BUSINESS owners might think they know what their customers think of them, but according to veteran business consultant Phil Larcombe they should think again.
Larcombe says the most consistent assignments he undertakes involve finding out what customers really think of a business's product or service.
"One of the most successful techniques I've used over the years for SME owners is to address their clients," Larcombe says.
"Using surveys on a positive basis is one way of going about it. In some instances this involves a letter from the owner and usually supported by gift or giveaway as a way of saying thanks for participating."
The former West Australian, now based on the Gold Coast, says the value of engaging a consultant is a fresh set of eyes and an independent perspective.
"When you arrive at a business without rose-coloured glasses you naturally see things and identify aspects of a business the owner may not notice or in fact want to see. It allows you to address both strengths and weaknesses in consultation with the owner."
According to Larcombe, who has consulted to a wide variety of industries, this exercise is worth the effort and investment.
"This method often reveals an enormous amount of valuable and usable information about how a client's business is perceived by customers/clients - including what they think is great or well done and what they think is not being very well done.
"There is a proven fact that it is much less expensive and significantly easier to gather more business from existing customers than to generate new ones.
"It's my belief, and always has been, that if you really want repeat business with everyone you deal with you must treat them as clients - not just customers.
"Clients become almost a partner to your business. Therefore the way they are treated with the service you give them, or don't give them, matters a great deal."
Larcombe says business owners are commonly startled by the feedback they receive from their clients.
"Many of them have very little idea about what their customers think of them," he says.
"It can come as a shock when they think they are doing a great job in this area when in fact they are not. It is amazing how the attitude changes when they discover they are not as popular with their clients as they thought. It certainly helps to re-tune a business quickly."
Larcombe, who has a background in selling, marketing and personnel management, as well as general management, says the way staff treat these customers from the very first contact is pivotal to retaining them as a customer.
"The key question for any business to ask itself is: 'How well do your customers know you and what do they really think of you?' In my experience, this can pay handsome dividends for your bottom line," he says.
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