Customers are the Heart of the Business

By Iqbal Thokan

Customers require attention. Like with any relationship, attention is important. Find out what attention your customers require. Customers are the heart of the business and cash flow is the blood that keeps it pumping. Every business needs customers and the cashflow to maintain the attention of our customers and in todays time customer loyalty is what’s going to help our businesses survive.

However, the current economic climate makes it very difficult to obtain customer loyalty, and add the competitive landscape into that and we have a business migraine, but that does not mean it’s impossible. Customer loyalty is important to our survival and it all revolves around us providing great customer service through all levels of interaction by means of delivering attention and value. Loyalty drives promotion and promotion drives sales and sales drives growth. Data gathering is a great tool as it allows us to gather information about our customers, their needs and their wants, which in turn helps us to give them the attention they require. This in turn helps us to focus our marketing message which in turn drives customers towards us. But that’s just not good enough, our interaction and communication on all platforms needs to be focused on the customer and providing them with the attention they need. How often have we experienced getting a great marketing message and then walking into a store only to be totally ignored by the staff, we browse around and then get a feeling of guilt or decide let’s check elsewhere and walk out without any purchase. However, if we had received some attention it could have very well swayed or decision into a purchase. Human beings, well most anyway, are naturally reciprocal and if we get attention then we give it back. As business owners we need to constantly view our business through the eyes of our customers and ask the tough questions that need to be asked, such as ‘what attention would I want if I was a customer to this business’. And when asking such questions, we need to be completely impartial about our responses and view it as we would be viewing a competitor’s business. Many of us often find ourselves copying our competitor’s methods and this can often be viewed as being ingenuine. To gain loyalty requires trust and trust comes from being genuine about what we offer to our customers and to give them the value they expect. Once we have the attention of customers we need to give them as much attention back. Having kids, I have learnt the value of listening as part of building trust. As a dad, I may not get it right all the time, but we keep on trying. Listening instead of speaking is a great way to show our customers that we care about their needs and wants and this helps us to build trust and loyalty.

When we are looking at the customer experience within our business, in order to improve the attention we provide, we need to look at the entire customer journey, both internally and externally. By knowing the journey our customers take from the first message they receive right down to the point of purchasing we are able to understand the various touch points and evaluate how we interact with our customers. This review allows us to analyse each touch point and find out, firstly how we give attention but also how the customers receive our attention. Improving this requires us to know how the customer would like to receive attention at each of these touch points. These need to be tracked regularly in order to continue to be creative in the way we provide attention to our customers. As human beings, once we stop receiving attention we have a tendency to move towards the next business that can provide us with the attention we require, hence we need to be constantly creative in improving the way we provide attention.

Every business needs to be focused on their customers, however, some do it better than others and one of the best known for their exceptional service is the Ritz-Carlton hotel group. The Ritz defines luxury through its customer service and has a great motto that is very much customer and employee focused. Horst Schulze, who took the company from good to great grew up in a small village in Germany and started out his career in hospitality as a busboy and a dishwasher. He was very focused on and stressed the importance of putting the customer first and coined the phrase, “ladies and gentleman serving ladies and gentleman”. And it is this philosophy of being customer focused which the Ritz-Carlton continues to attest to its success. Improve on the way we give our customers attention and build loyalty and trust which will help build a relationship that will allow us to stay relevant, survive and thrive.

Iqbal Thokan is an experienced business management consultant and the founder and co-owner of

Personalisation A Key Differentiator In Customer Service​

The competitive marketplace and economic climate are making it more difficult for organisations to obtain customer loyalty. Customers are now demanding much better customer service, improved value and personal attention. It is, therefore, becoming imperative for companies to create the ability to engage in intelligent conversations with their customers and this means creating a seamless, integrated customer experience across all interaction channels and then connecting it back to your strategy. ​

“Customers are now demanding much better customer service, improved value and personal attention.”

The 2015 Dimension Data Global Contact Centre report showed that as much as 60% of the South African response base believe that Customer Analytics will be the leading factor in reshaping the industry within the next five years. While globally only 53% of organisations view this as the most influential mechanism. That said, the number of South African respondents who are unable to offer personalised service based on segmentation levels exceeded the global respondents by 35%.

This does not necessarily speak to capability as a reason, but rather a more conservative approach with regards to adoption and, potentially, a lag in embracing the hype cycle.

We know that experience drives loyalty and loyalty drives promotion. Promotion drives acquisition, which in turn drives revenue. Experience and loyalty ultimately drive retention and profitable growth, which is the utopia of business value. By collecting customer data from a variety of sources, organisations can develop a much deeper understanding of each customer. It also involves segmentation and personalisation. By identifying the company’s most profitable customers and segmenting them into groups based on marketable criteria, an organisation can find ways to personalise contact and interaction with their customers.

Purely having an integrated view of the customer isn’t enough. Companies have to include effective segmentation principles and introduce personalisation. Then they need to integrate usable customer insights into their strategic and operational model to drive true business value.

“Purely having an integrated view of the customer isn’t enough​”

Integrating Disparate Customer Data

Establishing a single view of the customer is one of the primary challenges affecting executives today. This challenge has existed for years but is even more difficult to address today as the Web and a multitude of web-based applications have emerged as other channels in which customers can interact with the company.

The biggest issue is the lack of data integration across multiple disparate sources of information. Many leading companies are solving this issue with the use of a data warehouse. Conceptually it’s an application that provides for the extraction, transformation and storage of data from multiple disparate sources into a common platform, including various forms of transactional and operational data from a variety of sources. This data is extracted and loaded into a data warehouse and consolidated into a consistent form and format. Data in the data warehouse can then be analysed to provide a more complete and consistent view of customers.

“How you act on that data and what you do with it is what drives business value.​”

Much like CRM applications, data warehousing has gone through numerous stages over the years. The current and ongoing stage of development encompasses the Integrated View of the Customer. It provides for the integration of data about the customer across contact channels and product lines and is essential to creating the type of integrated view of the customers that is critical to understanding their patterns of behaviour. It doesn’t end there, however. Collecting critical data is only part of the battle. How you act on that data and what you do with it is what drives business value. By turning the date into usable customer insights, organisations can drive more informed conversations with their customers.

Customer Segmentation

While customer segmentation is not new, but it is evolving, changing how and to what degree you segment your customer base will make your targeting more accurate and how you react to your customer more appropriate.

Data warehousing has been also available for several decades, but until recently there only a few tools, outside of CRM applications, which could provide a user-friendly way to gain valuable customer insight. Traditional methods of data extraction to build usable customer insights was slow, inefficient and not conducive to the organisation.

Today, there are a number of user-friendly analytical and data mining tools that allow end users to analyse data from large databases and create customer segmentation based on a broader range of criteria. Using this data, the company can then develop a strategy for managing and interacting with these customer segments.


Once a company has a more integrated view of the customer and is able to segment their customers to develop their customer strategy, they need to focus on doing what is necessary to create a positive customer interaction with the company, in other words, personalise that engagement.

Leading companies realise that harvesting and collecting data, as well as mining the data, plays a crucial role in customer interaction, and they are converting this data into meaningful insights that are vital to making a customers’ experience with the company a positive one. These companies also understand the value in linking their sales, customer service and marketing departments, and the important role this plays in interacting with the customer.

This type of transaction also holds true for contact centre representatives who receive a call from a customer. Based on data about previous transactions by that customer, the contact centre representative is better prepared and can provide the individual with the product or service they would be most interested in buying. It also allows opportunities for up-selling and cross-selling. The more you know about a customer, the better the customer interaction will lead to a win-win situation for both parties.

Many companies are already employing such personalised conversations with customers and are realising the benefits from it. These organisations are also implementing measurement mechanisms that enable them to understand how effective these conversations are at any given time, allowing them to make adjustments, both in real-time and to future efforts, to improve them.

The most progressive companies have found that segmentation, combined with interactions that are tailored to the need and behaviour of each segment are much more effective in capturing customers’ attention in today’s marketplace.

“The more you know about a customer, the better the customer interaction will lead to a win-win situation for both parties.​”

It’s important for any good business owner to try to get into the mind of potential customers. Owners who fail to take customers into account actually can do tremendous harm to their businesses—you never want your customers to feel like they’ve been ignored!

Marketing studies are finding that it’s not only helpful, but is actually imperative to think about and request your customers’ wants and feedback. Should a business owner skip this step, customers may feel ignored, which is bad for all parties involved.

What does it mean to feel ignored?

Customers that feel ignored often compare the feeling to rejection. As irrational as these feelings may be, emotions like rejection influence purchasing decisions made by your customers. It is important not only to care about the way your customers feel, but to clearly demonstrate that you care.

How can emotions impact a retail business?

As much as most shoppers will tell you that they do not want an employee interrupting their shopping experience, they also don’t want to feel that staff members are unavailable. For example, customers often dislike seeing employees engaging in conversation and leaving the customers to fend for themselves. Some customers even feel ignored simply because the only employee is busy working on another essential task!

So, how can you combat letting your customers feel ignored?

Your first step here: acknowledge that customers never forget. It’s important to show customers just how much you value their business—make them feel special, even if it’s in a small or subtle way. In order to do this, consider your own experiences as a customer. Or, alternatively, it never hurts to hire a team of effective staff members who have had experience in sales and customer service. When you and your employees put themselves in the position of the consumer, you will see results!

Gathering data for your company is also an excellent way to gauge your customers’ thoughts. Consider using polls, surveys, and comment cards to gather information—and to make your customers feel valued! Ask customers about interactions they’ve had with staff and why they may be choosing to shop online or at other stores. Use this data to make changes with you staff members.

Once you take active steps to make your customers feel like friends you should be pleasantly surprised at the results. With ongoing dedication to customer satisfaction, you will be able to ensure your customers never feel ignored.



Nurturing and converting leads takes deep customer relationships and these relationships begin by Starting Conversations (our sixth box).

Starting Conversations is how your business nurtures and converts leads into your direct source of revenue, i.e. sales. Your business needs to understand how your customers buy from you in order for you to maximise conversion opportunities.

Measuring the effectiveness of your sales function is crucial to your success because sales, as a function, has changed. Today, more than ever, the sales function is about deeper relationships.

In this context, we are often asked about CRM (that’s customer relationship management) programs. I thought you would be interested in the article below from Salesforce, which gives a really clear understanding of what they are and how to develop a CRM strategy that fits your business:

With the introduction of advanced customer relationship management (CRM), businesses are finally able to place customers at the forefront. However, the technology can only do so much. In fact, even though CRM has been shown to increase revenue by 41% per salesperson on average, it is estimated that 43% of businesses that utilize CRM are failing to use even half of their CRM systems correctly.

In a report for Forrester, analyst William Band surveyed approximately 150 different companies in an effort to identify problems with their CRM initiatives. He discovered that 18% of his respondents reported issues directly relating to inadequate strategies. Without an effective CRM strategy, businesses run the risk of missing the mark on delivering superior customer value. Here are some tips to help your business develop a winning CRM strategy.

1. Set a destination

More than anything else, your CRM should help your company achieve its goals. As such, your first step in implementing a CRM strategy is to identify those goals. Once you know what you are trying to accomplish, your next step is to determine how you plan on reaching your objectives. Break your goals down into smaller, achievable objectives, and then map out how and when you plan to complete these steps. This map should be flexible, allowing for revision along the way.

2. Prioritize your Customers

It is common for businesses to want to treat all of their customers equally. The problem is that the business world is not a democracy; for a company to be successful, it must be willing to prioritize customers based upon how profitable (or how likely to become profitable) they are. For example, returning customers are often much more valuable, spending on average nearly double what new customers spend. Your organization may have its own definition of what makes a customer valuable, so it is up to you to identify the traits that you most look for in a buyer, so that can segment your accounts to increase metric-effectiveness.

3. Communicate with your employees

Your CRM may be designed to handle large amounts of data, and to facilitate communication between various groups, but it is your staff that will determine whether or not your goals are met. Involve your employee in every step of the strategic process. This will help them not only internalize the objectives, but will also give them personal ownership over the direction that the company takes. Invested employees will be better able to integrate new policies and technologies in a way that will benefit everyone involved.

4. Stagger your changes

If some aspect of your business isn’t working the way it should, you might feel pressured to implement new policies and technologies as quickly as possible in an effort to minimize any damage. The problem with this mentality is that too many changes all at once can have a negative impact on your employee’s productivity. Keep your workforce in mind, and whenever possible, introduce your new CRM policies gradually.

5. Start tracking your customers before first contact

The CRM framework makes it possible for businesses to capture data at every stage of the customer journey. Despite this, many businesses fail to put their CRM to work until after the first few steps have been made. Instead, prepare for initial contact with your lead by using your CRM to catalogue what kind of information your prospective customer shares across social media channels. This will give you an edge in understanding what your customer wants, how they expect you to deliver on those wants, and what they are likely to want in the future.

6. Sync everything to your CRM

Many CRMs have their own built-in programs that mimic the functionality of other, often-used applications. When this is the case, then it is a simple matter for your system to sync together, so that any notes or appointments made throughout the system are automatically tracked through the rest of the CRM. However, for times when outside applications are necessary, be sure sync your CRM with whatever other programs are being utilized. The best CRMs will do this automatically, importing client-related appointments from your calendar, updating cancellations and other changes, and sending reminders when appropriate. Syncing everything together will help guarantee that you’re utilizing your CRM to its full ability.

7. Evaluate and improve

Every business has its own unique challenges, and no CRM strategy — no matter how in-depth — will be able to accurately account for every possible contingency. Accept this fact, and be willing to reevaluate your approach should it become apparent that something isn’t working as well as it could be. Remember: Knowing what is ineffective can often be nearly as valuable as knowing what is effective, so be grateful for every chance you have to identify weaknesses in your system.

When all is said and done, CRM is nothing more than a highly-advanced tool. By itself, it is incapable of helping your business reach its goals. But when combined with a detailed-yet-flexible business strategy, CRM can help you place your customer in the forefront of your business focus. It may take time, effort, and a few trips back to the drawing board, but if you make it a point to develop the right strategy, you’ll find that CRM has the potential to perfect your relationships with those who keep you in business.



Customer service makes a difference. So much so, that most leaders believe the customer experience will make or break the business. 

That begs the question: Is service at the heart of your business?

It should be, considering Walker researchers found that the customer experience will be what helps one brand stand out – and make customers buy from and stick with a company – within two years. The experience will be more important than price and product.

If the customer experience is at the forefront of business success, companies will want to center more people and resources around service.

“Delivering true service excellence often means not just giving an answer but taking action in a timely manner,” says Georg Glantschnig, GM at SAP Service Cloud /SAP Customer Experience. “Consumers expect the most logical solution in the quickest period of time, and they won’t forget the brands who make their lives easier and better.”

Make the commitment

Here are four ways to keep customers at the heart of business, according to the experts at SAP:

  1. Understand the voice of your customers. Most companies get informal feedback and do formal surveys to capture the voice of the customer. That’s great, but more importantly, you want to understand what they say. Customer experience leaders want to gather customer data, put it in a reader-friendly format that everyone – and especially front-line service pros – can access so they can make decisions based on customers’ most current needs.
  2. Empower, train and motivate frontline service pros. While everyone in the organization should be at least somewhat customer-focused, the people who work with customers daily need to be excited and rewarded to do it. “We tend to remember extreme ends of the spectrum when engaging with brands – when things go particularly well or not,” says Glantschnig. “Resolving customer concerns quickly starts with training agents and utilizing technologies to advocate for the customer. In turn, customer advocacy generates customer loyalty.”
  3. Make sure all touch points are customer-centric. Ensure that all self-service options are easy to navigate and offer an easy way out to switch over to a service pro. Then “customer service representatives (can be) proactive, not reactive,” says Glantschnig. “Instead of just handling negative inquiries, representatives can provide positive value throughout the customer journey – such as offering a recommendation based on customers’ prior purchases and preferences.”
  4. Be present end-to-end. Always look for opportunities to make customers’ live easier. If they ask one question, answer it and the potential next (which you can recognize from experience). If you see they’re due for maintenance soon, and they contact you for another issue, ask if they want to schedule (and save them from a future contact).



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