Make Your Customer Your Friend

By: Kit Lum

The simplest way to describe a ‘durian’ (pronounced doo-ree-ann) is to say it’s a yellowish-green fruit about the size of an mid-sized watermelon. It has a thick skin of spikes, and a rich bitterish-sweet fruit.

Known as the King of Fruits, it emits an overpoweringly pungent smell that lingers on for days, hence it’s an item that’s banned in hotels and airplanes. To those unaccustomed to its strong smell, it’s something they wouldn’t touch with a six-foot pole. But in Asia, this is an all-time local favorite.

As much as I enjoy the fruit, you’d never find me volunteering to go out and buy it from the many roadside shacks that spring up each ‘durian’ season. The reason is simple - carrying a trunkload of ‘durians’ home would mean that my car would end up stinking for days afterwards. And a leftover pungent smell trapped in an air-conditioned car can be the worst thing ever, let me tell you!!

So last year, when I found out that there’s a guy who would actually deliver ‘durians’ fresh from his orchard to my doorstep, I was delighted. Now the ‘Durian Man’ has figured out there are lots of others like me out there who’d rather go into ‘durian withdrawal’ than drive around in a stinky car, and he’s found his niche doing home deliveries.

So what is the ‘Durian Man’ doing for me, his customer? He’s providing me the convenience of not having to go out there in the heat and the traffic to buy ‘durians’ and stink up my car for something that I’m not even 100% sure will taste good.

Other ‘durian’ sellers have found their niche in selling the fruit without its spiky skin. If you’ve ever tried to pry open a ‘durian’ yourself, you’ll know it’s best to leave this thorny task to the professionals.

Some sellers offer to open the fruits as a free service to their customers, others sell the fruit pre-packaged in plastic boxes. Although plastic boxes cannot technically hold in the smell and prevent it from stinking up your car, they’re a much better option to punctured palms and bleeding fingers.

Lesson #1: Listen to your customers’ problems. If there’s anything you can do to make their lives easier, to save them time and effort, you may well have found your niche. Build your business around it, and you have a surefire winner.

But the ‘Durian Man’ doesn’t stop there. He handpicks the ‘durians’ for me (since I’m completely clueless at distinguishing a good fruit from an inferior one) and delivers only the best fruits.

Not only that, he backs each fruit with his personal guarantee that it will be of the best quality - succulent and tasty. If any of his fruits turns out to be substandard, all I have to do is to call him, and he’ll replace those fruits on my next order, plus throw in a couple more fruit as a goodwill gesture.

Lesson #2: By backing his products with a personal guarantee, he is building the customer’s trust in him, his products and indeed his business. Trust is the biggest factor in ensuring repeat business. It puts the customer completely at ease doing business with someone they know will deliver quality. And frankly, I’d rather do business with someone I know and trust than with a total stranger, wouldn’t you?

Fast forward to this week. He calls me to say, “Hey, listen, I’m driving into the city from my orchard, and I’ve got a batch of the freshest ‘durians’ this season. Really, these are the best so far. Want me to stop by your house with some?"

Would you pass up an offer like that? It’s been over six months since I last ordered from him, and frankly with the kind of schedule I’m running, ‘durians’ have to absolutely be the last thing on my mind. But hearing that ‘durians’ are in season again and knowing I don’t have to lift a finger to go buy them was tempting. Without hesitation, I ordered a batch to be delivered the same afternoon!

Lesson #3: Find a reason to contact your customers, keep them in the know, remind them that you’re still around offering the same great customer service, and there’s your repeat customer right there ;o).

The ‘Durian Man’’s business tactics are not new but they work like a charm. Think about how you can adapt his tactics into your own business.

Copyright 2004 Kit Lum. All rights in all media reserved.

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