Many of us think of our business as “the corner store” in a high tech world. There’s personality and friendship, service and camaraderie. If something is going on with our customers, we’ll know.
The reality is that the technical divide is deep. There is an ocean of noise between us and our customers.
Our customers are atomized, each in their digital hammocks with the internet pulled tightly over their heads. They are most certainly changing and evolving, but if we wait for them to tell us that something is different, I guarantee it will be too late.
If we want to know what’s up, we must be proactive, high touch in this high tech world. Here are 5 proven strategies that small and medium-sized businesses can use to find out how customers’ wants, needs, and perceptions are changing, and what each business must do to create happier customers that stay longer and buy more.
1. Become a Customer
Here are two ways to do it:
- Become your own customer. Opt-in on your website. Call and ask a question. Send an email. See what it feels like.
- Become your competitor’s customer. What are they doing and why. What can you learn?
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 small, family-run manufacturing business on the west coast. They prototype the circuit boards that are in everything.
One morning, the trade papers carried ads by a new company that took pricing 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 quality. They can’t possibly deliver what you deliver.”
3. Benchmark and Measure
Once a year, conduct an NPS (Net Promoter Score) survey. This is a measure of both loyalty and satisfaction, and is seen as an indicator of potential growth.
We want to ask each customer if they would recommend us to a friend or colleague. They answer on a scale of 1 – 10.
Responses with a 9 or 10 are “promoters”. Those with 7 or 8 are “passives”. 0 – 6 are detractors. The first year is your baseline.
Obviously, we want 9’s and 10’s. Following up in a non-sales, professional research conversation will yield:
- Insights from promoters that will further hone your competitive differentiation; and
- The criteria for moving passives and detractors up the scale.
Your customer is also a customer of many 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 build or blow-up your brand.
Let’s move from interaction to engagement. The proposal is that with every meaningful customer interaction, we move from transaction to engagement.
At the end of a transaction, don’t just say thanks; ask a question. How is our product/service working for you? Are there things we should be doing for you that we’re not?
Empower everyone to own the answer. To feed it into the system so the intelligence is distributed and to make sure that the right thing gets done.
It is inevitable, and absolutely certain, that your customers are changing. The more effectively you can listen to those winds of change, the more you hone your compelling competitive differentiation.
International author, lecturer, and consultant, Scott Hornstein works with clients to gain a competitively superior understanding of their prospects, and their responsibilities to the buying center. B2B clients include Microsoft, IBM, HP, AT&T, Merrill Lynch, The Phoenician, Viryd Technologies, and Franklin Covey. The Peelle Company, PaperDirect, and AmerInst Professional Services. His articles and interviews have appeared in Brandweek, Adweek, MENG blog, CRM, Catalog Age, BtoB, and more. He has lectured for the ANA, AMA, DMA, NYU, Fordham, Mercy, Pace, and Connecticut State Universities.