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Respect, responsibility and fairness – why business transformation is easier and more valuable than you think

Written as Independent Commissioner, Direct Marketing Commission

Pile it high and sell it cheap? Doing the minimum doesn’t work any more – customers move on and the regulations work against you but can we see regulatory frameworks as an opportunity?

Acquiring customers can be challenging and expensive. Retaining them isn’t easy but mutual respect, value exchange and a willingness to keep evolving helps make both your customers and your business sustainable. Transformation, underpinned by best practice, really is win-win.

Let’s say there are challenges ahead. What can you do about it and how does the Code [The DMA Code] offer a framework for positive action?

Act in accordance with your customer’s expectations

Know your customer. Customers aren’t just numbers, objects or simple transactions - you need to know them. Do you really want to work with everyone or do you want to choose your audience?

Meet your customer need and their expectations. A customer is only working with you to meet a need. Understanding them, their need and where you fit in raises the third element - understanding your customer journey. Why are they dealing with you now, how are they benefiting and why would they stay? This is more than mere individual transactions – this is about customer lifecycles and key to retaining profitable customers. Do you want any other kind?

Be honest, fair and transparent

Value exchange - a business relationship (and the transactions which make it up) need to be mutually beneficial. You don’t want unprofitable customers (or unprofitable products and services) and customers don’t want to feel taken advantage of. There has to be a value exchange and in order to be effective, you need to know your value and theirs. It should be an equitable exchange.

Open up what can be opened up – commercial confidentiality is important but that doesn’t apply to burying terms and conditions and ways of working in the small print. Be open about what you do and why, your standards (assuming they are high ones) and be clear. Don’t hide things you don’t need to hide.

Use feedback as an opportunity to learn – transparency brings opportunities. Is there a different or better way of doing things that you’ll only learn from feedback? Not all feedback is criticism and not all criticism is negative or personal. Seek feedback and how to do things better.

Deliver what you promise – you now know your customer and what they need. You’ve agreed your value exchange. Deliver what you promise always. Sometimes this may disadvantage you – work doesn’t always go to plan but openness will win you respect and the credibility of customers. If it doesn’t, perhaps you’re working with the wrong customer base.

Be diligent

Safeguard and secure – much as safeguarding children is critical in schools, safeguarding and securing data is essential to your business. Ensure you have the right systems and processes in place and that everyone who works for you, and with you, understands them. Then double check it.

Know your weaknesses – every business in the world gets something wrong but the smarter ones seek to understand why. Customers will no doubt provide feedback but it’s important to give yourself your own space to think, reflect and correct as well. Many a good business opportunity has come from addressing a mistake well.

Continue improving – once you know your weaknesses, prioritise what has the most impact and work on that first. Continuous improvement at the right rate should enable you to stay ahead of your competition, to innovate and grow volumes and profitability.

Act responsibly

Operating protocols with resources and systems – the right ways of working have a systematic approach. Agree your protocols and back them up with the right resources and systems. Stress test them, subject them to independent review and change what needs to change. Responsibility only applies if they deliver the right result – make sure they do. Don’t rely on tickboxes and pieces of paper as mitigation.

Hold yourself accountable as partner for credit and blame – very few business transactions are simple two party affairs. Just as you need to know your customer and their needs, you need to know your suppliers and partners and their needs (and challenges and weaknesses) too. Things go wrong on all sides but holding yourself accountable will build trust and credibility.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – why wouldn’t you? A responsible, fair, accountable relationship between you and your customers is in everyone’s best interests. Unless you’re a bottom feeder out for a quick buck.

It sounds right, it feels right and it points the way. This is change you can believe in and will lead to more valuable customers, a better return on investment and a less challenging time running your business. Regulatory change does present opportunities. Worth a thought?

Originally published in the Direct Marketing Commission Annual Report

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