For decades, companies have been focused on their products. The customer experience has always been top of mind, of course. But in a more passive role. If someone wasn’t happy with a product or service, usually they just stopped using it. Maybe they might complain to a couple of people, but probably not too many.
Flash forward to now, when one person who has a poor customer experience can post a bad review on just one site and cause all kinds of havoc. In May, BrightLocal released research that found that if a company in the Google Local Pack can improve its rating from 3 stars to 5, they’ll get 25% more clicks.
Even those review stats look like peanuts compared to what a truly angry and vocal customer can do.
Just consider the case of Dave Carroll.
Dave is a musician. A few years ago he was seated on a United Airlines plane as United personnel loaded up the aircraft on the tarmac below. Dave saw his guitar thrown about and badly broken by staff who seemed to think it was as much a volleyball as someone’s primary earning tool.
Outraged, Dave petitioned multiple United customer service reps for justice… only to be dismissed. Now, even more outraged, and still heartbroken over the loss of his beloved guitar, Dave made a video.
“United Breaks Guitars” now has more than 17 million views.
I’m not sure all of United’s ads, cumulatively, have 17 million views. (At least there were no broken bones, right? But the power to damage your brand isn’t the only power The Customer now wields.
And just trying to avoid making them angry isn’t enough.
The idea is to make them happy.
As we’ve written about before, happy customers stick around. It’s called loyalty. And if you can improve loyalty by even a paltry 5%, your profits can go up by 25% to 95%.
Happy customers stay longer, spend more ― and also pull in new customers.
How? Their referrals, reviews, comments, and social shares all amplify your brand’s message. All this user-generated content is basically the new word-of-mouth marketing. And as some of you old-time marketers know, word of mouth is the most effective type of marketing for actual ROI. In short, customers have become so powerful, in so many different ways, that they are basically running the show.
Businesses will please their customers… or die. And when they do, there’s a herd of competitors behind them waiting to take their place.
Even lucky companies, like Comcast, who all but own their industries, risk losing their customers to competing technologies. Alternative technologies that customers might embrace are always lurking on the edges of the market. They’re just waiting for an opportunity to burst through, like a young tree straining for light in the jungle.
The Customer-Centric Company
Customers are now so powerful, in fact, that many marketing wizards (like Joe Pulizzi, in his book “Content Inc.”) recommend a 180-degree change from the old way of doing things. You start a company by assembling an audience first, then figure out what to sell to them, these experts say. Design the products and the business model around the customer – not the other way around.
That sure flips the old business mindset on its head.
But it works. Companies that delight their customers now rule the business world. Witness Apple, which has more cash on hand than the US government.
So if customers are so important, so able to build empires ― or tear them down ― how can we work with them? How can we leverage their power to keep our businesses thriving?
Well, there are plenty of ways to do that. But you might want to start by finding out what they want you to know.
And they want you to know these things:
1. Your customer service is part of your marketing.
Existing customers experience our brands without the silos we define in our businesses. To them, in a sense, messaging is messaging. That reply about a product issue is a message, and so is that ad they saw about your new product.
If you define marketing as “how we promote ourselves,” your customer service efforts are all marketing for your customers. You promote yourself (or not) by doing a good job for them (or not).
And, like any human interaction, what you say (your advertising, even your content), is less important than what you do (your customer support and other customer-touch activities).
2. I’m the customer. You’re supposed to put my needs ahead of your own.
This is the expectation. And boy, do a lot of companies fall short. Maybe that’s why so many consumers have become jaded. The advertising says: “We put you first”… but then the actual service does not.
There is a particular moment when the customer’s trust breaks. If you’re ever been in sales or customer service, you may have actually been with a customer, in person, to witness that moment.
It happens when the person gets a very clear look on their face, like: “Oh yeah, of course. Now I know you’re only out for yourselves. I should have known it all along.”
After a customer knows you put your own needs ahead of theirs, the romance is over. They may stick around out of habit or convenience, but they will try out one of your competitors as soon as they get the chance.
Marketing Sherpa documented this quite clearly in a recent survey they did for their “Customer Satisfaction Research Study”. It was one of the clearest differences between satisfied and unsatisfied customers.
3. I don’t necessarily want to talk to someone if I need help.
Here’s one for those of you who would rather not have the overhead of a large customer service staff. Many customers, especially Millennials, would prefer to figure things out for themselves. They want “self-serve” customer service.
How strongly do Americans like or dislike interacting with customer service?
Almost a third of America ― that’s over 100 million people ― would rather clean a toilet than interact with customer service. A quarter of America would rather change a dirty diaper than interact with customer service.
Those are some pretty strong feelings. And, they might well justify the cost of building a useful, detailed, self-serve help section, complete with short video tutorials and maybe even a forum, so customers could help each other and see how other customers’ issues were resolved.
Start building a hub like this by answering the 30 most common questions that your business receives. Then provide the answers via video, text, emails, on your site, via an app ― in every channel possible.
Next, expand to the top 50 answers. Then to the top 100.
4. Loyalty programs are a way for you to be loyal to me, not the other way around.
“73% of consumers feel loyalty programs ‘should be a way for brands to show how loyal they are to them as a customer.’ However marketing executives disagree; 66% believe loyalty programs are still a way for consumers to show how loyal they are to their business.” I hate to break it to you, CMOs, but you’re not going to win that argument.
5. I expect you to reply within an hour on social media. Really.
You may have heard this one before. But it bears repeating: According to research from Twitter, 71% of Twitter users expect a brand to respond within an hour of when the customer contacts them on social media.
Not only that, but a third of consumers expect a response within 30 minutes.
That’s internet time for you.
6. Irrelevant marketing is spam.
Here’s how the email tool Litmus describes the situation:
Your customers view any irrelevant or unwanted email as spam. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been a customer or if they’ve given you permission ― if your email is repeatedly of little to no relevance to them, it’s spam.
Trouble is, consumers ― and customers ― get a lot of irrelevant messages. In fact, 50% of consumers who receive marketing materials on the web or over the phone say this content is irrelevant to them.
Of course, these aren’t the only things your customers wish you knew. Every company is different. While your customers want all the things we’ve mentioned above, they also want “smaller,” more specific things from your particular products and services.
You need to get that information. Whether you do it through surveys or interviews or behavior tracking, the important thing is to find out what they want.
Of course, just talking to people is often the best course. Giving them an open, prioritized voice in your business certainly helps, too.
You may have heard about how Amazon does this. They leave an empty chair at every meeting. It’s to represent the customer. Perhaps it’s time we pushed that even further – and actually put a customer in the seat.
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