By Loraine Kasprzak, MBA
At my son’s track meet one Saturday, I got to talking to Alex Palacio, who is one of the track dads and also a partner in a web-based retail business called WebUndies.com.
“We have lots of customers,” Alex told me. “but we really don’t do much with them after the initial sale. We need to start building relationships with them.”
Companies across many industries face the same challenge – how to build and strengthen customer relationships so that both sides benefit.
As a marketing management consultant, I believe one of the best ways to create and build a relationship with your customers is by establishing ongoing conversations with them. This gives them the opportunity to have their say about what is good, what is bad, and what they think you should do next with your products and services.
Trendwatching.com, a Netherlands-based trend-tracking agency, has dubbed the trend of seeking direct customer input “customer-made”. This trend involves companies creating goods, services and experiences based on what they learn from engaging their customers at a very deep level. “Customer-made” can influence many facets of what the company does – from product development to brand building, from advertising to selling.
One of my past clients, for example, had developed a new software program and had several of its customers beta-testing the new product. Although the company owner was in touch with the beta-testers on a regular basis, they mostly talked about product functionality.
Having customers as beta-testers is a golden opportunity to build relationships with the people who could have a very strong influence on new product sales. Together my client and I developed an interview guide covering a much wider range of topics, and I chatted with each of the beta-testers by phone.
Although several important “AHAs!” came out of the interviews, I believe the process itself of asking for feedback led to a strong core of committed users. These customers continue to be source of referrals and are driving product development for my client. These customers knew my client was listening and responding to them.
There are multiple ways, in addition to phone interviews, to get an ongoing conversation started with your clients. In the online world, webinars, interactive sessions, blogs, surveys, and emails can help you learn from your customers. You may also want to try social media tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. These are popular among consumers, and are growing in usefulness for business owners.
Offline, you can use more personal means, such as customer round tables, one-on-one meetings, and periodic telephone contact.
Whatever means you use, be sure that you are asking questions that get you meaningful feedback. For example, “What can we do to improve your experience with us?” and “How would you change our product/service?” are always powerful questions that can yield insightful responses from your customers.
What is your company doing to connect with its customers? Share your tips with us in the Comment section.
Photo attribution: Andy Piper on flickr.com