It is inevitable, and absolutely certain, that our customers are changing. We are all in a maelstrom of information, of stimulus, of crap. We change every second of every day. It’s a fair guess that customers and prospects do, too.
What we need to know is why and how are our customers changing.
You may say, oh, I’m close to my customers. If they were changing, I’d know.
But you won’t. The technical divide is very deep and very wide. There is an ocean of noise between us. The more effectively we understand the currents, the more we hone our compelling competitive differentiation.
Our customers and prospects are atomized, each in their digital cocoons with the internet pulled tightly over their heads. If we wait for them to tell us that something is different, I guarantee it will be too late. The change will have occurred and the change may be that we stink.
Here are 7 high-touch strategies that medium-sized businesses can use to find out how customers’ wants, needs, and perceptions are changing on a day-to-day basis. It’s essential to creating happier customers that stay longer and buy more.
1. Be a Customer
* Become your own customer. Opt-in on your website. See what the system sends you. Call and ask a question. Send an email, a tweet. What are the messages you receive. Experience what it feels like to be your company’s customer.
* Become your competitor’s customer. What are they doing and why? How does it make you feel? How is it different than being your customer?
* Clean your database of all your competitors. I’ll bet, if you look hard, they’re there. They might be using a different address, but they are there.
2. Bring Your Best Customers Close
When there’s an important decision to be made, consult your best customers. Bring their direct input to the process.
Let me tell you a quick story about a family-run business in Silicon Valley. They are a prototype house for the printed circuit boards (PCBs) that are in absolutely everything.
One morning, the trade news carried ads by a new company that took pricing for PCBs into the basement, below cost. Shaken, the patriarch did a smart thing. He kept his appointment with his best customer, who said, who cares.
“That is a commodity approach and we do not have a commodity relationship. I rely on you as a design partner, on your judgment, and on the quality of your prototype. They can’t possibly deliver what you deliver.”
P.S., the partiarch also opened up a side business meeting the new low prices.
3. Baseline and Measure
Once a year, conduct an Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey and bluntly ask
customers if they would refer you to a friend or colleague.
Obviously, we want the outcome to be all 9’s and 10’s, or promoters, and migrate the passives and detractors up the scale. How do you do this? By understanding customers’ criteria.
Following up, in professional research conversation (we recommend using a neutral third-party, so there is no shadow of a sales pitch) will yield:
- Insights from promoters that will further hone your competitive differentiation
- The criteria for moving passives and detractors up the scale.
This expanded view of the NPS process can provide you with the quantitative score, and critical qualitative insight. The process can be extended further by adding categories, such as Service and Support.
To your customer, your product or service is part of a solution that involves other suppliers. Your customer is also a customer of these other businesses, many of them complementary to yours. From your customer’s point of view, it’s an ecosystem of support.
Meet these other folks and network with them. Share intelligence. Conspire on how to serve your customer better.
5. Interaction to Engagement
Each customer interaction is an opportunity to go beyond expectations and reach out to the customer or prospect. This is true no matter who is representing your company – from your CEO to the trainee in the call center.
Commonly, these interactions as transactions. There is no doubt that whether it’s the CEO or the call center, that transaction must produce satisfaction. I need information, I have a complaint I need service. Oh, and I have no attention span and I have a short fuse.
Manage the customer experience, and then move the conversation from interaction to engagement. As appropriate, don’t just say thanks, ask a question. Have I completely answered your question? How is our product / service working for you? Are there things we should be doing for you that we’re not?
Empower everyone who speaks to a customer or prospect to:
* Own the answer. Especially if you uncover discontent
* Tell everyone about it. (Establish a formal reporting system)
* Make sure the right thing gets done
6. Lead by Example
Nothing really happens in an organization unless it comes from the top. I’m talking to you, CEO.
If you want your employees to believe that it’s important to listen to customers, and customers to believe that you really want to hear what they have to say, it starts with you.
The first strategy we proposed was to experience how it feels to be your customer. How would you feel as a customer if, the first week in January, you received the following on personal letterhead:
I’d like to ask you for a new year’s gift, please.
There is nothing more important to me, or to my company, than our business relationship. I’d like to hear what you have to say about that relationship.
Has there been a situation or occasion in the past year when we went the distance, or let you down? Are we living up to our potential?
That’s the gift I’d appreciate.
Me (hand signed)
7. Make Changes in Real-Time
To adapt a phrase, if you learn something, do something. Address the change head-on. Take action now. Agility, as a core tenet of a corporate culture, is an almost insurmountable competitive advantage.
Early in my career, a wise client told me, Scott, business is easy. Make stuff, sell stuff, collect money. He was right. This linear sales process is a powerful force. It sometimes feels that the only way to be more successful is to run faster. It keeps us in broadcast mode. We have to fight back to listen. Because without our customers and prospects, we’re running nowhere. All we’re doing is running faster.
Please let me know how these strategies work for you.