Think WITH Your Customers

Unfortunately, customer engagement is still largely defined around talking at customers. And, though methods are evolving, the messages still seemed to be guided by a flawed assumption that you can control customers’ choices, IF you just find the right button to push. I believe that companies could significantly improve sales, brand, and customer loyalty if they would stop thinking ABOUT their customers and start thinking WITH them.

Dialogue requires shared responsibility – to identify opportunities and problems, to identify common interests, to define options and decision criteria jointly, and to share responsibility for execution. However, I believe that many companies are afraid of real dialogue, because it might surface issues the company is not prepared to address. So, instead of dialogue, the company collects information that reinforces their current views, and then it develops and deploys messages that often miss the mark. This situation is playing out very publicly in the banking industry – where customers are dissatisfied over issues many banks don’t want to resolve, and where bank marketing (especially about products) falls on deaf ears.

So, what can you do if you want to dialogue with customers? Following are some simple ideas to help you get the dialogue started.

1. Listen from the customer’s viewpoint – Too often, companies take in relevant information, but then they artificially impose some analytical framework designed to drive company strategy. This approach is a favorite of the Pharma industry, which loves to categorize doctors from prescription data (early adopters, cautious consumers, skeptics) and then hammer them with the “appropriate” message. A better approach is to look at the data without bias and define concerns the way a customer would.

2. Let the customer define what’s compelling – Companies have amazing tools to identify and track customer decisions. I’m always surprised whenever a company reminds me about what I bought and when, and what they believe it means about my next choice. However, they rarely seem to discover WHY I made the choices I did. If you want to deliver real value and develop compelling messages, you must understand the real interest that guide customers’ choices.

3. Surface conflicts, don’t avoid them – In a virtual world, it can be tempting to avoid or even ignore an issue that isn’t screaming at you. Unfortunately, once an issue does emerge, it is often more difficult and costly to resolve. One beautiful feature of an “always on” world is that companies can surface and address issues very quickly – and then work together with its customers to implement preferred solutions.

Obviously, these ideas are only initial steps. However, if your company chooses to start a real dialogue, you will likely find that your customers will be more than willing to participate.

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