Your business: using the "customer is boss" philosophy

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Your business: using the "customer is boss" philosophy

The customer pays your wages, so you must win them and keep them. Here is a company boss who’s made it an art form

Graham Harman at OKI Printing Solutions has a simple philosophy about customers – the customer is your boss.

“I have a motto: they’ve got an emergency, I’ve got an emergency,’’ Harman says. “I will say to people internally can you please contact the customer. They might say ‘It’s not a priority’ and I’ll come back and say ‘If you don’t have time to call them, I’ll call them.’
“At the end of the day, the customer is ultimately paying our wages and I treat them like they’re our bosses. Without them, we don’t have a business and if we don’t have a business, we don’t have jobs. It’s really easy to lose a customer. The hardest part in business in advertising and marketing is gaining customers so retaining them is of key importance.”
Harman, a former general manager at printing company OKI Australia and New Zealand, is now the principal consultant to the company.
While OKI sells much of its equipment to resellers, Harman services the corporate end user who, he says, have very high standards.
Never use a sales pitch
The rule is never to use a sales pitch. “That’s one of the things about customers. You’ll start talking to them and they’ll say I’m so glad I spoke you,’’ he says. 
“The first question you ask is ‘What do you want to use it for?’ Or they might ring up and say ‘Can I get a price on a model?’ They have seen it, they’ve heard about it from somewhere. So you ask them ‘What are you going to use it for?’ ‘How many pages are you going to be printing with that?’ ‘Black or white or colour?’ And they say ‘Thank you, I just haven’t been getting that advice from other people.’
It’s almost a case of putting yourself in the customer’s shoes.
“Look, I still want to be sold to. I don’t want to be lied to, I don’t want to be deceived. But as a customer, I want to be given the right advice to make the right decision. We live and breathe printers. We need to enter conversations and find out what the customer really wants and turn them into a client.
“The people that you turn into a client and you have a relationship with are more loyal than a customer who just wants to buy from you and is price driven.”
Negotiating the deal
He says negotiating skills are particularly critical in what is basically a commodity market. 
“One of the issues we have in our business is pricing which is very easy to obtain from online. We need to value add,’’ he says.
How? You make sure you are letting the customer know they are getting extras like good warranties and same day delivery.
“In our business, there is a commodity where you don’t ask questions, you go online and buy but do you want it delivered, do you want onsite warranty?” he says.
”They’re the things you need to point out in that negotiation so they’re actually comparing apples to apples.” Doing that, he says, touches all the right buttons. “I think today people are time poor. There will always be price-driven people but there are people who want more.
“When it comes to that negotiation, you need to point out where you can value add. People like to save money, save time and you can make their whole business life easy. If you touch those three points, you are 90 per cent to doing business with somebody.”
Get to know the customer
He says OKI sales staff have close relationships with customers. “In our business, probably 90 per cent of the customers are known to us by first name. We deal with a lot of customers over many years and see them over and over and over again,’’ he says.
“And also, there are new clients. Definitely with our biggest customers we know them by first name. “
But, he says, you also need to have many contacts with each customer.
“I say you not only have to go deep but you have to go wide. The more touch points you have with a customer and the more relationships you’ve got, from the MD to the financial accountant to the CFO, that gives you a much stronger relationship.
“Where you have good relationships is the key. The more people you know in an organisation, not necessarily a close relationship but at least a relationship where they can send you an email or pick up the phone, if they have a problem you can attend it.”
The other important part is to solve customers’ problems quickly. “When you do have a problem, and there’s an emergency, the quicker you deal with it the less chance there is of it festering,’’ he says.
“Buying a product and getting it delivered is a skewed transaction and that’s what they do in the supermarket, it’s not a difficult one but when they do have a problem and we get in there and fix it with not too much trouble, that sets the benchmark because anyone who’s going to try and knock you out of that account has to do all that and more.”
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