moment we sport a Google Trusted Stores badge, one of only four online retailers in Australia to have this. It’s a money-can’t-buy endorsement of our high customer satisfaction rating from one of the internet’s biggest brands.
Awards such as the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year program are also fantastic for a variety of reasons. The process of applying is rigorous and it forces you to think about gaps in your business that could be bridged. After winning one, I can also say the industry-wide recognition from a respected brand is also incredibly valuable as it places faith in the business.
There are no quick wins when it comes to the long game and all of these future proofing tactics take time—nothing worth doing is quick and easy. By building your defences on the foundation of quality, value and trust, the longer you’ll stay in business and the longer you’re in business the more likely you are to survive changes in the market and new threats from competitors. See you in several years’ time.
*Original Article by Dean Ramler: http://www.brw.com.au/p/business/mid-market/ramler_art_dean_future_proofing_dMmSt97bo7T3oxUy6iacvN