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Managing Your Customers Through Change Let's explore how Maintaining Customer Relations Through Change can only satisfy the expectations of the market

By Gregg Brown

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As business owners, we tend to think of change management as a discipline that only applies to our business internally. Yet every business owner has to manage changes with their customers as well to meet their shifting expectations.

When you make external changes to your business, customers will usually react in one of two ways. First of all, they might be receptive to the changes, most often when the changes don't require a huge shift in attitude or behaviour and won't take them out of their comfort zone.

On the other hand, customers might be resistant to the change. This generally happens when they have to adjust how they interact with your business, whether it's online, via an app, or in person. In this case, your changes will be more likely to have lingering negative effects.

Here's what we as entrepreneurs and business owners can do to engage customers in the change process, so they feel more like a partner and stakeholder in the changes:

1. Analyze concerns from the customers' point of view: The buy-in to the change happens in the mind of the other person. While regulatory and legislative changes may seem easy to enforce, most customers aren't that interested in the reasons why something has to happen a certain way - they just want to have their needs met. Get your customers involved right from the beginning by testing out the changes with them. Walk them through the changes and requirements while discussing benefits.

Most importantly, listen to their concerns. You may not be able to solve all of them, but listening and acknowledging your customers' concerns will often still move people down the path to accept your changes.

2. Engage your customers in your ecosystem: Quite often, one change within the system will impact other areas of the system. Think of your business as a full ecosystem that is living and breathing. Ask your customers what is their experience at every encounter within this ecosystem.

Also, gather metrics on how, when, where, and why do they use your product. Provide incentives and ask your customers to share their experience online about your new product or service. This helps create a self-sustaining business ecosystem with your customers selling your product for you.

3. Don't assume connectivity: As technological change increases, those of us in larger urban centres may assume that everyone else has the same level of connectivity. Customers with lower connectivity must be facilitated too.

Be sure to have a technical workaround so consumers who live in an area with lower bandwidth have a great customer experience as well.

4. Build real intelligence: Make sure you are using the right metrics to measure the success of your business. While we might think of sales as a success metric, that alone will not necessarily tell you if your changes are successful. If your customer bought something but never came back, is that a sign of success for your particular business? Tracking continuing customer engagement with your company as well will give you a clearer picture of how successful your change was.

5. Maintain data accuracy: Ask the right questions. Ensure customers have real time access to tracking, shipping information, profile information, and other pieces of information that are relevant to your product or service. Read between the lines of percentages. For example, if 60% of your customers liked the product, but that number only accounts for a small number of people, the data is meaningless.

Also, take both quantitative and qualitative data into account. Anecdotal evidence can be just as strong as hard data and signify trends you should pay attention to.

6. Manage expectations: Be very clear with your customers about what they can expect through every step of their customer journey. Don't be afraid to make it simple and spell it out for them. People going through all types of changes want to know what the future will hold, what will stay the same, and what will change.

For example, when someone subscribes to your newsletter, tell them what they can expect each month, and express how grateful you are that they are sharing this journey with you. Anticipate and share the challenges. Help the customer predict the future.

7. Develop a strong customer relationship: Remember, buying strategies have changed. Your customers have access to more choices than ever. Develop and maintain a strong relationship with them. Make your customer feel like they are on the same team as you, and not simply a consumer of your products. Tell them what you will be accountable for and what you will provide. Help them create ownership with your product, service, and company.

This doesn't mean that the customer is always right. You are still in control of your business and your relationship with them. You manage your relationship with customers by testing the validity of their experience to see if there's a pattern or stream.

8. Be rigorous but flexible: For innovative changes to be rolled out successfully to your customers, there's got to be rigour, understanding, and adherence to the change management process. While you have to have the rigour to create a structured plan, hold meetings, and solicit feedback, you also have to be flexible enough within that process to adapt to the ever-changing landscape in which your business operates.

Obviously, some changes, such as those involving safety issues, require immediate action, whereas others may need to be studied before a change occurs. You will see shifts in your plan as the customers needs and requirements change, as well as how rapid technology changes in your business environment.

Overall, get the customer involved from the beginning of the planned changes. Nurture and guide them along the way, and provide the systems and supports they need to adapt to the changes. If you do, not only will they be grateful, you will also have a customer for life.

Gregg Brown

Change Management Specialist, Ready, Set, Change AGAIN!

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