Let’s pretend that you have some sort of science fiction mental telepathy mind meld with your customers. (Uh, you mean you don’t already?) You can see and understand their every thought, just like reading a book. It’s all right there. What do you think they are saying about your company?
Based on my personal experience, here are some top ideas to get you more connected with your own customers. (Sales gurus everywhere call this understanding the “Voice of the Customer”)
- Price. For a lot of customers, incredibly it’s not always about price. People are willing to pay more if they like the sales experience, or see that you are providing value. The apparel industry has somewhat of a reputation of companies undercutting each other and eating the dead. Here’s a fact: There’s always someone that’s willing to do it cheaper. However, not many companies are willing to do it better. The guy that does it better is the one that typically has larger margins, and is more successful. Add value to your sales proposition, and don’t give away the shop. Charge for your work. “Price shopper” type clients will never be loyal, but the customer that sees and understands your value and trusts you with their relationship will always be there. That’s who you want.
- Expertise. Position yourself as the expert in the field. Build your shop reputation with demonstrating your vast industry knowledge. Customers want and need someone to solve their problems for them. Is that something you can offer? Do they know to turn to you for guidance? Get the reputation as a problems solver and watch your client base grow. Demonstrate that expertise by doing things other printers can’t, including keeping your quality up and hitting deadlines.
- Partner. Long term clients are seeking a solid foundation to expand their business. You are not selling printed t-shirts, you are selling trust. Your customers want you to be integral to their success by constantly hitting home runs for them. Make that relationship easy. A few times, you may have to help them with something without getting anything in return. Earn that trust by being a good partner and provide the value your customers are seeking. Missing deadlines, quality issues, making excuses, being hard to deal with, or other challenges erode that trust. It’s hard, but not impossible to earn it back.
- Listen. Trust me, it’s not about you. Your customer wants you to listen to them. Close your mouth and open your ears. What are their problems? What are their challenges? Remember the old Stephen Covey rule from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. This is profoundly true in your customer relationships. Don’t just sell them a box of printed shirts – solve a problem for them. Stop “selling”.
- Make It Easy. Make your buying process easy for the customer to do business with you. Regardless if you are a brick and mortar shop or online, the more hurdles people have to jump over to hand you their money, the less likely they are to do so. Make the check out or buying process smoother by thinking it through. Provide accurate and timely information for them. Help with artwork or digitizing. Discuss creative solutions for problems. Suggest different ways a client could structure their order to save time or money.
- Avoid Problems. Customers see you as the expert. Help them understand situations by explaining ways they can avoid problems by doing something proactively. Anybody can “sell” them something. Not everyone can walk them through the process and provide them with good information to proactively avoid a challenge.
- Be Creative. Let’s face it, not everyone is loaded with creative talent. Customers will often turn to you for help with their art. If your art department rocks, then so will your sales. If you are somewhat lacking in this area, think about how beefing this up can help strengthen your business. Don’t have the money for a full-time staff? There are tons of freelancers out there. It’s no secret that the top shops around the country have the best art departments.
- Professional. Have you ever looked at your company through the eyes of your customer? When they walk in the front door are they greeted by someone warm and friendly? Is your shop clean and orderly? Is everyone on your staff courteous and helpful? Do you have preprinted information handy that is branded and well-designed? If your customer experience is somewhat lacking, or your staff has the social skills of a doorknob, put some thought and effort into revamping this area. You wouldn’t expect any less from stores or companies that you use, so why do you put up with it in your shop? If your customers aren’t raving to you about your staff and how awesome they are, you aren’t doing this right yet.
- Connect Personally. It seems that the larger the shop grows, the less likely they will personally connect with the people behind their orders. Purchase orders come in, are routed through your system, invoices are paid. There might be little face to face or human interaction. Get out from behind your desk every once in a while and go say thank you. Personally deliver the next order. Be sincerely appreciative. Don’t have time for all that? How about a five minute phone call. Don’t talk business, just say thank you and ask about them.
- Value. Yep, #1 was about value too. It made the list twice as it’s that important. Trust me on this…everyone can print or embroider a shirt. You have a lot of competition. Like other industries, your competition is moving online. It’s a commodity. Do you know what your value proposition is for your company? What do you offer that can’t be matched? Artwork? Quality printing? Customer service? Turn-around time? Your customers want value for their money. This is what you develop and market. Brand this idea, and constantly talk about it.
- Bonus – The Unexpected. For each order, your customers come to you for whatever they are ordering. What can you do to make the experience so over the top that they rave about it to everyone? “Because you are such a great customer”… Throw in a few extra embroidered polos or printed sweatshirts with the next order for free. Maybe some coozies with their logo printed on them. Deliver it a day or two early. Waive the screen fees. Have it delivered with a box of doughnuts or a pizza. Be creative. Your goal is to wow the customer to the point that all competitors fail in comparison, and they will brag about you to everyone they know.
Hope these ideas help you with your shop. If you’d like to explore some of these points more in depth, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s set up a time to chat.