Courtesy of DC Marketing Pro
Customers. Love them or hate them, they’re the only reason for our existence.
In the past, our customer relationships were pretty non-existent. A customer walks into a store, browses around, picks up a can of soda, pays, and leaves.
Perhaps a lady could be having her hair done at a salon, and the stylist would banter with her while trimming her tresses. After her hair is styled and cut, she departs happily to her next appointment.
Then, our relationships with our customers were superficial and transactional. We only spend as much time or energy as we need to during the transaction. After sales service were only necessary if something went seriously wrong with the product or service.
In the social age, however, successful customer relationships take on a different dimension.
We no longer just “sell” a good or service to a customer. Rather, we try to convince and convert a prospect to embrace our brand, and believe in what it stands for. Once she has paid for the product and experienced its benefits, we find ways to deepen our engagement.
By doing so, we hope to bring our customer relationships to a deeper and more fruitful level.
The tiers of customer engagement can be represented by a pyramid (see diagram below).
At the lowest level, we have evangelism. This is the process of moving our potential customer from ignorance/apathy to belief.
Most companies pay a lot of attention to this initial process of customer acquisition, investing millions in catchy advertisements, snazzy point of sale materials, slick sales forces, and savvy publicists.
The strategy here is to capture our audience’s attention, interest him in what we have to offer, and win him over.
Once he is won over, we start to educate him in what we do.
Here, the emphasis should be on training and teaching your customer on how he can solve a problem or improve his life. Depending on our trade, it can be anything from eliminating stubborn stains at home or strengthening his command of a third language.
Beyond helping, education should come in the form of emotive and enlightening brand storytelling. It may include stuff like the heritage and values of our company, what we’re passionate about, and how our production or service processes leads to greater customer value and better customer experiences.
The next level in the customer pyramid is engagement.
Those whom we can move to this stage are often regulars to our business. We may know them by their names, likes/dislikes, and backgrounds. Often, we take proactive steps to reach out to them in more directly relevant and personal ways.
Often, engaged customers have a relationship with the businesses which they choose to frequent, and friendships begin to form. They are also more likely to recommend their family and friends to patronise the business.
The penultimate tier is all about customer empowerment.
At this stage, the relationship shifts away from mere buyer-seller to owner-advocate. Customers here take pride in being associated with your brand, and proudly display their allegiance to your firm. Hence, you should harness their ideas in the form of focus group discussions, surveys or new product launches.
Often, empowered customers are vocal in expressing what they like (or dislike) about your brand, always with the intention of making it better. With the right tools to equip them with, they are also willing to openly share why they love your brand and what it stands for.
Finally, the nirvana of customer relationships is what I call enlistment.
Customers who progress to this stage behave like your staff (the passionate and ardent ones, that is). They are your brand fanatics, ambassadors and evangelists, willing to share your “gospel” to their networks at the drop of a hat, often with a glint in their eyes.
Some of these customers may also become volunteers, assisting you with customer research or becoming an extended unpaid “sales force”. They eat, live and breathe your brand.
To equip these brand advocates, you need to invest time, energy and money in making them feel special. Invite them to exclusive “behind-the-scenes” peeks at your company’s R&D processes. Give them an active role in the development of new product or services.
With so many ways to grow and develop customer relationships beyond the cash register, the questions you have to ask yourself is this:
The next time you think about how you can work more closely with your customers, consider the 5 Es of customer engagement.
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