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By: Chris Coulson
When people start businesses, they usually think of them as long-term, if not lifetime endeavors. However, research shows that the average business lasts 10 years. At Act!, a large percentage of our customers have used our product for years and are still growing. What's the secret of business longevity? The short answer is to foster a customer-centric culture. Let's look at a few examples from different industries to see how this can be achieved.
How a Local Furniture Store Succeeds Despite Economic Conditions
Family-owned retail businesses are struggling today due to competition from retail giants and, increasingly, e-commerce behemoths such as Amazon. Yet some of these businesses are thriving despite all of these challenges. Consider Danto Furniture, a Detroit business that's been serving the community since 1940. Despite being in one of the nation's most economically depressed cities, this furniture store has made it through numerous recessions. In a recent interview, one of the owners said, "We have a personal touch and have built a strong brand with hard work, dedication, and we are a business that cares for the community." This is a good summary of a principle that helps any business succeed over the long haul. Some of the specific ways that the company serves its customers is to provide easy credit, employ multi-lingual staff to serve the diverse community, and provide an efficient and pleasant shopping experience for both online and in-person customers.
How Apple Consistently Pleases Its Fans
In some ways, tech and online businesses have an even bigger challenge than traditional retail stores when it comes to customer focus. It's tempting to let technology de-personalize the shopping experience and treat customers like numbers. It's helpful to look at how some of the more successful tech companies overcome this challenge. Apple is especially adept at branding itself as a customer-friendly company. Despite experiencing several difficult periods, Apple has achieved longevity by emphasizing quality, product design, and innovation. Business analyst Neil Patel points out that Apple exemplifies the principle "Know your audience and talk to them in their language." As Patel points out, Apple seldom focuses on technical specifications in its marketing. It focuses on what its customers actually value - benefits, ease of use, appealing design, and access to fun features (e.g. songs on iTunes).
Intuit: Design for Delight
Intuit is another tech company that's had its struggles over the years but has emerged stronger by focusing on the needs of customers. In fact, its motto is "design for delight." Intuit, founded in 1983, is best known for its accounting and tax software such as QuickBooks and TurboTax. Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit, says "we have to build emotion into the product." This seems like a strange idea for a company that makes software to help people balance their books. Intuit builds user-friendly design and simplicity into every feature to give users the best possible experience. This illustrates that even a product concerned with data and calculations ultimately relies on pleasing customers. The company now has 60% market share, so its strategy is obviously paying off.
Hilton: Using Customer Analytics to Provide Better Service
No company epitomizes long-term success in the hospitality industry than Hilton, founded by Conrad Hilton in 1919. Hilton Worldwide owns almost 5,000 properties, including hotels for tourists and business travelers with diverse requirements. Although Hilton is almost a century old, it's now using the latest technology to help it improve customer experience. In 2014, Hilton Worldwide was a Gold Winner in the 2014 Gartner and 1to1 Media CRM Excellence Awards. Hilton scrupulously analyzes data from social media, customer reviews, guest feedback, and other sources to continually improve its level of service.
These are a few examples of how putting the customer first helps a business achieve longevity. These principles are equally relevant to small and local businesses and global leaders. No matter what type of business you own, the best way to achieve long-term success is to deliver an exceptional experience to your customers.