WHY YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE MORE IMPORTANT TO YOUR ORGANISATION THAN EVER
WHY YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE MORE IMPORTANT TO YOUR ORGANISATION THAN EVER
Richard Eardley Managing Director, Asia, Hays Asia
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our personal and professional lives to such an extent that many of our daily routines were transformed overnight (or have been transformed over the past 12 months). Many of our habits, our routines and our rituals have changed for good.
The events of the past year have also placed a far greater importance on some of the things we perhaps took for granted in the past, such as the relationships we have with people in every area of our lives.
The pandemic has brought the importance of customer relationships to the fore
The connections we build at work are no exception; those with our colleagues and stakeholders, and, importantly, those with our customers. It’s the relationships we have with our customers that I’d like to cover in this blog.
The expectations and demands of your customers may well have been changing during the course of the pandemic. They will have likely had to deal with, and are still dealing with, multiple ongoing challenges and potentially drastic impacts to their own professional and personal lives. Therefore, businesses need to rethink how they interact with and support customers during these difficult times and beyond.
Of course, nurturing deep and long-lasting customer relationships has always been important, and always will be. After all, there would be no business without them. But the experience our customers have of our organisations is so important. In fact, 80 per cent of customers say the experience a company provides is just as important as its products and services.
Many would agree that is has become even more important due to the changes and disruption the pandemic has accelerated. But in many ways, ensuring a good customer experience is becoming more difficult in this new world, when expectations and demands are changing so quickly.
Key to ensuring a good customer experience is to nurture good relationships that are built on trust and loyalty. Customers will remember the businesses that stood by them and gave them a helping hand when they needed it the most during these difficult times, there’s no doubt about that.
Four ways to improve the relationships you have with your customers in the new era of work
I’m based in Asia, and as such we experienced the virus and the consequences before anybody else in the world. This put us in the unique position of being able to offer views and advice to our colleagues across the globe as the pandemic was unfolding for them. This gave me the opportunity to think about how as a team we handled the crisis early on, and assess what worked best when nurturing the relationships we have with our customers.
So, here are a few of my thoughts on how we can all go about improving the relationships we have with our customers in the new era of work:
1. Assess what the unique value is that your organisation provides your customers
All industries have been impacted and continue to be impacted by the pandemic in some way or another. It may mean that as a business, you are having to operate differently – from switching to an almost entirely online presence to better serve your customers, to changing or introducing completely new products or services.
No doubt at this point you will already have a very good understanding of what the impact has been on your organisation, and how this might change as the course of the pandemic shifts. However, it’s important to reflect on the last few months and ask yourself what unique value your business has provided to your customers. Did you fulfil an essential purpose or help them with a specific challenge? Was your role different to what it usually is, and did this make a significant difference to the experience your customers had?
The above will be easier questions for some organisations than others. But asking them will help you to establish how important your organisation has been to your customers during what was possibly one of the most difficult times in their lives so far.
These questions will also help you to evaluate your strategy up until this point. Do the answers tell you that you should be focusing your efforts elsewhere in future? Is your value as a partner to your customers different now in the new era of work? And if so, does that mean that as an organisation you need to re-evaluate and reshape your customer offering? How can you personalise your offering to the unique challenges of each customer, rather than relying on a one-size-fits all approach?
At Hays, we recognised that the change in how people were working and the shift to online meant that employees in organisations were missing valuable skills, so we created a free online portal, called Hays Thrive (or Hays Learning dependent on where you are in the world) that allows them to upskill and be better prepared for the new world of work. This very much fits with the ethos of what we’re trying to do at Hays by being relevant and valuable to our customers at all stages of the recruitment life cycle, which includes when people aren’t recruiting or aren’t moving jobs.
2. Stay true to your organisational values and purpose
Staying true to your company’s purpose during a time of crisis is essential. Doing so helps to ensure you don’t lose sight of why your business exists and why you do what you do.
In order to support your customers and nurture those relationships, your own people need to be inspired and reminded of the value they bring to society in the work they do, especially during turbulent times. That is exactly what your organisational purpose should bring to life for them.
A company’s values are also becoming increasingly important to customers. According to Forrester, 70 per cent of Millennials and 52 per cent of Baby Boomers will factor in a company’s values when making a purchasing decision. That means your values as a company have the potential to impact the perception your customers have of your organisation as well as their overall experience of your brand.
At Hays, we have spent a considerable amount of time over the past few years refreshing our own company values. One of which has been incredibly useful during the pandemic – ‘Do the right thing’, which underpins all of our values. It acts as a North Star of sorts and helps us in making decisions, allowing us to take a moment to ask ourselves what our moral compass is guiding us to do.
Our purpose as an organisation is ‘By helping people succeed, we enable organisations to thrive – creating opportunities and improving lives’. During the early stages of the pandemic, companies weren’t necessarily hiring, and people weren’t looking for work. So, we made sure we were still helping our customers and their people in every way we could. This meant providing them with help and expertise to allow them to navigate the new era of work. This took the form of blogs, podcasts, reports and videos focusing on the key challenges our customers might be grappling with, including how to manage teams remotely, how to achieve a work-life balance when the home and the office had become one, and how to make sure they were looking after their own and their employees’ wellbeing while working from home.
So, ask yourself: has your organisational purpose and have your values been able to guide you during the pandemic? Have they helped you make decisions? Have they inspired your workforce and reminded them what you bring to the world and to the lives of your customers as an organisation?
3. Reach out and listen to your customers
Customer interactions shouldn’t be limited to be simply transactional, they need to go far deeper than that. On a simple level, just picking up the phone and checking in to see what the landscape is like for them personally and what their current challenges are will make a big difference to how your organisation is perceived. WeChat or WhatsApp to make contact with them, or even email if they prefer. Actively listening to your customers and understanding their unique experiences can be so powerful; it helps to strengthen pre-existing relationships and opens doors to new ones. So, make sure you have been providing your customers with the necessary support and customer care.
Speaking form my own experience, we were keen to find out about our clients’ own experiences of the pandemic and understand what help and advice we could share with them that would be beneficial to them. Not only did we ask them about their own situations, but we were ready to give them an update of what was going on in the market, what other customers were seeing, how other businesses were responding to challenges, their approach to hybrid working, etc. By being transparent with our customers and sharing helpful insight, we continue to build trust, which, as we all know, is so important to building strong relationships.
Also, as we were speaking to so many different businesses, it gave us great insights that we are then able to share more widely. As a result, our customers can come to one organisation, Hays, and find out about what’s happening in countless other organisations. This hasn’t stopped either, reaching out and listening to customers will continue to be important as we progress through the pandemic.
Ask yourself: have you had regular conversations with your customers even when you have nothing to sell? Have you been sharing relevant insights and advice with them? Have you made an effort to actively listen to their challenges, proactively trying to understand how you can help?
4. Show empathy
Your customers will likely have had to deal with challenges they may never have expected. They will also have had to make difficult decisions. Like most, they will have been on an emotional rollercoaster. You must always remember this and speak to them on a human and authentic level. Even at the best of times, your customers don’t want to be spoken to in a way that is clear that you’re just following a script and have no real interest in what they have to say. This is even truer when working through big challenges and uncertainty, as we all are now.
Displaying empathy and compassion will help to strengthen your customer relationships. This ties into my previous point around the importance of listening to them to get a real understanding of the challenges they are currently dealing with. Your customer is a human like you and talking to them in such a way shows you genuinely care about their unique situation. Our CEO, Alistair Cox, wrote a blog on the subject of being more human in your interactions if you’re looking for more advice here.
So, ask yourself: are you conveying genuine interest when speaking with customers? Are you taking the time to understand their situation? Above all else, are you speaking to the them on a human level, without judgement and with compassion and empathy?
These four points should help you take a step back, re-evaluate your organisation’s response to the pandemic so far, how you have managed those important customer relationships and how you might go about strengthening them in the new era of work.
Now is not the time to sit back and wait for the world to get back to where it once was. Nor is it the time to sit back and wait for your customers to revert to how they once were. The world will never be the same, neither will your customers, and as a result, your organisation must also change. So, use this time wisely to help you build back your organisation better, with the customer at the heart of every decision you make. Trust me, your customers will thank you for it.
Managing Director, Asia
Richard Eardley was appointed as Hays Managing Director of Asia in November 2017, his latest portfolio in his extensive 30 year career with Hays. He is responsible for the day to day operational management and growth of the businesses in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan Malaysia, Singapore and India.
Prior to his current role, Richard was the Managing Director of Hays Ireland from June 2007. In addition to his role in Ireland, Richard was the UK & Ireland Marketing Director from 2013 to 2017 and he has most recently been spearheading Hays UK’s development of its IT and Digital specialism. He has also worked extensively with the Hays Talent Solutions business.
Under Richard’s management, Hays Ireland successfully navigated the peaks and troughs of the Celtic Tiger years and the global financial crisis and Ireland is now one of the fastest growing countries in the Hays group and punches far above its weight in terms of contribution.
Richard has attended business programs at IMD and other management development programs through both Hays and external institutions. He has also worked on a number of boards in the ‘third sector’.