Customers are more empowered than ever before. They can easily access information to make better buying decisions, shop with companies around the globe, and share their experience with millions. They can do all of this without leaving their easy chair.
Companies have to adapt to this reality to be competitive in a global economy. All products and services are becoming commodity items available at a lower price for people willing to look. Fortunately, for businesses that aren’t the low price leaders in their industry, price isn’t everything. People will pay more for the same item or service if they have a good relationship with the company.
Relationships between customers and company are complex. They cross channels and include active participation in online social communities. The complexity doesn’t affect the need for the simplicity of being treated with respect and receiving good service every time there is an interaction. Simple gestures help keep customers longer because people are naturally resistant to change. When a company delivers quality, consistent service with a smile, it is very hard for competitors to lure customers away.
The biggest challenge facing businesses today is the integration of multiple channels, legacy systems, and new media. The companies that do it well have a competitive edge because they are able to respond quickly to customers’ needs. Putting everything in place requires time, testing, and a willingness to change. Here are six action items to get started:
- Establish a starting point. Companies that are regularly benchmarking sales, service levels, customer activity, marketing responses, and return on investment (ROI) already have this. If you don’t have established analytics in any of the mentioned areas, do it now. This information is invaluable when assessing the effectiveness of your efforts.
- Improve your data acquisition. Start capturing social media user ID’s. Your customers and prospects are participating now or will be soon. You can spend thousands of man-hours trying to find them online or you can add their contact information to your database and personally invite them to join your community. It’s doubtful that your current system has dedicated fields for this information. Either use empty ones or create your own separate file that can be imported later.
- Break down communication barriers. It is increasingly important for channels, departments, and divisions to be work together. Integration can’t happen without good communication. Do whatever it takes to encourage team members to work together instead of fostering internal competition.
- Match service with customer expectations. Most people simply want to complete their business transactions with a minimal amount of effort. Exceptional service is nice, but it does little to improve loyalty. According to a study by the Corporate Executive Board, 96 percent of the customers who put forth a high level of effort to resolve issues were more disloyal. Focus on making the experience quick and easy.
- Get to know your customers better. The way people interact with companies is changing. Some are hit-&-runners that stumble onto your website for a one time purchase. Others are bargain hunters seeking deals. Then there are the seasonal shoppers who only buy one or two times a years. Marketing to them the same way you market to your loyal buyers is a waste of money. Invest in the analytics required to identify the different groups so you can maximize your ROI.
- Establish a social media policy even if you aren’t participating. Your customers, employees, and vendors are commenting. Some will improve your reputation. Others won’t. How are you going to respond? What about the company cyber-bullies who try to extort discounts or perks by threatening negative reviews? Advance preparation allows you to respond quickly and effectively.