What's in a Name?

By Kevin Eikenberry

Different people call their Customers by different names. If they don't have Customers, they have Clients, purchasers, licensees, users, patients, members, franchisees, or buyers. Each of these words carries meaning to those who say them. And those meanings say something about the health and long term success of the enterprise.

What do I mean?

Take a minute to do this right now. Write down the word or phrase that you use for your "Customer". Then write down all of the connections or associations you make to that word. Write down everything that comes to your mind. After completing your list, take a look at the resulting list of words and phrases. This list speaks volumes about how you feel about and think about those people who give you money for your products and services. Would you be pleased and proud to have those people read your list?

Replicate this exercise with others on your team or in your organization. Compare other people's lists of words and phrases with your own. Then have a discussion about what you find. What do you learn from this exercise?

My Experience

While I didn't do the exercise, I came to a conclusion earlier this year. In the past, I used a couple of different words interchangeably. I talked about Customer and Clients, sometimes in the same sentence. I started to notice confusion on the faces of people on my team. Eventually we had a conversation where I learned that for others the words Client and Customer meant two different things. I learned that, in the minds of others, a Customer might buy a product one time, but a Client implied a long term relationship.

While these meanings weren't my meanings, I quickly applied them for myself. Why? Because I want every person or firm who buys from us to be a Client for life, not a one time purchaser - and just as importantly, I want everyone on my team to be thinking that way too.

Just this week, I read a quote from Harris Ginsberg, IBM's director of global executive and organizational capability who said, "A customer is transactional. A client is somebody with whom you have a longstanding relationship and a personal investment."

Apparently others agree with my team's definitions.

Your Conversation

The names and labels matter, but not as much as the common definitions. If you are in a medical practice it is fine to use the word patients, as long as everyone on the team has a clear understanding of what that means and how important patients are within your practice.

Once you've had a conversation in your organization about the language you use and definitions you share, as a leader you need to solidify and communicate the right definitions and meanings for your organization so that everyone is truly on the same page.

Here are some specific steps you can take once you have opened this conversation:

1. Talk to people about how important the Customer (Client, etc.) is to your business. (How important are they? Make sure that every person understands that the people that purchase your products or services that write their paychecks - they are that important!)

2. Discuss how you want these VIPs to experience your organization.

3. Talk about work processes that may be keeping you from providing that kind of experience and service.

4. If your Customers are typically one time buyers, think about what you can do strategically to change that.

5. Review everyone's daily routines. If your goal is to develop long term relationships, then make sure your daily actions are in step with this goal, and that your language supports these goals.

The words we choose are the words we use and they play a powerful role in our beliefs and actions. I encourage you to think about your Customer language. If there is a disconnect within your organization, this exercise can begin to close those gaps and improve your results. If everyone does agree on terminology and meaning, these questions will re-invigorate your efforts to make your Clients/Customers/Purchasers yours forever.

p.s. I've capitalized the word Customer throughout this page to let you know how important Customers are. Capitalizing the word is just one way we can remind ourselves of the great importance Customers have for our businesses. After all, without them, we wouldn't be in business.

Kevin is Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group (http://KevinEikenberry.com), a learning consulting company that helps Clients reach their potential through a variety of training, consulting and speaking services. Kevin publishes Unleash Your Potential, a free weekly ezine designed to provide ideas, tools, techniques and inspiration to enhance your professional skills. Go to http://www.kevineikenberry.com/uypw/current.asp to read the current issue and subscribe.

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