Impact Learning Systems

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Engaging Customers in a Networked World Malcolm Carlaw

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?

2012 Update:

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.

Mal­colm Car­law cur­rently serves as the Exec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent of Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems, a com­pany ded­i­cated to pro­vid­ing world-class cus­tomer ser­vice and sales train­ing to front-line agents. He speaks reg­u­larly at trade shows and indus­try con­fer­ences. He holds an MBA in orga­ni­za­tional devel­op­ment and finance. Mal­colm is an avid pho­tog­ra­pher, enjoys inter­na­tional travel, and man­ages to keep his orchids bloom­ing most of the year.
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Mal­colm Carlaw
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