Add value in original ways to win business

Building a loyal customer base is about so much more than competing on price, says Leslie Kossoff.

Staff are core to adding value - image: Dobbies
Staff are core to adding value - image: Dobbies

Prices are going up. Some of those increases are within your control, others are not. Unfortunately, from the customers' perspective, it is all the same - more money out of their wallets. But that leads to a question: is your strategy to compete on prices? Because if it is, you have got it all wrong.

Long, long ago the so-called "Big Box" retailers (think ASDA, Tesco and their equivalents) figured out how to compete on price. That is their USP. Convenience and price. Everything you could possibly want under one really big roof.

You cannot compete against that. Nor should you. Because, if you have got it right, your customers are not coming to you for price - or at least not for price alone. They are coming to you for your contribution to their success, for information and guidance.

You offer a relationship and that means added value. Translated into money, this means that price increases do not have to mean decreased footfall or customer spend.

In fact, using the same resources you have already got - but just positioning them better - you can actually increase your profits, revenues and customer growth while the prices are going up.

Using what works

Chances are that among your employees you have people who are both trained and passionate about gardening. They may not have RHS certificates, but they have got background and experience, and a passion for growing beautiful things.

If they are foodies, they have also got a passion for why grow-your-own is the answer to every gardener's questions.

It is also probable that those people are hidden somewhere among the plants, trees, gifts and mowers. They are there, just not findable.

Find them. Then put them out on display. Put a badge on them and make sure that your less knowledgeable employees know exactly who is on duty and where they will be found throughout the day. Give them a mobile phone or a walkie-talkie. Make sure they are immediately available for all questions.

Put signs up saying "Ask the Experts" and then make sure that those experts are readily available. It may be that you have to split the expertise. After all, not everyone is going to be an expert in everything. So generate a list detailing who is who and where they can be found.

Because the easier you make it for your customers to succeed - at no cost to themselves - the more they will buy and the more they will see value in what you have to offer.

Be personal

We are talking relationships here - and that is the biggest differentiator between the big boys and everyone else. Do your employees recognise their customers, by face if not by name? Are you keeping tabs on what your customers are buying, particularly your returning customers?

All this takes is a good memory and a simple spreadsheet. It is the: "I remember you! When you were last here you bought ...

How did that work out?", followed by: "What are you here for today and how can I help?"

Then, you make your employees the customers' personal tour guides.

There is no part of the centre that they cannot walk their customer into and assist them.

Make sure your customers are well tended - cared for, cared about. This includes making sure that whatever department they wander into the appropriate expert is available to answer all necessary questions.

Follow up

Just because your customer has walked out the door does not mean that the transaction - or interaction - is over. Not if you are smart.

Your employees should have a set amount of time specifically to make follow-up phone calls or send emails to the customers they have served. Preferably on a regular basis. And, in each one, not only is there a clear concern that what was purchased was a fit, but that there is more that they might consider.

And that is where you put your special discounts. Some of them, or some version of them, may be available to other customers. But to build big hitters and active recommenders you want to offer something more. Something special. Something that they know sets the service apart.

It may be seasonal. Or, if you want to fill your aisles with customers during the times when they do not usually visit, give them something else so you stand out.

Some of your employees will have customers who deserve more than special treatment. In those cases, you give your employees a small budget so that they can give gifts to key customers - which happen, strategically, to be designed to get the customer to buy something more and different than what they have bought before.

Prices are always an issue, but customers define their experience on a broader basis than price alone. The more you invest in developing the systems and procedures to ensure the customer is valued - and sees that value - the less difference price increases will make.

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