_____ Come out
_____ fighting

"Most of us never recognise opportunity until it goes to work in our competitor's business"
 -  Anonymous

"The opposite of the 'me-too' strategy is the 'nice strategy',"
 -  Edward de Bono in Tactics

he year: 1984. A high-level team set out on a special mission. It's goal: to destroy a competitor. The team determined to use any tactics that would disrupt the existing marketplace order and create advantage of its company products

Guy Kawasaki, a member of the team called together by an upstart company, Apple Computer, specialised in software evangelism. He had to convince developers to create software for the Macintosh  -  vital for Apple's survival, let alone the downfall of hated competitor, IBM.

Fuelled by zeal, Kawasaki and friends happily worked 90 hours a week. After all, they were on a crusade to save the world from domination by IBM's "blue-suited meanies".

To disrupt the market, they created a user-friendly interface, something the world had never before seen or even thought possible. Next, they introduced excited computer users to innovative software, like easy-to-use desktop publishing programmes. Then they incited customers to "evangelise"  -  sell  -  for them.

A great time

Alhough Apple didn't topple IBM, Kawasaki and his crew succeeded in driving "the Big Blue" up the wall and, in the process, won a big chunk of the computer market. The team also had a great time.

What lessons did Kawasaki learn from his marketplace disruptive endeavours that you can apply to your business?

To create advantages that diminish the power of industry leaders, or just everyday competitors, takes clear, shrewd thinking as well as guts, hard work and a willingness to buck convention. It means knowing yourself and your competitors so well that you can give them what the want and need  -  even before they think of it. Idiosyncratic American financial consultant Jim Rogers says it's extremely simple to play it safe by following the crowd. But he warns that following the trend is the fastest way to bankruptcy.

"Nobody," asserts Rogers, "gets rich following the trend."

"It's respectable and everybody sitting around the pub says: 'I'm doing this.' and you say: 'I'm doing this, too.' And the third guy says: 'I'm doing it, too.' But that's no way to get it right. It's a fast way to bankruptcy, no matter what the field is."

To break away from the herd, you have tempt fate; break the rules. You have to be curious, creative, enthusiastic and tireless. Your willingness to challenge "the way it's always been done" will help propel you way past all of the other runners in the race.

Nobel Prize

For example, there were two guys, Alex Meuller and Georg Bednorz, who toiled for the "Big Blue" in Zurich back in the 1980s. They broke every rule in the book. After all, disobeying the orders of a superior at IBM was, in those days, the ultimate sin. Yet their disobedience earned them the 1987 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Research:
What you do when you don't know what you're doing.

The two researchers spent three years looking for a way to make superconductors that would carry electricity at very high speeds without resistance.

Although neither Meuller nor Bednorz had worked in the area before, Mueller had  -  almost casually  -  been collecting data about superconductivity for several years. After studying the trends that set the path for research, he convinced himself and his colleague that scientists looking for the secret were sniffing up the wrong trail.

Pursuing a hunch, he found that, under certain conditions, he could coax oxides into conducting electricity at really fast speeds  -  speeds that had never before been achieved.

The head of his department at IBM didn't believe him. And following laid down corporate policy, forbade Meuller and Bednorz to continue with their experiments. He pointed out that everyone knew that oxides were used in insulation to stop the flow of electrons. There was, therefore no way that they could super conduct them.

Determined to continue with the experiments, two electronic sleuths went underground. They spent three years secretly searching for the right oxide, cloaking undercover research with a screen of half-truths.

Then came the breakthrough that was to revolutionise the electronics industry.

A new oxide

Paging through an obscure technical journal, Bednorz noted a reference to a new oxide. He quickly rigged up an experiment.

The new oxide worked.

He and Mueller repeated the experiment again and again. It worked every time.

Because they'd defied IBM top brass, the two men decided not to announce their discovery with a fanfare of trumpets. Instead, they described "a possible discovery" in a short article published by a little known journal devoted to the study of physics. Eagle-eyed scientists at the University of Tokyo noticed the article, reconstructed Mueller's and Bednorz's experiment.

It worked.

The superconductors increased the speed of computers by as much as 40%. And IBM was the first in the queue to put to work the results of their two errant researchers clandestine experiments.

That should inspire you to ...

Set the pace.

Philosopher James Boren beautifully summed up the downside of attempting to lead by slavishly following trends: "It's hard to look up to a leader who keeps his ear to the ground."

Here's a fact of business life we have to face: it's the big guys who usually set the trends. If you keep your ear to the ground and look up, the big guys look even bigger. But always remember this piece of age-old wisdom: the bigger they are, the harder they fall. So ...

Pick a "mighty opposite"

IBM founder Thomas Watson saw it this way: "Make no little enemies  -  people with who you differ for some pretty insignificant reason. Instead, I would urge you to cultivate 'mighty opposites'  -  people with whom you disagree on big issues, with whom you will fight to the end over fundamental convictions. And that fight, I can assure you, will be good for you and your opponent."

Guy Kawasaki and others at Apple chose IBM as their mighty opposite because they perceived the "Big Blue" as centralised, autocratic and, at times, user-unfriendly. On the other hand, they saw Apple as decentralised, democratic and user-friendly.

A good enemy forces you to improve your company. In Apple's case, it even helped to company succeed.

Look around you now. Which biggies are making your life hell? Choose the biggest and smartest, and prepare to do battle. Says guerrilla marketer Jay Levinson: "If you're lucky, your competitors are good and smart, and working hard  -  they're not pushovers."

But before you ask your trumpeter to sound the "Charge!", make a ...

Reality check

To ensure that you're gaining the right insights using this method:

  • list the top five reasons customers buy from you;
     
  • use sales records to find out who your best customers are;
     
  • take the top 10 customers to lunch, one at a time, and ask them why they buy from you, and
     
  • compare your list and your customers' responses.

The results will surprise you.

To come out fighting and win, follow my four-point strategy:

  1. Do the right things.
     
  2. Concentrate on a decisive point.
     
  3. Turn customers into evangelists.

Do the right things

The best way to drive your competitors bananas  -  make your customers happy. You do that by focusing sharply and squarely on them. While what your competitors do is obviously important, if you concentrate on them instead of the people who support your business, you'll get into a tit-for-tat battle that may have little to do with pleasing customers.

One of the largest retailing organisations in Britain, Kingfisher, takes its ability to focus on customers very seriously. The chairman, Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy, said: "We listen to our customers. We keep abreast of what they want, and we anticipate what they need.

"We believe that this what makes us better-than-average retailers."

Successful Malta-based food and beverage company Farsons has embodied its attitude towards customers in its mission statement. The relevant paragraph reads: "To maintain customer satisfaction as the top priority. To always listen to our customers in order to ensure the quality of products and service they need."

The link

Recent studies in the United States a definite link between a company's financial performance and its ability to satisfy customers.

American Express, for instance, found that the cost of luring new customers was about 15 times higher than generating more business from existing, satisfied customers.

Chrysler found that 72% of its customers who were satisfied with the product and the service they received bought a second car. And IBM correlated a 2% increase in customer satisfaction with a $50-million increase in revenue.

But how do you ensure that you satisfy your customers? How do you know exactly what customers want?

Ask the right questions

Guy Kawasaki discovered a restaurant in Portland, Oregon. The owner made a habit of asking the right questions about customers' needs. Called Old Wives' Tales, the restaurant features a huge playroom for kids. It contains three boats, a tunnel and a lot more goodies to keep children happy and out of harms way.

When you sit down at a table, the restaurant serves orange slices to your offspring in the playground to them quiet and content.

Why would restaurateur Holly Hart give over to a playground valuable space that could accommodate at least 20 more revenue producing seats? Because she noticed that parents couldn't relax at dinner when they had their kids in tow. They tended to gulp and run at full service restaurants. Yet they weren't always satisfied at eateries that had playgrounds for kids: fast-food joints.

So Hart asked her customers: "How can I redefine the dining experience to make it more pleasant for families."

They told her. She acted. And business has boomed ever since.

Even when you ask the right questions to uncover the problems, you must ...

Provide imaginative solutions

Eventide Lutheran Home in Moorhead, Minnesota, asked the right questions about what people wanted in a nursing home. Knowing that most nursing homes breed loneliness, isolation and boredom, Eventide gave its home a friendly small-town feel. It installed a post office with antique mail boxes, a bank, a library, a beauty parlour, a barber shop and even a soda shop. Nursing home residents elect a mayor and a "town" council, the members of which bring their concerns to management.

In addition to asking the right questions, go out of your way to ...

Tell your customers more

An Australian business analyst, Barry Urquhart, reckons that today's customers want to know more about what they're buying. And Urquhart, managing director of Marketing Focus in Perth, Western Australia, says that it's up to you to tell them if you want to keep them as customers.

As in South Africa, consumers "Down Under" no longer respond to the same extent as they did to advertising, marketing or visual promotions at point-of-purchase.

He points out that short, cryptic descriptions of the product features don't stimulate emotions, differentiate one brand or model from another or highlight the advantages to the consumer.

"The decreasing effectiveness of catalogues," he observes, " can be explained partly by the confusion created by so little information about so many products. Potential customers realise they are insufficiently informed or experienced to make an intelligent decision. Not surprisingly, more customers simply shrug their shoulders and say: 'I'll go home and think about it'."

Emotion:
A prostrating disease caused by a determination of the heart to the head. It is sometimes accompanied by a copious discharge   of hydrated chloride of sodium from the eyes.

He describes the new breed of customer as "discerning" and "street smart"  -  a person who wants more information about less.

Customers want full explanations of product attributes, the real benefits to them and the relative advantages of one product over another.

Urquhart says that today's consumers are better informed than ever about categories of product. But they don't always have detailed knowledge about specific brands or models. Most have to be told on the benefits of individual brands.

He points out that to "provide more information about less" may well be the difference between gaining and retaining or losing customers.

Concentrate on a decisive point

Back in 1876, Napoleon, commanding a force of 35 000 men, faced the 600 000-strong combined armies of Austria and Sardinia.

Napoleon didn't pit his outnumbered forces directly against either the Austrians or the Sardinians. Instead, he thrust his army at the point where the two enemy armies joined. After securing this weak area, he turned on the Sardinians. They surrendered. The Austrians, without their allies, waved the white flag three days later.

Napoleon's strategy of dividing and conquering also works in business. It helps you deploy your resources most efficiently, it minimises the effort of retaliation, and small victories give you and your troops confidence.

Armour:
The kind of clothing worn by a man whose tailor is a blacksmith.
It was cigar-smoking British wartime Premier Sir Winston Churchill who said: "Without victory there is no survival." Powerful American baseball boss Bill Veeck put it even more emphatically: "I do not think that winning is the most important thing, I think it is the only thing."

Before you set out to conquer the world in one fell swoop, study your competitors. Seek a chink in their armour.

Find a niche

If you know your advantages and the capabilities of your competitors, you can detect and exploit market-busting niches. To carve out a viable niche for your business:

  • Determine the most important features of your product or service as well as those of your competitors. Include "soft" features such as service quality and warranties, etc.
     
  • Draw a graph like the one below and position the features on it based on your ability to provide them and their value to your customers. For example, Eventide encourages community organisations like Rotary to hold meetings in "town" and the soda shop hosts birthday parties for residents and their grand- children.

"The niche guys finish first," according to Jack Trout and Al Ries, marketing consultants to many companies listed in the Fortune 500. Narrow focus, they maintain, is the name of the new marketing game. They argue that you can only become stronger if you reduce the scope of your business operations.

Trout and Ries claim that many companies  -  even big multinationals  -  aren't sharply focused. They cite IBM as a "legendary example".

In the early days of computerisation, "Big Blue" focused exclusively on mainframe computers. It quickly dominated the market with an estimated 70% slice of the cake.

And today?

The two American marketing fundis allege that IBM has no focus whatsoever. It sells computers of all types. It has lost out to companies that focus on specific types of computers such as personal computers, laptops and notebooks. IBM's name and logo has all but disappeared from computer retail outlets.

Fill an existing need

If you're looking for a niche market, Joseph Mancuso, who founded New York's Centre for Entrepreneurial Management, suggests that you stand more chance of success if you set out to fill an existing need rather than create something new.

Think small, he advises. Find an area of the market that has been ignored and you can often carve out a profitable niche for yourself without spending an arm and a leg on marketing.

To find a profitable niche, identify a section of a fast-growing market that has been neglected. For instance, there are thousands of corner cafes in towns and cities throughout South Africa. Until recently, they had a vice-like grip on neighbourhood convenience markets. But none of them stay open around the clock. This created a hitherto neglected demand for convenience stores that never close. The launch of always-open shops attached to service stations neatly meet that demand. In the process, they're threatening to muscle corner cafes out of business.

Clearly define your niche

In this age of specialisation, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be all things to all people. Department stores that sold everything "from a pin to an elephant" have had their day. Many household names, like Garlicks, have already disappeared. Others, like OK Bazaars, have become fossils that are living on borrowed time. So clearly define you niche and then service the hell out of it.

Monopoly:
The practice of first come, take all.
When you find yourself a good niche, you'll attract a certain amount of business just be being around. But if your provide the sort of lousy customer service usually associated with a monopoly, the people who help keep your bank balance in the black may start looking around for something better, giving someone else the opportunity to muscle in on your territory.

 It happened in this country to CNA. The company virtually had the whole bookselling, periodical and stationery ball park to themselves for years. But as they grew bigger, service standards slipped, giving others, like Fax & Fiction and Exclusive Books. Timing is all-important in niche marketing, says Mancuso. It therefore pays to be aware of the four phases of the life cycle of your product. During the start-up phase your chance of finding a viable niche market are limited because the market hasn't yet developed. During the growth phase, the market "blossoms" with niches. When the product life cycle reaches the mature stage, niches diminish. But the often return with force when the life cycle begins to decline.

Indeed, Mancuso, stresses, niche marketing opportunities occur whenever significant changes occur in the structure of the market.

Don't become complacent

Even when you're safely and profitably ensconced in niche, don't become complacent. Nothing lasts forever. Not even a successful niche. Consumers attitudes and needs change, forcing changes in the marketplace. So constantly keep your eyes open for new opportunities, while closely watching the performance of your product. As soon as sales begin to dwindle, prepare to make a quantum leap to a new niche.

Provide a complete product

Like most people, when you buy something, you want to take it out of the package and use it right away. Which bring me to a vital element of customer satisfaction. If you want to satisfy your customer, provide everything they need to get started. For example, paint form Standard Brands sells a customer-pleasing kit that includes a roller tray, roller handles with an extension for painting those difficult-to-reach places, drop cloth, roller covers and a paint brush.

Do as Standard Brands did. Look for features that your competitors don't provide. That's where you'll find your niche.

Provide alternatives, or value

Another way to find a decisive point of attack: provide an alternative to the market leader. Think about Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola. Pepsi provides a carefully crafted alternative to Coke. If you're stodgy, drink Coke. If you're hip, drink Pepsi.

A few years ago, the commandment for all successful marketing strategies was "positioning". In basic terms, this meant looking for open hole in the marketplace and becoming the first to fill it in the consumer's mind with your product or service.

As Jack Trout notes: "If you weren't first, you were in serious trouble."

For example, General Electric attempted to crash the market for mainframe computers. But IBM was already their. The two corporations hit each other head-on. IBM won.

However, Al Ries says that there's often room with mature brands for two competing products. It's possible to be the second brand and prosper if you refocus your strategy to position yourself opposite the leader.

He points out that because Coke was first, Pepsi created the "Pepsi generation" concept. This appealed primarily to the younger, "with it" consumers.

Ries stresses that it's a whole lot better to be "first in mind" rather than first in the marketplace.

In a war, as I've pointed out, generals who know what they're doing, don't attack the enemy across a broad front. They concentrate their firepower on a narrow front to penetrate the weakest point in the line. You can do this the old-fashioned way by increasing the value of your product or service.

Don't try to increase value to customers by slashing your prices to undercut competitors. Price wars are nasty and if you face financially-muscled competition, you could price yourself out of business. Rather increase the length of your warranty, improve after-sales service and customer support, guarantee delivery times or provide free or inexpensive upgrades.

Turn your customers in evangelists

Back in 1984, everyone expected Apple Computers' eventual demise. Although even the experts thought that Apple's Mac was nifty as far as computers were concerned, the believed it was doomed.

Why?

Because it couldn't run the industry's standard operating system: MS-DOS.

The naysayers couldn't foresee that Apple would muster a band of "raging, inexorable, thunder lizard evangelists", who would provide emotional and technical support. With missionary zeal, they spread the word to millions around the globe.

Such early adopters  -  evangelists all  -  made the Mac a success. The moral is obvious: get your customers to spread the good word about your product or service.

How do you go about doing that?

Create a cause

Evangelists need a cause. The want something they can believe in. And they want others to believe in it, too. That "it" can be a product the Apple Macintosh, a company like Anglo American or Liberty Life. It can also be a set of beliefs like environmentalism.

Do you have a great product or service that could become a cause. If your product has what it takes, it:

  • embodies a vision. A cause characteristically provides a radically different way to change the world, or at least make a dent in it. It's more  -  much more  -  than a good idea. It's a calling.
     
  • seizes the high ground. Its intent is to make the world a better place by, for example, improving productivity, cleaning up the environment or empowering disenfranchised groups.
     
  • redefines experience. Its effects are irreversible. The Mac, for example, redefined the concept of user friendliness in computers.
     
  • catalyses strong feelings. You either love or hate the product or idea. Think of cellular phones or fluoride toothpaste.

To spread the word, you have to ...

Find the right people

Your aim has to be accurate otherwise you're going to miss the target  -  the people who believe you're offering them the best thing since the development of sliced bread.

When Apple first began marketing the Mac, it zoned in on senior executives who, the Apple people believed, would order their brainchild in large numbers.

They were wrong.

Inhabitants of executive suites were too far removed from computer usage. They took to the electronic wonders like water takes to a duck's back. Besides which, they were committed to maintaining the status quo in corporate governance.

Apple then lowered its sights and targeted grassroots users: secretaries, temps, artists, students and interns among others. These were the folks that ultimately made the Mac a success.

Existing users

To find the people who will commit to using your product or service, start with existing users. It's easier to raise them to higher levels of commitment than it is to convince new customers of the virtues of using only your product or service.

And don't be afraid to ask the people who support your business for help. Folks love to assist companies that create great things ... they want to be associated with winners. So let them help you whenever they can. Some will to demonstrate your product. Some may want to write about it. Others will attempt to persuade friends and acquaintances to switch alliances. Don't get in their way: let a thousand flowers bloom.

Do whatever you can to get your product into the hands of users. Freely distribute samples, if it's that sort of product. Or offer "test drives". When W L Gore introduced Glide Dental Floss, the company sent samples to every dental office in the United States.

Sales consultant and training expert Kevin Davis says that if you want to keep a customer for life, you have see things from his or her perspective. He notes that while most sales people see the close of a sale as the end of a process, customers see it as the beginning.

While you're selling your product or service to a customer, he'll form expectations of the value to him of what you're selling. If your product fails to meet expectations, the customer will be dissatisfied. This means he won't come back for more. Worse, he'll spread the word to his friends and acquaintances all right. The wrong word. The most important cause of customer dissatisfaction is the complacency of your sales staff. Don't assume that everything is going great because a customer doesn't call in to complain. Like me, most customers don't complain. They just don't come back. Overcoming the problem of complacency isn't difficult. All it needs is constant communication.

Phone your customers from time to time to find out how they're doing and if you can help. If problems do crop up, don't procrastinate. Put the right immediately.

A different angle

 If you show that you care, your portfolio of come-again customers will grow.

Hewlett Packard (HP) adopted the same concept but looked at it from a different angle. The company has become adept at driving its competitors crazy. Unlike many of its competitors in the high-tech field, HP doesn't fall in love with the technology that it creates. It tries to look at it through the eyes of the customer.

When faced with a declining demand for microwave products, HP replaced its Microwave Division with the Video Communications Division. And it found a market for its potential product range in a matter of months, said division chief Jim Olson. It's now making test equipment for TV studios, a video server and a plain-paper video printer, he reports.

When ignorance is bliss

How did the division fin a ready market so quickly? By acknowledging its ignorance and using what it didn't know to its advantage.

"We took our current R&D and marketing engineers and ... sent them to attend trade shows and meet customers," said Olson. "We told people we didn't know anything about the industry, but that we thought we had a lot to offer. We listened. It was better than talking to other microwave engineers." Olson also refused to hire a bunch of video experts for the new video-orientated division.

"One of the ways to drive your competitors crazy," he observed, "is to succeed at seeing the forest from the trees. We could do that because we have never been in this forest before.

"Ignorance for HP was incredibly empowering. There's no way anyone could do what we did without taking a fresh viewpoint of how to talk to customers, how to listen to them, and how take what they tell and go back and execute."

Sure, customers are important. In fact, they're vital if your business is to grow and prosper. But the people who service them are just as important. So ...

Don't forget your employees

All of your employees should be evangelists for your cause. After all, their salaries depend on the success of your business. When push comes to shove, all the people who work for you are sales people. Even the "backroom girls and boys".

A company that takes this philosophy to heart is the airline Kiwi International. It trains all its employees to think of themselves as sales people. They even visit local travel agents to evangelise Kiwi. And they don't expect to be paid for their extra efforts.

Employees are at the heart of the engine that drives improved customer service, according to the top brass at BankWest, a bank in Western Australia. The bank has implemented a programme designed to encourage a service-first culture to improve customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.

Customer's perspective

The programme stresses the importance of the customer's perspective. Branch managers, now called "relationship managers", allocate about 80% of their working days to customer service and business development. They allocate the remaining 20% to admin. In the "not so good old days", the split was 50/50.

Another unique aspect of the programme is a form of contingency planning. The bank encourages employees to imagine being confronted by an unexpected range of customer demands. They then had to determine how they would react so that the ultimate outcome was customer satisfaction.

This approach, according to management, was designed to equip staff , specially those in regional offices, to solve customers' problems on the spot without referring them to people higher up the chain of command.

BankWest's new approach to staff empowerment and customer delight specifically discourages the degrading rote-learning of slick and clichéd customer services phrases so beloved by many American organisations.

In addition to immersing employees in its service-first culture, the programme has also involved structural changes to banking hall and office layouts. Wherever possible, staff members have direct eye contact with the people they serve. Implementing its "no backs to customers" rule, the bank has redesigned and repositioned counters, chairs, desks and even filing cabinets to ensure that direct employee/customer eye contact is not lost.

Another inflexible rule

The bank has also introduced another inflexible rule: Customers always take priority over all administrative tasks. And the institution's customer service specialists are expected to frequently leave their desks and "walk the talk" by mingling and chatting to customers.

Each bank employee receives a weekly and monthly assessment on his or her progress towards an agreed performance level. Because each person is now accountable for his or her actions, personal recognition is given to top performers. Poor performers must agree to embark personal development programmes.

Management reports that since the introduction of the programme, staff morale has improved, the rate of absenteeism has plummeted and staff turnover is negligible. Managers attribute all-round improvements to the fact that employees now feel they have greater personal control of their positions in the workplace environment.
Philosophy:
A route of many roads, leading from nowhere to nothing.

The programme punts a simple philosophy: "Product knowledge and skills can be learnt. While certain skills are necessary to succeed, it's the applicant's attitude that ultimately leads to excellent service."

So, to achieve a level of service that will delight your customers and turn them into call-again fans:

  • focus on staff training and empowerment as the main motivator;
     
  • encourage employees to plan for the unexpected and banish excuses for inadequate customer service;
     
  • regularly communicate individual performance levels to each employee to inform and motivate;
     
  • redesign your workplace so employees can maintain eye contact with customers, and
     
  • focus on attitudes as well as skills when recruiting employees, because the right attitudes lead to excellent service.

 Do things right

Staying focused on customers  -  that's doing the right thing. Getting people to buy again and again is one aspect of another important business task: doing things right.

What we're talking about here is customer loyalty. One way to establish it is to systematise the process. Dick's Supermarkets, a chain in Wisconsin and Illinois, has made it a science.

Dick's employees regularly comb newspaper, new utility account information, chamber of commerce announcements and other sources. They're looking for the names of new residents, newly married couples and families with newly-born infants. Each family that makes Dick's list receives a barrage of enticements. Newly arrived families, for example, get a welcome letter from their nearest Dick's store. It contains coupons that can be exchanged for two free items each week over a three-week period.

And it doesn't stop there.

A few weeks later the families get another letter with more coupons. A year later still another letter and coupons.

The rationalisation behind the programme: "If we can bring people in six times, we feel we can convert them into regular customers," says Dick's president.

Dick's targets prime prospects in its areas of operation. I suggest that you do the same.

So ...

Target cubby-holes

 A niche is based on the characteristics of a product. A cubby-hole is based on specific customers in a market. For example, Polaroid targets a spacious cubby-hole: real estate brokers. It gets to them through a programme it calls the Polaroid Real Estate Photography Workshop. Those invited to attend receive instruction on using instant photography to shoot pictures that house-hunters can take home and study at their leisure.

For $10, real estate brokers receive instruction, a camera and film, a booklet, discounts and special deals. Besides providing a skill that brokers can use immediately, Polaroid makes them feel wanted and offers hands-on experience with Polaroid products. It's a great way to create loyal customers.

To paraphrase Aimee Buchanan, loyalty depends on admiration. If you don't admire a company or its products, it's difficult to be loyal.

Building customer loyalty takes time, effort and patience. If you don't want to lose it once you've earned it ...

Build cocoons

Smart companies use a technique called "frequency marketing" to keep customers on board. The New York Times successfully has developed a programme for residential subscribers to exploit the technique. The newspaper offers members restaurant and theatre discounts. These create incentives to keep subscribing.

There are, of course, other ways to keep your customers happy. You can, for instance, go out of your way to...

Eliminate headaches

Begin by thinking of problems that aggravate your customers. Then solve them. Sometimes it's as easy as that.

As a motorist who relies heavily on my car to earn an honest crust or two, one of my pet peeves is: How do I get around when I take my car into the dealer for a service? No dealer workshop in South Africa has, to my knowledge, come up with a practical solution.

Perhaps local workshop managers should invest in a trip to Minneapolis. A car repair outfit there, Servtech, has found the answer to an age-old problem that has bugged customer/dealer relations. No, it doesn't taxi you around while you car is on the hoist. Instead, it picks up your car in the evening, services it overnight and delivers the car to your driveway by 6.30 am.

Now, that what I call service to delight the customer.

You'll also be inscribed in my good books if, through you, I ...

Save money

Seduce your customers to contact you by saving them money. Progressive and innovative companies provide toll-free numbers, offer free shipping and more.

If you indulge in some really hard thinking, you're almost certain to find even more creative ways of saving money for the people who keep you in business. Telecommunications company Ameritech, for example, offers a new call-waiting plan, As a subscriber, you hear two different kinds of beeps. One heralds a local incoming call. The other signals an incoming long-distance call.

The plan may not be earth-shattering, but it saves you money. Let's face it, it a lot easier on your pocket to take the long-distance call immediately rather than accepting the local call and dialling the far-off party back.

Often it's the small improvements that make the difference ... that keep your customers yours.

Previous   Next

  Authors Note
    Introduction
     
1. Keep your customer base healthy
     
2. Introduce fresh makeover ideas for better business
     
3. Power drive motivation
     
4. Control your business workout regime
     
5. Meet the challenge of corporate change
     
6. Keep your focus
     
7. Update your circuit
     
8. Come out fighting
     
9. Cultivate sparring partners
     
10. Avoid Regressing
     
  Sources
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