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Prioritise Customers To Survive

If you don’t prioritise your whole business on customers, all other survival options are just short-term hacks.

Prioritise Customers To Survive

That title might elicit a, “Duh, that’s obvious” response. But with the media hullaballoo of everything entrepreneurs could be doing to survive COVID lockdowns, this isn’t always top of mind. Secondly, there’s a deeper meaning than simply, say, “Get more customers.”

A survey report published by Visa Economic Empowerment Institute (VEEI) in January 2021 gives insight into what matters most to survive lockdown. Over 2,000 responses were from small businesses in Brazil, Colombia, Malaysia, Philippines, and South Africa.

Maybe survival isn’t a dire priority for your business. In the survey, 20% of respondents reported a very optimistic outlook for 2021. “These are established, fast-growing small, medium, and large firms that tend to be designated as “essential” businesses, accept remote orders as their main sales method, use ... digital marketplaces, and export to a number of markets.”

Conversely, 60% of the businesses most at risk include micro and small businesses (1-10 and 11-50 employees respectively) and those in an early stage (start-up or not yet established, regardless of age).

Importantly, regardless of size, industry or growth stage, the common traits of enterprises in jeopardy are that they have a heavily local customer base and they have immature online payment methods.

In other words, if your customers live close to you and you make them pay in cash or by EFT, your best chance of survival is to be in a “lucky” industry.

So if your business is at risk and you’re not in the “right” industry, what are your options?

Waiting for government policy changes and financial institutions to soften their lending criteria or make additional recovery funds available is not an option.

You’ve already cut your costs to the bone. You’ve surely negotiated with clients to pay sooner and asked suppliers to extend your payment terms. You’ve put staff on short time and you’ve cut inventory holdings to minimal or even a sale-to-order basis.

Even if you implement all of these options, this is not sustainable on its own.

Coming back to my opening paragraph, the only long-term and sustainable solution is to prioritise customers. Obviously, you’ll want to minimise churn and you’ll want to get more customers, but it’s much more than this:

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and map out their journey. Start with your marketing, be where your customers hang out. How do they progress from their online search to find your website, through to payment, and to delivery of your product or service? Literally, draw the customer process on paper and describe the key steps and even their decision criteria and emotions. (It’s what we call a customer journey map.)

You’ll want to keep customers satisfied in your channel all the way through to payment, fulfilment and beyond to customer retention.

Learn from the VEEI report and fix your payment systems to reduce whatever friction might dissuade your customer from checking out their cart, literally and metaphorically. Fix your website and find a better e-commerce plug-in. Sign up with a credit card merchant or debit order collector. Set up QR code payments. Step up your online payment and data security.

If you don’t see your business as a customer sees it, you might not see many customers.