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What's Important?

With busy season in full swing for most in the awards and recognition industry, what’s most important to your business probably is very clear. Good time management is very important to ensure orders are completed on time. Quality control is important to maintain during this hectic time of the year. Correct inventory levels and proper processes are important for keeping production on track. Employee morale is important to deal effectively with the increased influx of customers with large orders and small budgets. You know better than anyone what’s most important for a successful busy season.

What's Important?

Your Priorities Might Not Be What Your Target Customers Really Want

Fran Carville, CRM, Carco Awards/carcoawards.com

(Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Recognition Review.)

With busy season in full swing for most in the awards and recognition industry, what’s most important to your business probably is very clear. Good time management is very important to ensure orders are completed on time. Quality control is important to maintain during this hectic time of the year. Correct inventory levels and proper processes are important for keeping production on track. Employee morale is important to deal effectively with the increased influx of customers with large orders and small budgets. You know better than anyone what’s most important for a successful busy season.

Award retailers are the ultimate experts on what’s important to get the job done during busy season. We are the experts when it comes to the assembly of awards, engraving techniques, and inventory control. We know how to market, how to merchandise, and how to sell our products and services. We are the authorities on our accounting programs, our social media sites, and CorelDRAW! We absolutely, positively know what’s important for the continued success of our companies.

Or do we?

When is the last time you analyzed what your customers think is most important? Or evaluated what’s most important to your target audience consumers? Do you know why a person has chosen to do business with your company? Or what’s important enough to keep them coming back into your store? Are you clear on what it takes to get other consumers to do business with your company? Are you aware of what it will take to ensure baby boomers continue to be loyal customers versus why millennials would choose you over other options? Most of us think we know, but do we?

Most retailers list customer service as what’s most important to consumers. That typically is followed by store location, prices, and referrals. All of these “reasons to purchase” options are definitely a part of most consumers’ decision making process, but are any of them what’s most important? After reviewing 36 reputable retail survey sites in preparation for this article, I would like to share what consumers say is important to them. Some will be very predictable, although one or two just might give you an ah-ha moment.

  1. Many consumers base their opinion of your company on your website. If you have no cyberspace presence, consumers may not see your brick and mortar store as an option. According to Retailing Today, “81% of consumers go online before heading out to the store.” As for the millennial consumers–your future customers–research shows that their shopping is a transition from smartphone to laptop to store. The fact is that consumers see online stores and brick and mortar stores as connected.

    What’s important to consumers in almost every target audience is the ability to start shopping at home or in their office. They want to be familiar with your products and services before they ever walk into your store. They want to know that you are a good option before driving across town on their lunch hour to shop. An updated, easy-to-navigate website is important to consumers and helps determine who gets their business.

  2. Today’s overworked, overcommitted consumers want retailers to recognize that ease of doing business is what is important to them. Make it easy for them to order on your website, by e-mail, by phone, or through a visit to their place of business. Make it easy for these harried shoppers by offering shipping or delivery. Yes, you can ship a finished order across town for a customer’s convenience.

    Accomodate busy customers by working within their time frame, not yours. The good old days of a 2- or 3-week turnaround just won’t work with today’s customers because they will not use your policies to plan their orders. Make it easy by simply asking the customers what they want and need, then making it happen. In today’s fast-paced world with almost unlimited options, being the most convenient is key. Your goal is to have your customers saying, “Thank you for making it so easy.”

  3. Many times, good customer service is no longer enough to build a larger, loyal customer base. What’s important to consumers now is a true customer shopping experience. Of course, a very important part of that experience will always be great customer service. But consumers want more. They want a knowledgeable sales staff that can assist them with determining appropriate text, clearly explain the products and services, help them narrow their options based on their budgets, and provide answers to all of their questions and requests. Studies show that consumers are more likely to become loyal customers if they deal with the same company representative every time. Consumers view building a rapport and personalized service as very important. It goes back to the lyrics to the “Cheers” theme: “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.”

    What can you do to give more of a true customer shopping experience? If you have been to a New Balance store, you know that you are quickly offered a bottle of chilled water from a very knowledgeable sales person and made to believe that you are appreciated. One manufacturer’s showroom at the Dallas Gift Market always has the smell of fresh baked cookies wafting into the hallways, enticing you to come inside. Once you step into the showroom, you are offered milk and cookies and a personalized tour, based on your past buying history. A salesperson with a local clothing boutique who calls me to say she has pulled new merchandise in my size and the colors I prefer gets my business every single time because I am made to feel special. Our shop keeps a list of items our customers are interested in and calls them to say we have new products that we brought in specifically for them to see. Making each and every customer feel special and valued is what’s important.

  4. What’s becoming increasingly important to consumers is believing that someone actually is interested in what they have to say. Consumers want to buy from someone who cares enough to actively listen. By listening closely to what a customer is telling you, you will be able to help him navigate past all of your displays and focus on what would be relevant to his specific needs. Listening will shorten the time necessary to get all of the information you need to successfully complete the order. And in this day and age of “me,” the customer will feel wonderful that someone finds them worthy of undivided attention.

    Most of us have learned the art of listening to find out a customer’s wants and needs. We have learned to patiently guide the shopper through the order process. And we certainly understand how to listen when a customer takes the time to praise our work and our company! But sometimes a customer is not happy with us. What’s important to this customer is that someone listens to his or her complaints, which if we are honest, most of us do not want to hear. Maybe we need to reevaluate how important listening to those complaints can be for our companies. According to author, speaker, and business consultant Janelle Barlow, “Complaining customers are giving us an opportunity to find out what their problems are so we can help them, and so that they will be encouraged to come back and use our services and buy our products.” If we refuse to hear complaints with an open mind, if we refuse to try and work with an unhappy customer, we will lose them and the potential customers they tell. It is important to turn those unhappy customers into those that will sing your praises because you listened.

  5. It is just human nature to want to look good in front of our peers and that is certainly what’s important to consumers when purchasing awards. Whether it’s the little league coach who wants his team to ooh and ahh over their participation trophies or the company executive who wants to be viewed favorably for designing a professional awards program, everyone wants the gratification of a job well done. So, it becomes a part of our job to help each customer pick out the perfect award for their event. Take the time to point out what’s new, what products won awards at the ARA International Awards Market, what’s popular with similar customers, and what products would be the most appropriate for the recipients. If we guide customers to the perfect award, they will continue to reward you with future business.

  6. And, finally, what’s important to customers is price. Or, at least that is what we all think. Research by NFR, Inc., shows that what most consumers are really interested in is quality and perceived value. A customer expects to pay more for an item that looks and feels expensive. But many customers have become accustomed to asking for a deal. We try to offer quality awards in several different price points and have learned to work within most customers’ budget. We have become experts at directing customers to awards that will fit their needs and satisfy their wallets. And we have come to understand that we sell luxury, non-essential products that consumers want. If you have pricing policies and you follow those policies with every single customer, you will fulfill most customers’ wish of getting quality at a reasonable, fair price.

    If your target base is just interested in “cheap,” nothing else is as important as price and negotiating deals. Just remember that this customer’s loyalty only lasts as long as you are the best bargain and that “cheap” may be the way for you to win the race into bankruptcy. What’s important to most consumers is feeling they are dealing with a trustworthy, reputable business that will treat them fairly.

What’s Important?

The continued success of every awards and recognition retailer is dependent, in part, on knowing what is most important to your customers and to your target audience. We cannot assume that we know what today’s consumers want and need. We cannot force consumers to be OK with whatever is important to us. Do some research to determine which retailers in your marketplace are growing and find out what they are doing to meet and exceed customer expectations. Ask yourself, “Can I honestly say I am the best option in every way for what’s important to my target audience consumers?” If the answer is anything other than 100% yes, get a plan to become the best option. What’s important is what consumers view as most important to them!


Fran Carville, CRM, is an ARA past president, ARA educational speaker, 2008 Speaker of the Year, a member of the ARA Hall of Fame, and winner of an Award of Excellence from the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Fran and her husband, Tom Carville, CRM, own Carco Awards in Baton Rouge, LA.

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