Do you provide an essential product or service to your customers that they can’t do without? Before you quickly answer, “yes, of course,” make sure you’re not confusing the fact that customers still do business with you with the concept of being an integral, irreplaceable part of their everyday lives.
I was thinking about this today, the day the Washington Post Co. announced it was putting Newsweek magazine up for sale. I am (make that was) a long-time subscriber, and I’ve even given several gift subscriptions to friends over the years. Newsweek probably considered itself an essential part of my life. And then a couple of months ago, during a particularly busy time, my magazines started to pile up in a basket. When I finally had time to come up for air and started digging through the tower of unread magazines, I noticed that I hadn’t received any copies of Newsweek. I realized my subscription must have lapsed, and then moved on to the next magazine in the stack.
I didn’t even think about renewing my subscription because I discovered I simply didn’t care about Newsweek anymore. By the time the magazine arrived, I already knew the news it contained. Anna Quindlen, my favorite Newsweek columnist, had moved on a year before, and I usually read my other favorite, Jonathan Alter, online. After many years Newsweek had ceased to be essential to me.
This can all-too-easily happen to your own business, and you should take preventive steps now before your customers decide you are not essential to their lives. There are obviously many reasons businesses lose customers: your prices are too high; your service is spotty; competitors enter the market; or you’ve lessened your marketing efforts. Sometimes your customers simply outgrow you. As their needs evolve, they also change their buying habits. Most of these factors are completely in your control, so if any of these bad things have happened to your business, don’t sit back and wait for something to change. Attack the problem head on.
Business owners need to stay on top the seismic shifts that can affect their businesses. These can be demographic or psychographic in nature (“psychographic” referring to the study and measurement of attitudes, lifestyles, opinions, and values). These shifts can also be the result of transformative new technologies and innovations. If you are not aware of what’s going on, your business can vanish. Just in my lifetime, I can think of dozens of businesses that were once considered essential to my life, but are now remnants of the past that date me. For example, I can remember being awakened at 5 a.m. by the clanking of milk bottles being delivered by the local milkman. Or how once a week I took my allowance and baby-sitting earnings and headed to the local Sam Goody’s (which at its peak had over 800 stores) to buy records. Video stores now seem resigned to the same fate record stores faced several decades before. My go-to magazine when I was a kid, TV Guide, was sold for $1.00 in 2008. That is not a typo; it sold for a buck.
Listen to an original AllBusiness.com podcast: Video Rental Stores – Stayin’ Alive in the Digital Age
Is your business in danger? Do you cater to a particular demographic? Is that market changing? What do they want or need now and are you providing it? What will they want or need in the future, and can you provide that as well? The easiest way to find out is to talk to them. You need to maintain a dialog with your customers. Ask questions, do surveys, meet with them face-to-face.
But you can’t just take the easy route. It’s your job to anticipate your customers’ needs and figure out what they want before they’re aware of it themselves. You need to intrinsically bind them to your business. Sure, that takes some amount of work on your part, but you can’t afford not to do it.
Every time consumers decide to make a purchase, they choose who they want to do business with. I once told you it was smart to turn your customers into fans. At the moment, it may be more important to make sure they’re simply not indifferent.
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