Would Your Customers Care if You Were Gone?

Last Updated Oct 29, 2008 4:31 PM EDT

Most organisations die, not with a bang, but with a whimper. The headlines may be grabbed by the major company disasters, such as Lehman Brothers' collapse or Enron's self-destruction.

But corporate cemeteries are more commonly filled with businesses that breathed their last after a long, gradual decline or which were so frail they failed to overcome the organisational equivalent of a common cold.

What's even more depressing for these companies is that they aren't missed, or maybe even remembered, by their old customers. Their graves are unkempt, overgrown and abandoned.

The emerging recession will undoubtedly accelerate the demise of many more organisations, large and small. And the companies most at risk are those where their customers don't really care about them.

Woolworths is currently at the centre of speculation about its ability to survive. The speculation may or may not be true, but what is clear is that their customers seem to have stopped caring.

In a recent Retail Week survey over 40 per cent of shoppers said they wouldn't miss Woolworths at all if it ceased to exist. For a mass high-street retailer, this is a hugely worrying statistic and suggests that Woolies is in danger of following the likes of C&A or Fine Fare or Safeway -- once high-street stalwarts that no longer exist.

There are three cornerstones to building stronger support from your current and potential customers:

  1. A distinctive proposition. Customers face too many choices to notice incremental improvements or me-too offers. Distinctive businesses create more interest, excitement and profits. In their book, "Blue Ocean Strategy", W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne found that out of 100 business launches they studied, only 14 per cent were truly distinctive, but these companies accounted for over 60 per cent of the total profits generated.
  2. An engaging experience. Starbucks's success, for example, was based on its ability to transform the purchase of coffee into a lifestyle experience.
  3. A long-term relationship. Tesco's slogan of "Every little helps" has led it to create a series of small wins for its customers. Quicker queues, new products and services, lower prices and loyalty card benefits have all helped improve the lives of Tesco's customers and create closer ties between the company and its shoppers.
What do you think? How else can companies become indispensible to customers? Share your ideas below.
(Photo by WWarby, CC2.0)
  • Stuart Cross

    Stuart Cross is a founder of Morgan Cross Consulting, which helps companies find new ways to drive substantial, profitable growth. His clients include Alliance Boots, Avon and PricewaterhouseCoopers.