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Guest Blogger Ivar Kroghrud | May 3, 2012

How to Woo Your Customers

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In today's business environment of declining consumer trust and heightened social communication, organizations no longer control how their brand is perceived.

Welcome to the Age of the Customer.

Gone are the days that brands controlled their image strictly through marketing collateral and advertisements. The advent of social media has fundamentally changed the way that customers seek and share information. Today's customers access information through a variety of channels and are quick to share feedback with their communities, both online and off, that lay outside an organization's influence.

Brand evangelists can be the saving grace for a company, but these avid supporters are bred, not bought. To build authentic and meaningful customer relationships, brands need to engage in personalized, valuable conversations that build trust and loyalty. Think of the approach as similar to dating: You need to build a relationship from the ground up and respect the needs and interests of the person you're trying to woo. For a relationship that will make it in the long-term, brands need to go back to the basics and heed these three relationship fundamentals:

1. Make the commitment
Building meaningful customer relationships and nurturing brand advocates is no easy task, and certainly cannot be achieved without full organizational support. It's imperative that a company's customer relationship strategy receives sign-off from all internal departments and the C-suite. Proactive customer engagement must be ingrained as an internal value so customer service initiatives don't fall victim to relationship neglect.

2. Listen to the little things
You've reached a point where the organization has made a unified decision to improve customer relationships. So what? To maintain a rewarding relationship, it is essential to have two-way communication and insight into the needs and desires of each party.

The first act of an organization's revamped CRM strategy should be to identify an efficient manner in which to listen and monitor the conversations your customers are having with the company and with each other. This will uncover deep insights about the pain points, needs, and delights of a brand's customer--perhaps ones that were previously unknown.

3. Show how you feel
The age-old mantra of "actions speak louder than words" is especially true when applied to interacting with customers. It's imperative that organizations implement real-time, strategic responses to the customer insights they discover.

Taking action will signal to customers that their needs are top priority. Seen through this lens, it's clear that proactive customer engagement and responsiveness will produce high-quality experiences, and delighted customers tend to share their positive experiences, both online and offline.

Of course, it can be an intimidating task to tap into customer conversations, and companies often struggle to streamline a process for extracting actionable insights. This is where technology can offer a boost to CRM strategy.

By integrating feedback platforms directly into the social networks where their customers already gather and interact, brands can listen, connect, and engage through initiatives previously unavailable. These solutions can take many forms, such as:

  • • Customer advisory boards: Channel creative and critical fans into VIP panels that contribute to product testing and opinion research
  • • Interactive opinion forums: Enable enthusiastic and influential fans to share their positive feedback among each other in open, easy-to-navigate channels
  • • Viral marketing: Integrate surveys and polls into social platforms to identify the content that customers will love, and love to share

Each of these features contributes to building a positive, interactive experience between a brand and its customers, while also allowing for personalized messaging and easy monitoring.

The overflow
The most interesting thing to note is that the results of online solutions will flow over into non-traditional channels, as well. A brand that delivers a positive in-store experience will see the results shared online, and can leverage them through social communities. The experience delivered through social channels can resolve negative experiences, spur offline purchases through recommendations and uncover insights that alter how business is conducted. In the end, the same principles apply to traditional and social channels of communication: Brands that place value on and deliver personalized conversations with customers will have relationships that last a lifetime.

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About the Author: Ivar Kroghrud is the chief executive officer of QuestBack

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