Make It Your Business: In Praise of Customer Convenience

Vince DiCecco is a business training and development consultant and has been involved in sales, marketing and training since 1981. Contact him via e-mail at vince@ypbt.com or visit www.ypbt.com.

People who work out with a personal trainer often find convenience to be a key factor in determining how long they stick with the program. If the gym is too far from home, its hours too restrictive, or the accessibility of the trainer limited, the trainee's ambition to become lean and fit may fade. But if a convenient arrangement is established and maintained, the trainee may well overlook a marginally-equipped facility, mediocre amenities or even an unfriendly front-desk staff.

In my trade show seminars, attendees commonly agree with the statement: "People buy from people they like, trust and with whom it is convenient to do business."

This statement has instant face validity; it just makes sense. Further, it is consistent with what is swimming in their heads when they have to make buying decisions. Aside from liking and trusting, just how important is that convenience factor—compared to other evaluation criteria—and will it really hold as true in the minds of our customers as it does in our workout facility example? Will your customer really come to consider the convenience you offer to be more significant than certain shortcomings you may have?

Competitive advantage
Students of the art form known as "the sale" separate the reasons why consumers make buying decisions into six categories: price, quality, salesmanship, service, delivery and convenience. Most businesses—whether they know it or not—compete with other companies in their marketplace in at least one of these areas.

Price is nothing more than the amount of money that is charged or collected for a product made or service rendered. Sellers typically place far too much emphasis on the importance of price to the consumer. I mention this because of the answers I receive when I ask the question: "What percent of your customers buy primarily on price?"

Answers frequently range from 20 to 75 percent.

Wrong! Although you may debate me on this point, I firmly believe that less than one percent of the buying public makes its decision to buy solely on price. Not convinced? Then ask yourself what percent of the time you choose the cheapest item or service out there, without first considering its ability to otherwise satisfy your needs. I'll bet this doesn't happen often, if at all.

Many businesspeople confuse price with value. Value is the combination of the other five competitive-advantage factors that define the tangible worth of a product or service in relation to the number on the price tag. In other words, value is the sum of the quality, salesmanship, service, delivery, and convenience reflected in the product or service.

Quality means conformance to requirements or standards. Historically, quality often implied "the best." With the emphasis on quality improvement in today's marketplace, quality has been correctly redefined to mean "meeting or exceeding customers' expectations." The best way to ensure you are selling a quality product is to constantly ask your customers the right questions. Quality won't mean the same thing to all people.

Many times, sign and digital graphics business owners confuse state-of-the-art technology with quality. For example, if a new sunglasses store only needs a Grand Opening sign to last through its first few weeks of being in business, why must it be a 15-foot, four-color process, digitally-printed, weather-fast, laminated, premium vinyl banner? Conversely, if that same company were sponsoring the National 3-on-3 Basketball Championships and Winter Festival that was to be broadcasted on ESPN, an eye-catching, top-of-the-line banner would be the appropriate choice. It all depends on the situation and the customer's needs.

At your service
The way the customer is treated during the “romance” phase, close and transaction of the sale is defined by the word salesmanship. Examples of salesmanship include the friendly greeting and listening skills of your customer-service and sales representatives, the enticing promotion in a print ad, the straightforward answers customers receive to their questions, and your well-known reputation as a seller. Nowhere else in the selling process are those first two elements of successful sales—likeability and trustworthiness—put to the test as in your salesmanship.

To evaluate this aspect of your selling ability, you may want to recruit associates and friends as "secret shoppers," to call your company in the role of prospective customers. Their feedback about how they're treated may be very eye opening.

For the purpose of this discussion, I'll define service as the care and support that is offered to the customer after the sale. Examples of service include (but are certainly not limited to) the length and strength of your warranty, and flexibility of your return policies, along with additional training and troubleshooting help for end users. Many marketing gurus currently emphasize the importance of service and support in today’s markets—a phenomenon likely due to the evolution of our service-oriented society.

Accordingly, customers today assume that a liberal guarantee accompanies the purchase of most products or services. Be careful here. Taking too much pride in your company's "whatever it takes" service philosophy may raise your customers' expectations without increasing your revenues proportionately. Seek a balance.

Delivery depends on the expectation your customer has regarding when they will actually be able to touch, experience or see the product or service. On-time and just-in-time delivery are buzzwords being tossed around liberally in business circles these days—but they're still quite accurate. Customers are simply not willing to pay premium prices for excuses about why the product or service wasn't delivered on time. Late-delivery or non-delivery events are the primary reasons customers fire suppliers. Sure, there are sometimes mitigating circumstances that allow a second chance to be given. But, by and large, when you say something will be there and it ain't there, you're probably driving the final nail into the coffin that contains your relationship with that customer.

It boils down to convenience
In a way, convenience is actually a combination of salesmanship, service and delivery. They are the vehicles that create the feeling of convenience in the mind of your customer.

Try asking customers (or yourself) why they decided to buy something. Ask what made them decide between you and the other available alternatives. What was the factor that tipped the scales in favor of their eventual decision? Typically, you'll find the words "pleasure", "convenient" or "easier" embedded somewhere in their answers.

"It was more convenient to buy the five-dollar gallon of milk at the corner Quiki-Mart than to go to the supermarket, park the car, stand in the check-out line and save a buck."

"It was easier to pay for delivery than to drive across town to pick it up."

"When I place my order with Give Me a Sign, Inc., I know I will get exactly what I ask for, when I need it, and I'll have one less thing to worry about. They are a pleasure to do business with."

As a business operator, you know you can train your employees to ensure quality, provide better service, practice professional salesmanship and recommend the most efficient delivery options. The one competitive advantage factor that is difficult to teach is how to make the buying process more convenient for your customers.

Perform a self-analysis of your company's rules, regulations, policies and procedures for doing business. If these policies turn out to be written more for the convenience of you and your employees than of your customers, don't go touting the fact that you are "customer-friendly." Many companies say they are "full-service," even though doing business with them is tougher than making a four-color, digital vehicle wrap look good.

Regardless of what you want your company to be known for, make yourself aware of your customer's perception of how convenient—or inconvenient—it is to do business with you. Listen passionately for signals that will tell you what would make life easier for them and, ultimately, for you. Good luck.