Step 1 in Customer Relationship Management: Listening

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
Book Excerpt: Knowing your customers and treating them like family helps strengthen relationships, build customer retention, and create loyal advocates. It all starts with listening.

In the offline world we take it for granted that marketers listen to their customers' needs and desires, pay attention to inferences from their actions, and use the information to market to them directly, writes Neil Rosen in his book Chatter Marketing: Putting the Relationship Back in Customer Relationship Management. However, Rosen emphasizes that this attitude should extend into the online world. In fact, according to Rosen, savvy marketers are listening to what their customers and prospects have to say online, allowing them to market directly to them much earlier in the decision-making process. Rosen says, "Great marketers intuitively understand how chatter marketing works" and position themselves to leverage it to their advantage.

In this excerpt from Chatter Marketing, Rosen explain how listening to customers and using that insight can help marketers build customer relationship:

Support and grow relationships with your customers

In a world of chatter, you should treat your customers like your family. Listen to their problems, help them, ask them for input on how you can do better. While chatter marketing consists mainly of non-interruptive communications (because content is being inserted directly into conversations such as forums and message boards rather than being pushed at people), most companies support their chatter campaigns with more traditional marketing campaigns, both offline and online. For this reason it is vital that companies take pains to understand their customer needs as they relate to ongoing marketing communications.

When Bob Costa was hired as marketing director for a clothing company, he was very excited about the concept of social media marketing and jumped in with both feet. He facilitated online discussions, set up company blog, and put weekly videos on YouTube.

Bob was a little surprised when a customer complained. "I used to get these great emails from the company," the customer wrote. "Sometimes they were about sales, sometimes just letting me know about new products or reminding me about products I'd already bought. I hardly get any emails anymore, and I really don't want to have a discussion about my clothing choices. Can't things go back to where they were before?"

Bob quickly realized that the strength of chatter marketing is being able to reach all sorts of customers with different preferences, and that enabling newer avenues of communication didn't mean cutting off the old ones. Now he makes sure that his marketing efforts continue to use all the options open to him.

To avoid the same mistake, use all the information available to you to refine your business and better cater to people's needs. Find out how often and through what avenues your customers want to be communicated with. As should be clear by now, sending a thank-you email once a year is not enough. Be proactive in creating and cultivating relationships so you can continue to keep their trust and their business.

If you aren't focused on creating strong relationship with your customers, you will lose out to your competitors. A sale isn't nearly as strong a bond as a relationship.

Retention is the new acquisition

If you focus on supporting and growing relationships with your core customers, they'll be your best salespeople. They'll tell their friends and family how great it is to work with you, and they'll recommend you passionately.

Due to the ease by which your competitors can reach their customers online, it is imperative for companies today more than ever to focus on supporting and growing relationships with their core customers, and on turning those customers into their best salespeople. When people get really excited about a company with which they do business, they share their love with colleagues, friends, and family and brag about how great it is to work with your company and how clever they were to find your company. Most important, they will passionately recommend your company to everyone who will listen. And according to the blog of The Nielsen Company, 90 percent of consumers trust recommendations from people they know, while 70 percent of consumers trust branded websites. The trust decreases more with ads in TV, 62 percent, newspaper, 61 percent, and magazine, 59 percent.

Retention is the way smart businesses are growing their customer bases. This is the new acquisition. While other companies spend the majority of their acquisition budget interrupting people with too-frequent emails and in-your-face advertisements, smart marketers leverage the Internet and focus on keeping their current customers both happy and armed with the tools and information they need to become brand advocates and ambassadors. Simple tools such as shares, likes, and F2F, when put in the hands of your most enthusiastic customers, can drive dramatic growth, and at low or no cost.

Make the customer experience of buying from your company an event, like going to a great party. Make the customer service experience over-the-top easy and straightforward. Enable group buying discounts. Build your own branded community where customers can feel like they are part of the company. Enable subgroups on your social pages. Enable product discussions and allow your customers to feel they participate on the product devilment team. And finally, make it easy for your customers to bring their friends along for the ride, which makes the party better for everyone.

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Reprinted with permission from Chatter Marketingby Neil Rosen (Greenleaf Book Group, 2011).