We’ve seen TV3 hit the headlines in the last couple of weeks for reasons that caught many of us by surprise. The channel is continuing to lose money and the owners would like it sold.

I spent a decent chunk of my executive career working for Publishing & Broadcasting Limited. PBL was the media giant controlled by the mercurial Kerry Packer. Among other things, PBL owned Australia’s Channel Nine and the big man himself was regarded as the most knowledgeable ‘programme director’ in the TV industry for many years.

I lost count of the number of times he uttered his formula for success in free to air television. It was simple too. “First, you must control news, current affairs and sport,” he would say. “Then, make sure you have the right programmes leading into the news and immediately after your current affairs show, so as you set yourself up to hold on to the audience for the entire evening.”

To be fair to TV3, the ability to control sports was lost in this country a couple of decades ago, as Sky TV set out to dominate that sector. But for a while there, the troubled channel had the rest of the mix almost right. They had Home & Away guaranteeing a pre-news audience. And Campbell Live, immediately after the news hour, was the best current affairs show of it’s time.

However, all that clever programming didn’t appeal to a consistent audience. As a result, the news wasn’t presented in way that appealed to the youthful Home & Away audience, and of course Campbell Live was more suited to the TV1 audience than TV3.

Accordingly, TV3 really only captured a large niche rather than a dominant position. And if you are a niche, you have to be able to charge a premium. And in free to air television, there are no longer any premiums to be had.

Add to that the fact that the youth audience they spent all those years chasing is no longer watching free to air TV, and of course the game has become extremely difficult.

There are plenty of lessons in this little case study for all of us in business. But the biggest one centres around our knowledge of the needs of our customers, and making sure we provide a consistent service to those who buy from us. Simply put, you need to consistently meet and exceed the often-changing expectations of your customers, if you want to retain them.

I often find myself talking to businesses about this very point. I try to ask simple questions. What’s the basis of your offer to your customers? Why do your customers come to you? What do your customers expect of the services you provide or in the geographical location that you serve?

It’s important to remember, what works in one demographic, might not work with another. It doesn’t matter whether you are selling accounting services, sporting goods or tyre repair, the needs of your customer are going to vary according to how those customers live their lives.

Imagine you’re in the business of servicing motor vehicles. The reality is that some customers will expect you to collect the car from their home or workplace, and have you leave them with a courtesy wagon while their vehicle is serviced. Others will take it to the workshop that provides the cheapest no frills service, and gets the job done within a budget and on time.

So how well do you really understand your clients? Sure, you might know your five or ten largest customers. You might know what goods or services they buy from you. But do you really understand what they want?

In my executive life, I remember standing at the supermarket checkouts asking people why they did or didn’t buy our company’s magazines. And the energy sapping schedules as we traveled extensively to meet the timelines and expectations of our international clients. And most importantly, the best calls I ever made were to customers who were complaining to us about something, creating an opportunity to talk to them about what they expected from us.

We often talk about innovation, but I think we overcomplicate our approach most of the time.

If you want to grow your business, chances are that the best way to do that is by getting your existing customers to spend more money with you. After all, they already know who you are and you probably have a connection with them. And growing existing customers is a lot easier than finding new ones.

So talk to them. Find out if there are other products or services that they want that they can’t get from you. Once you have talked to a few of them, there might be some consistent themes and you can start looking at new offers that will give your most important customers a better experience, and thereby help you to grow your business.

The reality is that the more we can do for our customers, the more they will keep coming back. First, we need them to become reliant on us to provide things that they need. Secondly, we need to broaden that list of things so as they become even more reliant on us. And finally, we need to provide them with exceptional customer experiences so as we get to hold on to them.

And unlike the former colossus of Australian television, we don’t just want to hold them for an evening. We want to keep them for life.

This article first appeared in the NZ Herald on the 8th November, 2019.