When it comes to merchandising, many companies have forgotten that it's not about them. They've forgotten why customers came to them in the first place, and their catalogs have simply become containers of items for sale. In essence, they're desperately in need of a revival and don't even realize it.
I've been noticing this trend in my strategic consultation with companies across the country. Products are presented in a mishmash array — without emotional connections — and essentially are pushed onto customers. They're not created by and for customers, and they lack sensory appeal. "Me-too" imitation products. Ho-hum lackluster products. As a result, sales are down and customer apathy is up.
I noticed that Don Libey and Christopher Pickering referred to the "heartbreak of customer service" in their new book on RFM ("Libey and Pickering on RFM and Beyond," MeritDirect Press, $59). At times, I must say that I feel the same way about merchandising.
So, it's time to get purpose-driven about your products. Here are five pragmatic suggestions on how to revive your product line before your competition does it for you. (You may recall how NetFlix out-marketed Blockbuster at its own game, or how Southwest and JetBlue continue to outperform the big, bankrupt airlines. They've succeeded by building more customer-centric products and services than the industry leaders. It can and does happen all the time.) Here's what you should consider.
1. It's all about your customers … all the time. That is, your days of one-shot "customer service" questionnaires and one-time focus groups are over. Don't check "customer research" off your to do list this way. Your customers aren't static, and your interactions with them shouldn't be, either.
Staying close to the customer is everyone's job. Like a healthy marriage, "dating" customers is part of the long haul of being attentive and in-tune. Consider these questions: