In a business world that has undergone the biggest transformation for a generation, there has been a significant shift in what really matters to buyers. In its simplest form, this can be whittled down to one element: great customer experience. This has had a compound effect on the way businesses market themselves to prospective, existing and former customers. Great customer experiences make great stories, and stories sell.
Business is not transforming; it has already transformed
The concept of digital branding has changed the way consumers make buying decisions and we are in a world where the way we go about our business is transparent for all to see. Whether we like it or not, social media has created the biggest transfer of power in a generation – the power is now very much in the hands of the customer. Just like it was in the 1930s.
When one of your customers has a bad experience, you can expect to read all about it on social media. Just like in the past you’d expect the whole town to find out how badly you treated a customer in the 1930s. Businesses either embrace this fact or face the prospect of being pushed into irrelevance. There are two ways to deal with this problem – you can ignore it and hope it will go away, or you can embrace criticism and show you care. Which will create the most value?
Marketing is branding; customer experience is legacy
With these new rules of engagement, marketing has changed too – how we go about acquiring customers is very different than it was even five years ago. Buyers don’t like being pushed into a buying decision – you have a greater chance of success if you ‘pull’ buyers into the cycle when they are ready. You do this by providing value, by helping them out with genuine tips, tricks and advice (i.e. giving) rather than shoving your product down their throat (i.e. taking). And you should never stop giving.
What’s more, once you’ve turned that prospect into a customer, there’s an even greater opportunity to create lasting value by continually providing value across the customer lifecycle. They have an issue they can’t solve on their own? Find a way to help them without it costing the customer anything extra. This comes through both customer service and technical support – too often both of these departments are seen as either cost or profit centres rather than opportunities to create lifetime value.
Short-term pain is long-term gain
Business is not a sprint, it’s a marathon – if I straw-polled a group of executives, they’d all agree that they wanted to be in business 10, 15 or 20 years from now. But far too many businesses are thinking about short-term results driven by their shareholders rather than long-term success. This is wrong, especially in the world we operate in now – because you will be found out, and you will be pushed into irrelevance.
You find a way to solve a customer’s problem without it costing them anything and I guarantee they’ll become an advocate – they’ll tell their friends how much you rock. This not only increases their lifetime value as they feel good about buying from you, but it also turns them into a brand advocate; they’re sharing their experience with their network of friends and acquaintances via word of mouth. If we think of this in terms of earned media, what value do we as marketers place on something like that versus a banner ad that may or may not reach our target audience?
Transparency is part of the customer experience
Being transparent is being human, and humans make mistakes. There aren’t enough human businesses in this day and age – there are too many faceless corporates who just want our money instead of caring about customer experience. As business leaders, we have to accept that we will make mistakes and customers will be upset when we do, but there’s a real opportunity to embrace adversity. Few businesses care enough about customer experience to embrace their failures and treat them as an opportunity to be better.
Instead of shying away from the problem, tackle it head on. Thank them for their feedback, mean it and actually do something about it. Get away from the script – the modern consumer has a very good BS detector – and show them that you really care. That doesn’t mean you have to surrender to every demand they make, but at least be human and explain why you can’t do what they’ve asked. Offer them an alternative, free of charge. You never know, you may have chance to re-convert them into a customer – and, guess what? They’ll probably share that customer experience with their friends. It might cost in the short-term, but that gesture of kindness and consideration will pay itself back many times over.