These days, everyone talks about building relationships while only a few actually do it. The difficulty arises when we default to what is tried and true and fail to understand that our tactics may have lost their effectiveness or may no longer be relevant to the situation at hand.
Some people in our industry continue to believe that customer relationships are built by client appreciation days, wining and dining and even entertainment, such as tickets to sporting events or customer cookouts. But, who is to say your competitors cannot buy better seats, bigger gift certificates or fancier dinners? Put another way, in a war of entertainment budgets would you still bet on you?
The simple fact is “old normal” tactics are inadequate in a “new normal” business environment. The reason is both clear and inescapable: In the current decade, customers in all business sectors have become much more focused on perceived value. Sure, they’ll still take freebies. We’re all human. But don’t confuse this behavior with the pursuit of value in relationships.
The true key to building the latter is your route reps. They are the face of your company. An impression is left with every customer interaction, and they are the ones who make it. And so, they alone are in a constant position to profoundly impact customer loyalty, revenue retention and value. Building value goes all the way out to street level.
Delivery or Service? You decide.
No, they’re not the same. Before we talk value creation, you must determine the role your route reps play: delivery boys or true service reps. Delivery boys drop off the necessary items to a list of addresses daily. Delivery boys are totally focused on finishing their assigned route in the shortest possible time. Delivery boys deliver products, not impressions of your brand.
Service reps, on the other hand, are focused on delivering quality customer value with each delivery. Service reps are empowered to solve customer issues and fulfill unmet needs. In fact, good service reps are responsible not only for timely and accurate deliveries, but for actually anticipating your customers’ needs. Service reps are brand ambassadors.
Changing behavior from a delivery boy to a service rep requires understanding that communicating value enhances customer loyalty, satisfaction, retention and revenue growth, and thus, team compensation. The shift will mean an extra few minutes with each customer, but the long-term benefits will far outweigh the investment of additional time spent each day.
The following steps will prove crucial in implementing a relationship-building system that delivers customer satisfaction and creates loyalty that goes far beyond pricing.
Step 1: Determining your value
Start by assembling your service team and having them think carefully about the value they provide. Work together to make a detailed list of all the duties they perform for each customer, taking note of each task including those that are unseen and uncharged. Then, think of what sets your business apart from your competitors. You might even want to ask your sales team to sit in for this part – after all, they know your primary selling points and are familiar with your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
What you will uncover is how your company exceeds expectations – often in ways your customer isn’t aware of. Sure, most customers were briefed on some – but not all – of these points during the initial sales presentation. Yet, the odds of them now recalling these differentiators are slim to none. That’s where the importance of continuous communication comes into play.
Step 2: Identifying added value
It’s time to take credit for all the things we do behind the scenes for customers. Did you repair three shirts and six pairs of pants this week? Did you make extra deliveries of linens for a holiday? Did you replace a used garment for a new one? Did you organize a soil area? Re-key a locker? Empty a hanger rack?
Whatever you did, list it. Because you are now going to take credit for the added value your team provides. Often, the things that seem routine to us are the very things our customers would greatly appreciate, if only they knew about them. With each customer visit, take a moment to share the little things you did without being asked—your added value actions. For example, show your customer the new shirt you ordered or point out repaired garments. Mention that these services are provided at no additional charge.
Coach your route reps to spend a few extra minutes with your customer on each delivery. Stopping by the office to get a signature on this week’s invoice can be turned into an opportunity to get to know the customer and review what you have done for them during the past week. Show them value they can see and take the time to communicate the value they cannot see. Occasionally, take this message beyond your direct contact. Take credit with the decision maker or the accounts payable person, or anyone else who might have an influence on the decision that could impact the future revenue of the account.
Step 3: Creating Value Added Propositions
Now, think about the master list your team put together in Step 1. The list should include all of your seen and unseen benefits and items you have identified that make your company unique. Be sure to add in all of the little things your reps do, the services you offer and the facts about your company they might not know.
These are your Value Added Propositions (VAPs). Have each of these bits of information printed on rolodex-sized cards to deliver with your invoice when your route rep makes a delivery. Encourage your customers to keep these VAPs. They will come in handy next time a competitor comes in with a low-ball price tactic.
Here are a few examples of VAPs:
- You may not know this; but when you work with our company, I take measures to control costs at every opportunity. I always collect empty hangers to reduce your costs and remove a possible hazard from your facility.
- Mr. Smith, last year our company invested $XX in RF technology. Of course, there’s no additional charge, but using RF allows me to make certain every piece of clothing gets returned to its proper owner each time I visit.
- Mr. Smith, I just thought you might be interested to know that our company just signed a multiple year renewal agreement with (insert name of a popular, well-known customer here). We believe you’re the best because you belong with the best.
- Mr. Smith, I know that employee turnover is an issue these days. Just thought you’d like to know that at our company, our average staff tenure is XX years. We look forward to spending many more successful years together.
After a few months of delivering VAPs, your customer will look at your company in a different light. Just as importantly, your route reps will be able to effectively shift the focus in any potential competitive situation from price to value.
Step 4: Identifying New Value Opportunities
Anticipating needs requires that route reps continually look for new value opportunities for their customers. One way to do this is to take a regular inventory analysis, reducing or increasing inventory to accurately reflect usage. Try recommending a new item that would bring more value by reducing the inventory of an item they don’t need. This approach creates additional value for the customer and often increases revenue and loyalty as well.
The same theory applies to looking for ways to exchange a competitor’s expensive items with our own value items. For example, consider introducing roll towels as an alternative to a competitor’s paper towels. Not only does the exchange increase your margins, but roll towels are also typically 50% less expensive than paper. Actions like the ones above will prove your commitment to drive value to your customer.
Building mutually beneficial relationships is all about value, not price. Size up your company’s value, create Value Added Propositions (VAPs) and communicate both seen and unseen value in a deliberate and personal program at the service rep level. Does it take a little extra effort from your team? Sure, it does. But the payoff is in higher real retention rates and loyalty that has a basis in appreciation for service provided.
Download a PDF of this article here.