Visit your customers
Relationships with your customers are no different than relationships with your family or friends. You have to know them well and know what gets them excited and what drives them crazy in order to meet their needs and have a strong relationship.
“You’ve got to be really connected to customers to understand what their problems are,” Lipps says. “They can’t always translate that into what solutions they want, but they can tell you what their problems are, and by doing that, then you can propose different solution sets and make them well-tested before you make the big investments of going in a certain direction.”
While there are a plethora of online tools you
can use to stay in touch with your customers, he says there is no substitute for old-fashioned customer relations.
“There’s nothing like going out and seeing customers personally in their environment — where they are — to meet with them,” he says.
It’s the best way to really understand your customer, even in today’s high-tech world.
“To be connected to a customer, you’ve got to go live in their environment, and particularly, you have to have a culture where everyone in the company is involved with customers and actually goes on-site to a customer site and experiences what happens at a customer site,” he says.
When your employees visit customers with you, it gives you a chance to demonstrate the kind of behavior you want them to have when interacting with customers, but it also shows them that you’re not just talking a good game.
“I say [to customers], ‘Hey, you’re a partner. I feel your pain, or I want you to be successful. Here’s my number. Call me — call me at home,’” Lipps says. “I offer that to any customer, and our employees do the same thing.”
They may get calls at home at 11 p.m., but it’s worth it because it shows the customers that what he told them when visiting wasn’t just for show.
But when you visit, it’s also more than handing out your home number or just smiling and taking a tour. You need to have a plan and look to garner some information from your visit.
“What’s really important is not focusing on your particular sector right away,” he says. “I love to come in and ask customers, ‘What’s your biggest efficiency problem?’ It may not have anything to do with my products, but I just want to know what their biggest efficiency problem is. Where are they not getting enough to get the desired results of the cost they want?”
He also asks about what their biggest safety concerns are and what their biggest regulatory issues are.
“Most have issues and compliances to keep with, so start with these broader questions of their environmental issues,” Lipps says. “Then I ask, ‘What will be your biggest safety or efficiency or regulatory issue in five years? If I’m sitting and talking to you about the same things, what will those questions be?’ It’s very interesting because they sometimes see the solution to those issues in the near future, but there’s a bigger one behind the one currently on their desk, and then you get a real sense of what is facing your customers, and it’s amazing what they’ll tell you.”