THE current economic crisis has placed fear in the minds of business owners, big and small. It is important during these times to think positively and to stay customer-focused, especially when your customers need reassurance.

The key element to keeping your business alive is to concentrate on customer-focused marketing strategies. The economic crisis is the perfect time for you to obtain feedback from customers and get personal. Customer feedback can help you to create marketing campaigns with a streamlined focus on your target market.

Here are ways to remain customer-focused:

Conduct surveys

The best way to get customer feedback is through customer surveys. Provide a link on your website for visitors to take a survey or e-mail the survey to frequent customers. Make it worth their time by providing them with an incentive, such as a discount on their next purchase or offer a freebie.

Your customer survey should have a limited length and include the following:

* A brief introduction, explaining to customers how their responses will help drive future company plans.

* A statement about your company ethics to the customers answering your survey. As some questions may be personal, customers will like to know they can trust you with information they provide.

* The specific goals it wants to achieve.

* Simple and direct questions.

Reward your downlines

Do not forget that your staff are an integral part of your customer orientation strategies, so pep them up. As a manager, ask what you can do to keep your employees focused on delivering great customer service. Ask yourself what are the small yet meaningful rewards you can create.

Try rewarding increased sales penetration across key accounts. Consider adding a customer satisfaction qualifier, an internal peer nomination element to the training programme, or both. During a downturn, you want to stress both the steps to success and the outcome. "Doing it right" counterbalances any lost momentum that may occur with longer sales cycles brought on by cautious customers.

Communicate openly

Communication is a delicate yet integral component for an organisation to be effective, especially in a crisis. Therefore, a manager or leader needs to communicate potential plans or problems with the team openly and transparently. Anything that involves the company should ideally be circulated among all the team members for consultation. This will encourage a sense of ownership and strengthen their commitment to the company.

Put customers first

During tough times, much of the focus is automatically directed to cutting expenses and improving cashflow. As sales flatten out or decline, this is blamed on the current business environment. The fact is, people still do business with one another.

What then should your approach to your customers be? Give them the best service, the fastest turnaround possible and the highest quality product you can produce at the most competitive price.

Suppose that after analysing a job, it becomes apparent that you will just break even at the price discussed. Should you do the job? If you have the capacity, do it. The cash flow it generates is likely to cover some of the fixed costs associated with the project in the first place. This is one of the strategies your company may have to adopt during rough times.

But remember that excessive price-cutting can become a double-edged sword. A company can price cut itself right out of business. Make sure this is handled carefully, keeping the survival of the business in mind.

Take the opportunity to re-familiarise yourself with your customers. While your competitors are bemoaning the challenges of a tough economy, you should be out working to increase your sales and invigorate your business.

In bad times, the strategy of focusing on existing customers rather than on new customers can be even more valuable than during good times. Customer initiatives can be implemented in stages, generating quick and incremental returns on investment. A customer-centric strategy also builds trust between companies and their clients, which is a key enabler of long-term, profitable relationships.

Recession ethics

During a recession, customers hold greater power. While they still have needs, they are also more cautious, risk-averse and cost-sensitive. Progressive firms recalibrate their selling propositions constantly, but during a recession, the smartest ones make an extra effort to applaud consultative selling behaviour that satisfies the buyer's desired for added value.