Customers are the recipients of Goods or services, or products, or ideas, obtained from a seller, vendor, or supplier via a financial transaction or exchange for money or some other valuable consideration. – Wikipedia
In my humble opinion this definition is incomplete. In its current state it means that a customer is nothing more than a bottomless sack of money with no other purpose than buying goods/services etc from a company. Instead I would add at the very end of this definition the following: “…and also the drivers of progress and improvement in a company or business”.
This holistic approach that I am putting before you is much more suited for this day and age when customers are taking part in conversations with companies big or small, all around the globe.
In this article I will focus only on the improvements that customers bring to marketing and branding, some of the most expensive and time consuming activities for any business. Last year in the US were spent 173.31 billion dollars for advertising.
So why not let your customers help? It’s basically free and I will show you how.
Collaborate with your customers
A fair deal of the companies out there, especially in the Ecommerce market, make the mistake to sell/provide a product and nothing else. It’s understandable that the number of sales is very important for any business, because you still need a way to keep those lights burning. But how about making sales and create lifetime clients at the same time?
That’s actually not very hard to do. It only requires time, patience and a change of perspective.
To get started, take a long look at your active customers and figure out the answer to a simple question: Why are these customers buying from me and not from any of my other competitors? If your answer is along the lines of better prices than my competitors, or better bundles etc., than you have some work ahead of you.
More often than not, the problem is a lack of collaboration between sellers and customers. Every kind of productive collaboration is based on trust. To achieve a higher level of trust between you and your customers, start by offering key info about your company, the products that you are offering and any other relevant information that customers are asking for.
For example a trust sign for an Ecommerce fashion store could be a disclaimer about fair work practices and that all the products on the website were sourced from factories with certified fair trade practices.
Still a word of caution related to Social Media is in order: Do not restrict the access of your customers to share their impressions (good or bad) about your company and products. Deleting comments or blocking users is one of the worst things that you can do when you are trying to build trust. A study from 2013 made by Nielsen uncovered that 68% trust online opinions from other consumers. Information shouldn’t be restricted to a single webpage. You should wear it like a badge and share it on every channel that you might have access to.
Offer an unique experience
When shopping in a physical store the enthusiasm of a sales assistant can make the difference between a customer buying a product or leaving empty handed. This also translates in the online shopping experience. The only major difference being the replacement of an in store sales assistant with your website.
So how can you bring that in store personal experience and enthusiasm to the online medium? The solution is to use website and offer personalization software.
Personalization software can bridge the gap between the online and offline shopping experience by offering each visitor a custom experience based on previous actions like the source of that traffic, product preferences or social media interaction with your company.
By tracking customer activities you are in term getting answers to questions that any good sales assistant is asking in a physical store. Knowing more about your customers (of course with their permission) is beneficial for both sides. Customers have access to products and services tailored to their needs and preferences and companies are creating that 1 to 1 experience that was lost in the migration from offline to online, which in term leads to better customer retention.
Embrace customer generated reviews
Customer reviews can be a gold mine for online businesses if managed properly. 88% of people trust online reviews written by other consumers as much as they trust recommendations from personal contacts. This is the power of customer reviews.
Customer reviews can take many forms depending on the platform. Some people will leave a review straight on your website others will take a picture and tag your company or others will just send a tweet to their followers.
All reviews, even negative ones can provide immense value for you and your business. The key is how you manage them. Negative reviews, if not dealt with properly can spread like wildfire. It is very helpful to integrate in your website a tool that handles customer feedback monitoring and make it a priority to answer each negative review.
Amazon is the best example for how to make customers reviews work in your favor. They have transformed the customer review section, usually located at the bottom of the page, in something that looks and feels very much like a forum or community page. Their system allows customers that have purchased an item, to post a review about that item while offering the possibility to add photos.
Another thing that Amazon added to their customer review section is the Customer Questions & Answers section where customers that are looking for a product can ask questions about said product and receive answers straight from a person that already purchased the product in question. This is a brilliant way to make your customers act as part of your customer support department.
Give your customers credit
Acknowledging someone that works for you(and for free) is the least that you can do. And I hate to break it to you but your customers are actually working for you. Every review they are giving can make the difference between an extra sale or a lost customer. So why not make their experience memorable?
Give them a badge, list them as contributors based on their activity, offer them a discount or access to limited merchandise/services. Providing any of these things will in turn give you a more engaged and a happier client base than ever before.
Far too many businesses care too little about retention, placing much emphasis on outbound marketing and the attraction of new customers, with comparatively little attention paid to the customers they’ve already paid to get – Jay Baer, Hug Your Haters
Also, it is very important to provide your customers with multiple ways to engage with your company. Use contests to increase the interest of your customers in your specific product/service and ask them to offer unbiased opinions, using whichever format they like. This way you will have a more engaged customer base and as an added bonus you will also gain a handful of honest reviews. Don’t forget to keep all contests transparent, if not your customers will be under the impression that the contest is rigged and you will gain bad rep. That in turn will cost you not only money but also some of your brand ambassadors.
Listen to your customers
Sometimes you just need to sit down and listen to your customers. As in every relationship the listening process is very important and it’s what makes the difference between a healthy relationship or a toxic one.
Every review, comment, tagged photo, etc. is essential to you and your business even if the person posting them has a very small following. You should hear the voice of every customer regardless of how loud they are screaming.
The real problem for your business are the people who have a poor experience but are not passionate enough about you and your company to take the time to say something in a form or fashion that you can find and act upon. They are the ‘meh’ in the middle, and they are what kills businesses – Jay Baer, Hug Your Haters
When people are talking about your business is important to keep all the praises close to your hearth and act based on your bad reviews, improving your business along the way.
Nowadays the difference between businesses is no longer related to price or products, but in the actual relationship that a business has with its customers. Create an unique experience for your customers and they in turn will become your brand ambassadors, promoting the business for you.
Customer retention is a key metric that pays and every business should measure and keep track of. A five percent increase in customer retention boosts profits by 25 to 85 percent.
Don’t forget to listen to your customers in order to maintain a healthy relationship with them and to improve your business along the way.
The time for standing on the sidelines has come to an end and the price for not connecting with your customers may very well be your business.