When you're first starting a business, you probably did a competitive analysis to see how you measured up to your competition. You were probably told by your consultant or “expert” that you need to know everything about your competitors so that you can create your unique selling proposition, or USP, to differentiate you from the rest of the pack
While it is important to conduct a competitive analysis so you understand your competitor's products, pricing and value propositions, they are not your biggest source of competition. You cannot create a competitive analysis for this competitor.
Why? Because the biggest competitor to your business is Customer Apathy.
Why Customer Apathy?
Most customers won't leave your business because they are unhappy with you or the service you deliver. They leave because they are indifferent to your business. There is a lack of engagement, passion and general love for your business. These customers might stay with you, but they will just as soon leave if they find another offer more appealing than yours.
Customer apathy is impossible to gauge when you are first starting out as we just assume that everyone will fall in love with our business, just like we did. Not true. It takes an enormous amount of work and time to build a loyal customer fan base, much more than just providing a “good” service or product.
If you are a small business owner, you are most likely doing the best you can with the resources and knowledge you currently have. That means you are most likely already providing a quality product, good customer service and to some degree, building relationships with at least some of your customers.
I haven't included businesses that produce poor customer service, a crappy product and do not run their businesses according to any sort of standard. Businesses like these will eventually close their doors as this is an unsustainable business model. An old Chinese proverb states “Do not open a shop unless you like to smile” Definitely true.
So What Do You Do?
The first thing is to understand that being “good” is usually not enough. People may enjoy your service or product, but are they loyal? Do you trust that they will stay with you if you had to raise your prices or a competitor opened down the street? If the answer is no, you need to start some serious bonding with your customers.
Deepen the relationship. Take the time to solidify the relationships with your key customers. Do you follow them online? Do you know what kind of work they are involved in? Get to know them outside of your business. This doesn't mean hanging out with them but rather showing interest in their lives outside of your business. Do they love sports? Do they do volunteer work? Find out more and start building some meaningful relationships.
Highlight your best customers. Give them center stage in your business. Do you highlight your customers in your newsletters? On your website? Be creative in how you can incorporate your customers in your everyday business.
Let them know you appreciate them. Continually thank them for their business and let them know just how much you appreciate it. Hand written note cards will do more for customer loyalty than any marketing campaign could ever produce. Don't just send out a mass email thanking everyone, give your best customers individual attention. It will mean alot more to them.
Read the tea leaves. Being able to sense the mood of your customer base is vitally important. Always have your antennas up, looking for that steady customer that appears disengaged with your business. Have a plan to approach them and start deepening those customer bonds.
Go Beyond Superficial Bonding
If you want to build really strong relationships and have loyal and engaged customers, you need to make relationship building a contact sport. Get in there, ask questions, get to really know your customers. The more ties you can build with a customer, both inside and outside of your business, the harder it will be for them to leave you.
Your goal should be that if a customer did decide to leave your business, for whatever reason, they will feel really bad about it. They may even apologize to you. If you can get that, you know you'redoing a good job with your relationship building. An apathetic customer would never take the time to explain why they are leaving.
What are you doing today to turn that customer apathy into customer loyalty?