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To help reappraise your strategy, or pull one together for the first time, Tom Darnell provides the following checklist.

1. Why is customer strategy so important to my business planning?

Your customer strategy is an essential ingredient to your overall business planning, and one too often overlooked to the detriment of that business. Remember these essential components:
  1. Understand your ‘ideal customer’
  2. Assess and size your market
  3. Create a target customer experience
  4. Establish simple but effective techniques to manage the customer relationship
  5. Gather feedback and iterate your customer strategy over time
The success of any business is its clarity and focus in executing a well defined business strategy. A key part of this strategy is who you wish to target your products and services to - your customers.
Your customer strategy underpins how you go about establishing your approach to satisfying your business objectives. Without knowing and understanding your customer, your ability to satisfy their needs will be severally undermined.
Once you know who your customers are, how many of them there are, where they interact, how they behave and what their motivations are in the context of the products and services you offer; you have the basis of your business model.

2. What should be the essentials of a customer strategy?

Alongside an intimate understanding of the features and benefits of your product and a clear understanding of your competition in the market, it is essential to clearly determine your potential customer. Consider this question: who is your ideal customer?
The profile of your ideal customer
A good starting point in answering this is to draw up a profile or ‘pen portrait’ of your ideal customer. Basic demographics are important - how old are they? What socio economic grouping do they belong to? But also consider some other factors, such as what motivates them?  Where do they hang out? Who do they associate with? What technologies do they use? Where do they spend their surplus income?
You may identify that you have a number of different ‘ideal customer’ scenarios, or segments; that’s common, but remember the approach you take in terms of marketing, selling and aftercare may need to be adapted to cater most appropriately for the differing needs of each segment.
Find and assess the opportunity
Once you have drawn up this profile, it’s time to take a look at your market potential. How many of these ‘ideal’ customers reside within your target market? How often will those customers use your services? How much would they be willing to pay? Which of your competitors do those potential customers currently use? Why do they use them? How do your competitors go about attracting their business? What’s your unique selling point? And why would a customer wish to use your product or service over and above anyone else’s?
Researching your market and understanding your reach will allow you to understand the capacity and potential of your business. The same is true for a business of any size, and any complexity of product or service portfolio. This understanding allows you to plan how you will run your business, ensuring you invest most effectively both in terms of the marketing and operational sides to your business.

3. What else should my customer strategy contain?

By creating a profile of your ideal customer and through establishing the size of your target market, your customer strategy is taking shape nicely. You have created a number of key inputs into your overall business and marketing plan, which will ensure you invest effectively in reaching, servicing and satisfying the needs of your customers.
But there is a component missing: the customer experience.
It’s all about the experience
The creation of a target ‘customer experience’ for every step of the journey your customers will take is vitally important. This should include all touch points pre, during and post purchase – by ensuring you consider the customer experience as a strategic component of your business, you are already on the road to success.
Whilst the product is the essential component in creating customer advocacy, the experience through every stage of the customer’s interaction is increasingly important.
Start this process by considering all the likely scenarios in which a customer will interact with your business. Build simple, effective processes and response mechanisms that create a positive experience at every stage of interaction. These touch points may be online, via the phone, in person, postal, or via third party platforms such as social media. Understand how to make these channels work for you and the products you provide. If there is a risk you are unable to manage a certain channel effectively, yet it remains essential to your business, seek expert advice and support – a poorly executed channel within your customer experience can undermine the entire process.

4. How do I understand the changing needs of the customer?

Don’t be afraid to engage customers in the development and evolution of your own business. Simple, yet effective solutions include asking for feedback – yes, that simple! Carry out mini surveys when visitors come to your website, possibly include an incentive by rewarding customers who help, ensuring you generate a decent volume and wide range of customer feedback. And always ask the customer where they found you – it’s amazing how many businesses don’t carry out this most basic of customer research.
Your market is likely to change with surprising frequency - new competitors emerge, trends and external factors shift, and customers’ spot things with your proposition that may have been overlooked. Remember, research doesn’t end at the point of your customer strategy deployment. Your strategy and business should evolve and develop to ensure you remain ahead of the competition. Be proactive in this approach and you will stay ahead of the game.

5. What are the next steps I should take?

Managing the ongoing relationship with a customer can range from the very simple, to the very complex. It largely depends on the type of product you sell and the size of your potential customer base. Is your proposition mass market, relying on a repeat purchase? Or is it a high value, highly targeted, one off purchase and service model?
Understanding your commercial model and customer reach will provide the clearest direction as to the type of ‘relationship management’ you need to deploy. Think strategically and link the approach back to your target customer experience. Also consider the objective of why managing relationships is key for your business - great customer experience; more advocacy; customers coming back; increased sales. Simple, powerful and effective.
So what do I need to consider in my customer relationship strategy?
Think Tesco Club Card. How do they send me vouchers I am actually interested in? It’s all hidden within the customer data Tesco capture. You will have heard all kinds of terminology used to describe this, database management, CRM, customer or campaign management – but lets simplify all that. The natural extension of talking to your customers is capturing and using that information to communicate with them later. Creating a personal, tailored approach is not only beneficial for your business, but also an excellent experience for you customer if executed effectively and without bombardment.
Some basics: ask the customer a select few relevant questions – where did they hear about you? How many members within their household? How often do they eat out?  In addition, capture data on the transactions they carry out with your business, including products bought, dates and value of purchase, clicks on your website, which pages they view.
Now make some decisions on how you wish to use it.  As with everything, start simple, plan a few effective customer relationship techniques and add more later if appropriate. Generally, this information is best used in targeting an effective customer communications plan. This could be via email, sms, mailers, or simply picking up the phone to ask how things are going!
For instance, sending a reminder about an upcoming appointment; an email advising of an update to some software they have purchased or links to other related information are all good concepts to consider. More involved strategies may include a monthly e-news letter or an invitation to a product trial, which leads to a potential purchase later, for instance.
Always remember to measure the impact of each approach. Fine tune your relationship building strategy over time to ensure maximum impact.

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