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Jordan Burke, Deseret News

Successful business owners are fanatically focused on taking care of their customers. They wake up every day with buyers on their minds. They think to themselves, "I must do everything in my power to keep them happy and buying often. I can't lose them to a competitor."

These alert entrepreneurs have worked long hours to win their customers' hearts and minds, and now labor every hour to retain and increase their buying activities.

Intelligent business builders view customers as the lifeblood of their businesses and greatly value loyal patrons. Entrepreneurs recognize that every dollar clients spend provides revenue to cover expenses, produce a profit and keep them in business. They appreciate and respect the people who shop at their establishments.

Wise managers understand the lifetime value of customer purchases. Dollars collected from clients, on a regular basis, become a reliable and continuous flow of cash that can be significant over time.

Consider a family that buys pizza each week and does so over many years from the same store. What is this customer worth to a pizza shop owner? Plenty. A frequent lover of cheese and pepperoni might spend more than $500 per year. Over several seasons, this equates to several thousand dollars.

To keep money coming in, the pizza store owner has a single focus. He encourages his loyal patrons to continue buying. How should he accomplish this? By delivering real value to shoppers.

Keep in mind that every purchase involves several elements in the buying process. Consumers will always evaluate whether they have bought the best product at the right price with appropriate service, warranty and support. They are also inclined to ask themselves, "Did I have a pleasant buying experience?" When customers make a purchase, they logically and emotionally evaluate the value each of these elements provides.

A merchant's goal is to ensure that each element in the buying process receives the highest customer valuation to keep the consumer happy, satisfied, loyal and willing to make referrals. As customers we will buy and buy again, if we see and feel real value.

As a special note, the most important element is the buying experience itself. It is the human interaction that occurs between the buyer and the seller before, during and after the purchase. It might be described as the emotions we experience during the process. Are we treated fairly, honestly and kindly? Do we feel appreciated, valued, honored and respected? Or do we experience the opposite? Do we sense contempt, ill will and lack of attention? What vibes do we receive?

When I ask an audience of consumers about this critical element, nearly every person tells me he or she has had very significant negative experiences while purchasing a product or service. Few relate any positive encounters. Do these consumers want to return to these businesses? Their response is absolutely not! In sum, even if the product and price receive high marks, if the buying experience is sour, customers are reluctant to return for more punishment.

Consider two different national consumer companies: one that consistently receives wonderful reviews for superior products and service and the other lost 800,000 customers last summer. The first brand is Nordstrom. The other is Netflix.

Nordstrom is always ranked as one of the very best department stores in the country in terms of value to customers. Management believes in taking care of people throughout the buying experience. Need to return something that doesn't fit or you dislike even after wearing it? No problem, Nordstrom will take it back, no questions asked. Are there friendly and attentive personnel to assist buyers? Absolutely. The company's mission and culture are to appreciate and serve loyal patrons.

On the other hand, nearly a year ago, Netflix movie aficionados who love to watch Hollywood's latest via the internet, screamed from their rooftops as the company increased subscription prices by 60 percent. "Where's the love?" they cried. Management did not address the price increase with consumers in a thoughtful manner and thousands of customers felt betrayed by the behemoth media company.

There are powerful and profound lessons to be learned from the behavior of both companies. In my view, the customer is always king. Keep in mind that savvy entrepreneurs keep customers happy and returning for more, by delivering exceptional products and great service.

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If you are running a business today, you might ask yourself this question, "What value would shoppers give my buying process?" The answer comes from talking to customers. They will honestly tell you, without hesitation, what they think and how they feel. Your job is to listen carefully and respond quickly to improve the overall buying experience.

Do you have a question or a consumer experience story to tell? You can reach Alan Hall at www.AlanEHall.com or at the Grow America website, www.GrowAm.com.