The 4 Cs of Customer & Client Relationships

Hands up who hasn’t heard of the 4Ps of marketing? If you are in business you have almost certainly come across Product, Price, Place and Promotion. This is a simple mnemonic to help a business consider how to go to market with its particular tangible product or service.

If you deal directly with customers or clients then I want to introduce another way to look at how you go to market  -  the 4Cs.

We’ll use an example to illustrate the 4Cs. Let’s say you are looking for a new accountant. What are the key criteria that you would use to choose between one potential supplier and another? Well, you might look at their fees, services, testimonials, the size of the firm, whether you would be dealing with a principal of the organisation or someone more junior, etc.

Every time I have asked anyone to list these criteria I have found that they break down into four core concepts.

COST - one way or another, the cost of the service will come into the equation. This covers fees, value for money, lifetime value, etc.

COMPETENCE - can they do what they say they can do? If the decision is about a product, does it work and meet the required spec? If it is a marketing agency, does the quality of their work meet your needs?

CONTROL - they do what you expect them to do, when you expect them to do it, and keep you informed through appropriate communications and reports.

CHEMISTRY - the relationship with them.

You could consider the first three ‘C’s, Cost, Competence and Control, to be hygiene factors. A supplier of products or services has to get these right just to be in the game. If that’s the case then Chemistry is the key differentiator. It’s all about the relationships, about the personality of the business, how you deal with your customers and how you connect with them. This is what helps you to win business, and it is certainly what helps you to retain it.

Let’s illustrate this with a quick anecdote. A friend runs a software business which competes with major multinationals. They went to a new client meeting recently, and rather than stay in the Hilton on the edge of town they stayed in a pub in the centre quite close to the meeting place. In the morning as they met in reception the first question they were asked was ‘where did you stay last night’, and when they explained the client team started to chat about how nice the pub was, how much they liked the beer, etc. Before they had even got into the meeting room the ice was broken and they had started to build a relationship. Their competitor, going into the same meeting a day later, simply answered ‘the Hilton’ and no conversation ensued. My friend got the business. Was it all down to that ice breaker? Of course not, but that helped to start the relationship, and the client unconsciously started looking for reasons to choose them as their supplier.

Are the 4 Cs just for service businesses or those selling bespoke products? Of course not. An eCommerce client, selling a commodity product with no differentiation in product range or pricing, is winning business through the help it provides, the friendliness of its team on the phone, their flexibility - every single touch point with the customer expresses the personality of the business, and the customer decides if it is a business they want to deal with.

So, you might not have been a fan of Chemistry at school, but ignore it at your peril within business.