The brand/customer relationship of today is very much a two-way street. No longer [neanderthal voice] ‘brand speak, customer listen,’ the voice of the customer is now much louder, and much, much more important than the voice of the brand.
Customers have more avenues and greater potential audiences than ever before to express how they feel, good or bad, about a product and the experiences they have enjoyed or endured about a brand.
The voice of the customer shapes the voice of the brand.
Customers are more likely than ever to feel they have the right to call out a brand in regard to its authenticity - and thanks largely to social media they have the ability to do so to very large and diverse audiences. Even before they have fully rationalized their experience or thoughts. Regardless it is out there for everyone to see. And judge.
That makes cultivating in-person and online word of mouth – customer advocacy – a hugely important part of the efforts of not only the marketing department, but the business as a whole.
Creating enthusiastic advocates
Having loyal customers is one thing, having people who’ll recommend you and advocate for you at the right opportunities is another entirely. It’s vital to your brand’s success that you build advocates.
Of course when we talk brand advocates, we don’t envisage sandwich-board wearing evangelists spreading the good word on the street corner. But we do mean people naturally talking about you because you’ve created experiences for your loyal customers that are so relevant, and so good, they can’t help themselves.
To do that you need two things: an unnerving commitment to the customer experience and insights to pinpoint the experiences that are going to make each individual sing.
Know your customers intimately – through data
Research has revealed 80 per cent of customers will only consider a brand that offers them a personalized experience. Understanding where your customers are on their journey with you, using data to know how, when, where and even why they have interacted with your brand and your products can help to build customer loyalty and increase profits.
Getting the correct data and insights – and formulating the right strategy about how to use them – is more important than any other element of your marketing plan.
To deliver individual relevancy, you need to know your customers intimately. You need to understand them, their needs and desires, and how you can help or satisfy them.
Regular and deep quantitative and qualitative data is vital to understand where the opportunities lie. The subsequent analysis should identify opportunities to tailor what your brand can offer to moments in a customer’s day, week, month or year when they would truly appreciate it.
Data can do the hard yards for you. So there is no excuse not to be asking the crucial questions about the relationships you have with you customers and how you can improve them.
For example, asking additional questions when conducting your Net Promoter Score (NPS) research is one way. With all the opportunities open to your business to collect and integrate data, it is not good enough to simply know you have detractors, promoters and passives.
By better understanding your customers through their interactions with your business - such as how they came into contact with you, what pages on your website they visited and how long they stayed for - you can begin to form a more complete picture of what they are looking for and how your goods or services can help them.
Grouping customers into segments based on their age, gender, their address, where they work, their family size and their expenditure can likewise help you to better turn curious customers into concrete clients.
Conducting market research through feedback forms or customer surveys can also help to discover invaluable insights into client behaviour.
However, simply leaving them categorized and assuming they are all saying the same thing is a big risk. You need to hear what the individuals that make up the group are saying to you and your brand. Those insights will allow you to make the necessary changes to your business strategy.
Cultivating the customer relationship
Key elements of any healthy relationship are two-way communication, trust, genuineness, sincerity, and a desire to celebrate success, listen and take feedback.
All of these attributes need to come over in the way you market to and communicate with your customers. You have to be easy-to-reach, be ultra communicative and have a one-on-one approach to the relationship.
No longer is it a game of numbers.
Is your website easy to navigate? Because customers expect an ease of interaction - such as an effective search function - otherwise they will go elsewhere, and quickly.
Are there purchasing pain points? Are queries swiftly responded to either by phone, email or through social media?
Once you have made that sale, how do you follow up, eg through an EDM, to ensure another?
If you can understand what makes your loyal customers loyal, record and analyze that information and deliver a personalized brand experience, then you will – slowly – turn them into brand advocates.
The Netflix experience
Netflix is seen as one of the digital world’s big success stories but its failure to listen to customer feedback almost led to its demise. In 2011 when the company suddenly announced it was splitting its DVD rental and streaming services - effectively raising prices by around 50 per cent - it was met with a fierce customer backlash.
Netflix’s blog was hit with over 11,000 comments, most of which were negative. The reaction on social media was also unfavorable. But Netflix didn’t have the right mechanisms in place to take note. They also later admitted they hadn’t done any quantifiable market research on how customers might react to the move.
The result was disastrous. A massive 800,000 subscribers (almost a quarter of their customers) dropped the streaming service like a bad habit and Netflix’s stock price plummeted 50 per cent from $20 a share to $10 a share.
The company eventually reversed the move but by then it was too late and their long term business plans had been thrown into chaos.
It was a great lesson in how not to listen to your customers. It was also a lesson in how to bounce back. Netflix improved their processes, they listened to their customers, learned for example that price point is key, and you can see the result for yourself. At last count they boasted 125 million subscribers worldwide and their shares are currently trading at around $300 each.
But what about [movie voice] The Detractors?
Yes, them. The people who score you 0-6 out of 10 on Net Promoter Score in their likelihood to recommend you.
These people are actually your biggest opportunity. They have strong feelings about your brand, and because of that they’re ready to engage – you just need to turn those feelings around.
An in-depth analysis of the reasons behind their negative perception is critical. Why do they feel that way? How can the product or service be improved? Are you charging too much?
Feedback is nourishment for your business’ soul. So encourage it as much as you can.
The natural inclination after conducting NPS is to look at the people who are promoters. That’s important, obviously, to understand what you’re doing well.
More importantly, however, is to delve into the detractors.
Turning your brand detractors into advocates is your brand’s biggest opportunity. But you need to know why they don’t (yet) like you. [Download image here.]
How to turn the frown upside down
Turning your detractors into advocates can be done. It’s not easy, however. You need to close that feedback loop as a priority.
Why do your customers or potential customers think like that? What’s caused this issue? If they have had a bad experience, might a goodwill gesture such as a gift voucher assuage them?
Make it easy for your customers to provide feedback and suggestions on how to improve your products. Invest the time into understanding their issues and concerns and record all insights and data you obtain.
Treat them as individuals. Show them you care, that you are genuinely concerned about and interested in their view of your brand. Once you understand the issues at stake, you can begin to address them – both on an individual and brand level.
FedEx has provided businesses with a great lesson in how to deal with detractors that rings as true today in our social media savvy marketplace as it did seven years ago. The courier giant was savaged after a short clip of a delivery driver tossing a computer monitor was posted on YouTube in 2011.
, caught the driver nonchalantly throwing the monitor over a 2m fence, destroying the component in the process.
FedEx turned what could have been a customer relations disaster into a win for the company. Picture: YouTube
The video went viral (it was viewed more than three million times in the 48 hours after it was posted) and condemnation was swift. When the clip reached the inboxes of FedEx executives, their reaction was just as decisive.
Senior VP of US Operations Matthew Thorton recorded a video that spoke of the company’s “embarrassment” and apologised for the customer’s poor experience.
Customers reacted positively to the mea culpa and the matter proved to be mere a hiccup for FedEx. In the company’s first financial reporting after the incident they posted a 76 per cent increase in company profit.
Shifting the balance of power
By communicating with your detractors, you’re immediately shifting the perception and the balance of power. Admit mistakes and learn from them. Again, no relationship works if you don’t listen to one another and if one party never admits fault.
By putting tailored communications plans in place, you show your customers you’ve listened and that you’re genuinely trying to build the relationship. Deliver experiences that make them say ‘wow.’
So, start the conversation with your detractors today to understand their perspective. It’s the biggest opportunity you have to learn how to improve your brand, and the biggest opportunity to create a whole new bunch of advocates.