For most companies, becoming truly customer-focused is an evolutionary process. Here are five ways to support that evolution to becoming more customer-centric and attentive to customer needs.1. Listen, and then listen more.
When customers start to discuss their business issues and challenges, it's all too easy to start offering up solutions. Our intentions are often good--we do it because we're invested in our customer's business and its success, not because we've just caught the scent of a sale in the air. Many times these conversations don't result in any movement at all--the client gets a bit of therapy while the sales or account person grows frustrated trying to coax the client into action as the weeks go by and urgency dwindles. To be truly customer-focused, sales and account people need to be trained to listen first, and then respond with smart questions instead of solutions. By exploring the full scope of a customer's issues, an organization can learn what the true pain points are and slowly start to escalate a customer's need to take action.
2. Don't fall into the email trap. Pick up the phone and call your customer.
Email--even thoughtful, well-written email--keeps the level of conversation at project management. It has its time and place. But any opportunity to engage the customer is an opportunity to listen and ask questions, and uncover new opportunities the client may not be aware of. Direct dialog is one of the easiest entry points to proactive, customer-centric account management. To truly embody your client's business requires being "in the know" about it, and that can only be achieved through conversation.
3. Always start by identifying objectives.
Playing it smart in today's overly saturated communications landscape means that marketers need to take the focus off of tactics. Rather, efforts should be redirected towards objectives and ensuring that objectives are aligned with the target audience's decision-making processes and consumption patterns. To avoid having the brand message get lost in a sea of tactics and vehicles, it is important that marketers deliver messages when and where their audience is most receptive. "Being there" at the right time and place is imperative to ensuring that a brand connects with its target audience and is relevant to their needs. Marketing objectives, not the "latest and greatest" trends, should help guide the appropriate mix and spend of vehicles to engage the customer and elicit the desired response.
4. Ties each move part back to objectives is the best way to keep the big-picture strategy on course.
The conflation of buyers' technology, media, and communications usage has prompted many marketers to segment their marketing efforts and partners by vehicle, putting important brand messaging into the hands of many. Not only does this approach have the potential to impede true integration, but it also can result in a muddied mix of communications that only serves to confuse the customer--if it reaches them at all.
Regardless of how many partners you have and how diverse they are--it's not uncommon to use a digital shop, social media specialist, media buyer, and printer to execute one campaign, for example--they should all share an understanding of the core objectives of the campaign and, most important, what the other players are doing to support those objectives. The relatively painless input of additional management results in multiplied output that's smarter, more efficient, and leaves less room for error--and ensures that your efforts achieve maximum resonance with your customers.
5. When someone says, "There are no bad ideas," they speak an untruth. There are bad ideas.
And sometimes they come from the customer. Learning how to ferret out the impetus for those ideas and walk the customer to safer ground while retaining respect for their input is part logic, part charm. How is turning away a client's idea customer-centric, you ask? Sometimes saving them from themselves is critical to their satisfaction with your organization's products or services. Instead of solely focusing on giving customers what they ask for, give them what they actually need.
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About the Author: Tom Jacobs is President of Jacobs Agency.