The importance of brands putting customers at the very core of what they do and how they do it has never been more important – or more pronounced – as it is today.
As small-medium businesses across Australia have adapted and changed to ensure their operations continue, one thing’s remained consistent throughout – the importance of the customer.
How businesses approach this, however, has evolved, with more emphasis on the customer – their needs and their wellbeing – as opposed to selling them a product or service.
“Before COVID-19, a lot of people loved things and used people, and I’d love to see that change, so we love people and use things,” says Tobi Skovron, CEO and CoFounder of CreativeCubes.co, a company that hires out flexible office space, as well as having events, wellness and food and beverage arms to the business.
“We have the ability to solve people’s problems, rather than sell them an office, and that’s a hugely important mindset for us.”
The importance of genuine customer relationships
The fourth edition of the Salesforce Small and Medium Business Trends report highlighted that 34% of SMBs have prioritised developing customer relationships over one-time transactions, and for Tobi this has been fundamental in the approach CreativeCubes.co has taken over recent months.
He says, “My mandate to the team has been ‘just make sure we’re looking after people, reach out to people to make sure they’re safe, reach out to members who we haven’t seen for a month ask them are you ok? Forget about selling’.”
Shardae Mazzeo, Head of People and Culture at CreativeCubes.co was part of making Tobi’s mandate come to life. “At the end of the day everything we did was to support our customers. The way we treat our relationships is so important. The stronger and more personal we become in that relationship building, the better the relationship becomes.”
The ability to change the way service is delivered to customers has been key for many businesses, including Auckland-based designer kitchen brand Kitchen Mania.
Greg Arnold, General Manager of Kitchen Mania, says the company has placed greater emphasis on sharing knowledge and educating customers, rather than just delivering a service.
“We’ve always tried to understand the customer and really focus on their needs. Over the past year that’s become even more important because expectations have risen after COVID-19.”
During the pandemic, the Kitchen Mania team were unable to conduct live visits to customers’ homes, so the brand introduced online consultations and created content to educate their clients on how to take accurate measurements.
Greg was surprised just how adaptable the customer base was.
“The video consultations worked well – we have customers aged 20 to 80, and I can’t recall a problem. I think people were willing to take more time and work together with us as we were all in the same boat.”
The benefits of a centralised customer view
Establishing and nurturing those relationships is essential for SMBs and technology is increasingly important in doing this.
For CreativeCubes.co, being able to have a centralised, whole-of-business view of its customers, has been incredibly valuable – and will continue to evolve and grow over the coming months and years.
Tobi says it’s been very important to build out the digital experience to match the physical experience the brand delivers on-premises.
“Those two things go hand in glove,” he explains.
“Now, our whole database is centralised – we have one single source of truth – so we know which of our members who are using CreativeCubes.co for their office space are also using our events space or taking a membership at one of our wellness spaces as well.
“We want to be the best – not necessarily the biggest – so we have to have the tools, equipment and software to match that drive.”
And that meant transitioning from being a start-up operating in spreadsheets and documents – or holding information in people’s heads – to a centralised system.
“When we moved from our old system to Salesforce, our view became so much more sophisticated,” says Shardae.
“Our members are quickly responded to, they have all their information – no matter if they are new or been with us from business inception. I know the customer interaction and customer journey, their preferences and what they need from us is in one central place.
Continuing to develop customer-centricity
Businesses are increasingly looking at how to capitalise on this customer-centricity, and are exploring new and different ways to communicate with customers and deepen the relationship with them. Indeed, 47% of SMBs surveyed said they were expanding the ways in which customers could contact them.
A new kitchen is a big-ticket item, and an exciting purchase for many who’ve long dreamed of having a renovated space that can be the heartbeat of a home – and Kitchen Mania is exploring ways in which it can improve that customer communication and experience.
One idea, says Greg, is an app that provides real-time progress updates so that customers can see the progress of their project from manufacture to installation.
“I think it’ll be pretty exciting for people to go from the whole design to seeing the physical product being made and produced.”
The brand benefit
Of course, customer-centricity isn’t just a one-way street – it would be impractical for businesses to invest in a whole host of initiatives if they didn’t help build a more successful, sustainable and ultimately profitable operation.
And this is where customer-centricity pays off.
By continuing to put the customer at the centre of the business’s thinking – and continuing to develop that proposition – you can move customers away from the transactional to something far more powerful.
“We have a focus on creating brand advocates because ultimately that helps the business,” says Tobi.
“We reward our members who bring in new clients. Some of our members are sitting here 12 months rent-free because of the quality of the businesses – not necessarily the size of businesses – they’re bringing in.”
The growth of the community not only benefits the CreativeCubes.co business but the members’ businesses too.
“Some of our members have grown from one desk to 50, and a lot of that has been down to the people that are surrounding them here,” says Tobi.
The shift from the one-off transaction and the product-focused sale was already underway before COVID-19 came onto the scene – all the pandemic has done is accelerate that change.
As customers, we need a good product or service to be backed up by stellar customer service. While the two can exist separately for a short period, the value is in maintaining and developing both in tandem.
Technology is critically important for businesses to do this.
“Everything with our customer engagement and customer interaction is digital. It allows us to be agile and live and breathe what we do as a business,” says Shardae.
By innovating and adding additional layers to the offer, by collecting insights housed in one centralised source of truth, SMBs can make accurate and effective decisions about every facet of their business – for everyone’s mutual benefit.
Read the latest Small and Medium Business Trends report
Find out how other small businesses are prioritising their customer relationships.