Buy from Yourself Once a Month (and 7 More Ways to Attract and Retain Customers)

Buy from Yourself Once a Month (and 7 More Ways to Attract and Retain Customers)
By Louis Columbus

Now is the time to pull back from aggressively pursuing speed above all else and dedicate more time to nurturing customer relationships. The time and effort invested in treating customers more like collaborators can pay high dividends, including valuable feedback on product strategies, roadmaps, service levels and product quality. The following are eight ways manufacturers can get started.

Start a customer success program. Customer success concentrates on identifying how the core strengths of a manufacturer can help customers achieve their goals. It differs from account management, which tends to be more reactive and based on fulfilling customers’ requests. By contrast, a strong customer success program will have dedicated managers own every account and engage with customers to anticipate their challenges, problems and roadblocks in order to preemptively help provide solutions. In a North Highland survey of 700 executives, 87% say customer experience is their main growth engine. A sure sign of an effective customer success program is its role in reducing churn, lowering acquisition costs, driving upsell and cross-sell revenue and increasing customer lifetime value.

Conduct quarterly customer advisory councils. A customer advisory council or customer advisory board (CAB) is one of the best ways to get customers’ feedback and stay in sync with them to earn future business. CABs often review current and future product plans, changes in production processes and product and service quality. It’s a powerful strategy for creating greater shared ownership of current and new initiatives with customers. The most effective CABs enable manufacturers to get feedback on future product designs and how they can best integrate with customers’ current production plans.

Try buying from yourself once a monthThe ongoing labor shortage is leaving many manufacturers’ customer service and support departments short-handed and unable to get back to customers quickly. This has opened an opportunity to turn service and support into a competitive strength. Consider using the test Jeff Bezos applied at Amazon as described in the book, “The Everything Store.” While in a meeting with Amazon’s then global vice president of customer service during the holiday season, he called the customer service line and waited for several minutes—in contrast to the VP’s claims of sub-minute wait times. Similarly, manufacturers who try placing an order with their own companies will gain first-hand insights into how easy or difficult it is for customers to work with them.

Be relentless about tracking customer satisfactionIt’s better to trust actual data on why customers are satisfied or not instead of relying on hearsay or anecdotes. Using SurveyMonkey or comparable online survey platforms, manufacturers can create customer satisfaction surveys that are easy to edit and customize for each segment of customers served. For example, one Midwestern manufacturer offers $5 Amazon gift cards for each completed survey. The data captured is then presented at monthly company-wide meetings, held in a brown bag university format, which the CEO says provides an excellent forum for sharing what’s going well and what needs improvement. These sessions also feature outside speakers, such as customers or quality management experts discussing the latest production techniques.

Get a CRM system everyone can use. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems automate the process of getting sales, marketing, production, service and senior management in sync with what’s going on with customers. Integrating CRM with marketing automation and websites can provide a significant first step in creating a lead-generation engine. Use the website to offer valuable content to prospective customers in exchange for opting in with their contact data. Use marketing automation to get started with lead scoring, and then use the CRM system to prioritize all new prospects.

Make sustainability a priority. In a survey by Fleishman-Hillard, 79% of consumers say that brands should focus on developing working practices that protect the environment as they prepare for the future. Retailers, tier-one manufacturers, and others have gotten the message. Not only are they investing in sustainability measures for their own businesses; they’re also considering the environmental impact made by tier-2 manufacturers, suppliers and other partners. Sustainability efforts may focus on a plant’s operations—for example running energy-efficient smart machines and heating/cooling systems or committing to zero waste. Other manufacturers are building sustainability into their products that use new compostable materials or a higher percentage of scrap or recycled content. Equally important is the ability to track and document sustainability practices when business partners ask for proof.

Be transparent with customers on quality management data. Visibility builds trust, a loyal customer base, and solid repeat business. Take the case of a manufacturer that produces protected cable enclosures and custom-made cables. The company has customized its quality management systems to provide the specifics of each production run’s quality results to every customer. It started with a defense ministry requesting quality data for each shipment. The manufacturer soon implemented it across all customers. This has resulted in fewer customer audits and more repeat orders because the world’s leading defense ministries and their contractors now trust the supplier with their most critical orders.

Differentiate with short-notice production runs. Offering short-notice production runs is an effective strategy for attracting new customers and solidifying relationships with current ones. It’s also proving effective for translating excess production capacity into high-margin production runs. For example, a plastics manufacturer’s core customers now store their custom molds onsite and schedule short-notice production runs, sometimes the same day they need the parts. The plastics manufacturer is running two shifts, relying on integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution system (MES) software to ensure schedules are accurate so they can find gaps in the production schedule that can be offered to customers needing this service.

By implementing one or more of these strategies, manufacturers can more closely align with customers’ needs and priorities to drive both new business and long-term loyalty.