Customers always trade product or service features against the price they are prepared to pay. They also look for how well your business provides customer satisfaction and what sort of relationship they can build with your people. To build long-term customer loyalty you need to understand their buying criteria – what questions will they use to compare you with your competitors? To understand this thoroughly, you have to talk to as many customers or potential customers as you can. What are they looking for? How do they make their decisions to buy? Now you need to assess what your customers would say was their view of the ideal offering in each of the following four areas – product, process, people and price. Again you can ask them for their opinion of what would be best for them by, for example, accosting likely people in the street with a clipboard. The points they make are their buying criteria and will fit into one of the four factors mentioned above. Customers will tell you what they want ideally from you, if you ask the right questions. You may not be able to achieve the ideal the customer is searching for but, if you know what it is, you should be able to come close. Not all the criteria will have the same importance to a customer, so the final step in this technique is to put a priority against each criterion. When you’ve finished defining buying criteria and the customer’s ideal, think about their relative importance on a scale of 1–10. When it comes to making decisions about what your offering is going to be, you do not want to work hard on issues which the customer thinks less significant, if it means putting less effort into issues that they believe to be vital. These priorities will therefore have an impact on product, process, people and price decisions later in the planning process. Chart the result of this work on a matrix. When you fill out the bank forms that cover this area of meeting customer needs and having unique competitive reasons for them to come to you rather than anywhere else, this matrix is a great demonstration of your professionalism in this key area. Tack it on at the back of the forms.