I became a motorcycle enthusiast a few years ago. I’d like to say I’m a happy biker. But the aftermarket motorcycle industry is making me angry. These retailers are doing business like it’s 1983, not 2013. Everything most of us hate about sleazy, conniving, pull-a-fast-one-on-you type sales people can rear its ugly head by a few rotten apples, that ruins the perception of the industry by many others! The first fly in my smile was a local used motorcycle dealer who is asking its customers to drop tens of thousands of dollars on bikes without ever taking a test ride! Wow Motorcycles in Atlanta is led by this incredibly cheesy sales manager who actually told me that “we’ve struck a deal with Six Flags (the theme park nearby); they wouldn’t get in the motorcycle business and we wouldn’t get in the entertainment business,” eluding the fact that customers would be interested in a joy ride! It’s shortsighted and in 2013, outright moronic! Do what other professional dealers do: make me sign a piece of paper that makes me responsible if anything happens and make me put down my credit card for a deposit. But don’t treat me like a petulant child!

The second utterly irrational situation is the complete disregard for customer service I experienced by some when I began to modify now several bikes I own, by purchasing parts online. A classic case is a recent p*ssing match I got into when I attempted to purchase a $40 race windscreen on eBay from a retailer, Houston Superbikes. It was my second purchase from this upscale dealer. They carry parts and accessories for the top-tier European bikes. I’m a strong believer that relationships go bad with misaligned expectations, so I often verify what I’m looking to buy is exactly the part I need. Not only were they cute about “what you see in the picture is what you get,” when I received the wrong part, they argue with me over what I found out to be a discontinued $40 item. That attitude isn’t just poisoning one customer relationship. It’s bringing down the entire industry. Mine wasn’t a one-off experience—shoddy customer treatment is an epidemic in this slow-changing sector.

Ever heard of Customer Lifetime Value? They haven’t. Let’s compare that experience with another online retailer you may know – L.L. Bean. I bought a duffle bag online and a couple of years later, I noticed a tear in the corner. I dialed one phone number and a new bag was on its way to me, no questions asked. L.L.Bean doesn’t even show that item in their catalog now but they found a newer, comparable model for me. Know what? I’ll spend thousands of dollars at L.L. Bean in the years ahead and praise their exemplary customer relationship management. That sole act of kindness to me earned them my lifetime customer value.

Now consider Houston Superbike. When marketing evolved from capturing share-of-market to share-of -customer, they missed the memo.

Houston Superbike could harvest thousands of dollars in purchases from me as my interest in motorcycling grows. But instead they’re acting from greed, trying to get a premium price on that first $40 sale to me. I own four bikes now. See where this is going? Houston Superbike clearly doesn’t. They haven’t taken the time to figure out where their real profit comes from.

So let’s break it down. L.L. Bean’s not doing anything Houston Superbike couldn’t do. A lot of companies are still doing business like Houston Superbike. They’re following lagging indicators like last month’s sales figures, and looking to improve on those numbers next month. They’re not looking down the road to take care of the customers who will bring next year’s—and the next decade’s—profits.

Successful businesses look at leading indicators. They look at customer influence, access, and sentiment—the social footprint that tells how they are doing at managing customer relationships over the long haul.

The first thing you learn about riding a motorcycle is to lead with vision. Look as far ahead as possible around the turns ahead and you’ll guide that bike right through. The same is true with customer relationships—look where you want them to go, not at the road underfoot. The Houston Superbikes in the motorcycle industry need to get that message.

Nour Takeaways:

  1. To grow your business, start looking at leading indicators. Stop following lagging indicators.
  2. Don’t treat every customer the same. Segment them based on their needs and anticipate those needs. That means building relationships with your customers. That’s easy. Use social media.
  3. Reward employees who create win-win relationships. Leaders create culture; employees live it. Incentivize those who prioritize the value in customer relationships over the value of a dollar.
  4. Bonus! Build exceptional experiences for your customers—be an L.L. Bean, not a Houston Superbike. Your reward will be the lifetime value you harvest from the customers who appreciate what you’ve done for them.
  5. Don’t touch companies like Houston Superbike with a 10-foot pole. Let your wallet do the talking and drive them out of business! Those who don’t get it don’t need to survive.

As always, I welcome your comments.


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