There’s a view of sales and customer service evolving in social networks that goes beyond selling or supporting the features and functions of products or services; it’s about engaging customers and giving them a voice. Back in the stone age, these communities were called users groups; now they’re called online communities. It turns out that engaging customers is good business and network technology is a perfect tool to get them engaged.
John Fleming and Jim Asplund’s research on employee-customer relationships indicates that engaged customers generate 1.7 times more revenue than normal customers. Interestingly, they also found that if you have engaged employees and engaged customers the revenue gain is 3.4 times normal. Engaging customer requires a mind-set adjustment but is totally worth it. Here are four steps that will move your customer engagement to the next level.
Step 1: Have a plan.
Learn what the core concerns are for your target market. What does your target population care about enough to give up some of their time and energy? What will bring them together? How will understanding and using your products and services help them solve some of their core concerns? What customer engagement tactics should you use?
There’s a community involvement theory circulating called the 90−9−1 theory. It’s based on experience rather than research but does describe what happens in most communities. The theory maintains that in a community of 100 people, 90 will visit but not contribute (commonly known as lurkers), 9 will comment or occasionally contribute, and 1 will contribute the majority of the conversation or content.What this means is that if your intent is to create a community with at least 30 contributing customers, you need to attract a population of 3,000 customers, prospects, or industry players.
If you are global enterprise, this may not be difficult. If you are a small business, you’ll probably have to get creative. Most community sites fail to attract enough people to actually create a community. Their authors miss-calculate or miss-understand the needs and dynamics of their target population. In the myriad of communities demanding something, or worse, nothing of their target populations, your community has to standout. One idea is to partner with other companies that provide complimentary products to similar markets and create a large community that provides value and benefit to everyone involved.
Step 2: Use the right technology.
What technology is appropriate for your customer service or sales engagement strategy? Networking technology is a tremendous new tool for interacting with customers. However, social networks are just that; social. Social networks focus on the relationships between people and what’s happening in their lives. That’s perfect for social communities but it’s not always a good fit for the commercial communities where a company wants the focus to revolve around their products and services. Selecting the right technology to engage customers requires that you have a clear understanding of your goals (see step 1) and your prospect or customer’s goals.
Step 3: Provide exceptional service.
When you do provide customer service and sales directly to the customer, make it exceptional. Exceptional customer service is not a mystery nor is it outside of the reach of most companies. It is a matter of execution and should be the baseline for customers wishing to engage their customers. Provide your staff with the appropriate training and tools to resolve problems on the first call, communicate effectively with your customers, and above all, treat your customers with integrity and respect.
Step 4: Educate your Community.
Feature bloat and product complexity has made products confusing and difficult to implement. Educating your user population on how and why to use your product effectively increases their productivity, reduces their need for support, and makes them more loyal customers. Depending on the study you read, loyal customers are 4 to 6 times more likely to repurchase than those that are merely satisfied. Educated customers tend to be heavily invested in your product and are generally your most loyal customers. They see the value in the product because they know how to use it.
Engaging customers and prospects is an essential part of being competitive in a networked world. It is fast becoming a requirement, not an option. Take a close look at the population you serve. What can you do to move your customer engagement to the next level?
A recent Gallup report, "Creating Impact in B2B Relationships," fewer than 1 in 7 B2B customers are optimally engaged. The report also notes that fully engaged customers—those defined as strongly emotionally attached and attitudinally loyal who will go out of their way to locate a favorite product or service—average a 23 percent premium over typical customers in overall wallet share, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth.
It's more important than ever to move beyond focusing solely on feature, products, and delivery mechanisms, and begin focusing on developing or strengthening the relationships you have with your customers.