Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tools for Keeping Customers Close

Imagine a company that does lots of customer surveys, has a customer segmentation scheme, target customers, and a loyalty program, tracks its brand attributes, and occasionally does in-person research to get feedback on new product ideas. Despite all this data, the company has little insight into how customers view its offerings, what it has permission to extend into, what messages are getting through to customers and which are completely lost on or irrelevant to them. Sound familiar?

Now more than ever, companies need to figure out what makes their customers tick, what role their brand plays in their customers’ lives, and how to become indispensable.

Last week, we had online conversations with four groups of a retail client’s best customers. None of the participants (customers or clients) had ever participated in this type of online research. Sure, we structured the conversation and had specific questions we wanted customers to answer. But mostly, we wanted to hear what they had to say about their attitudes toward the category, purchase drivers, and brand awareness and preference drivers.

We got what we needed to deliver specific recommendations about the issues in question. More importantly, customers had their first-ever opportunity to tell the company where and how its products are relevant to their lives, and where they’re falling short. This type of two-way, open-ended conversation is invaluable input for product designers, sales teams, marketers, and others across the organization. And it is too rare.

It’s clear that the recession is reshaping consumers’ behavior at multiple levels. This makes it all the more important for companies to talk to them more personally and more often, stay close to their needs, and make them feel valued. Web 2.0 tools make it easy and economical for brands to do this. Earlier this month, Bruce Temkin wrote about this on his blog, Customer Experience Matters.

Recent research by Internet Engine suggests that traditional retailers might not be keeping up with changes in consumer behavior “because they are relying on a brand-push marketing strategy while online retailers using search marketing present a consumer-pull strategy.” Etailers have been quick to embrace the tools that allow them a greater sense of customer intimacy – could be because they don’t get to see them or hear their voices, could be because they are less constrained by old-school CIOs and legacy systems.

Most bricks and mortar retailers are far from the bleeding edge of tools and social media. That said, they have the greatest opportunity to engage their customers in an enveloping experience. These days, connecting with customers includes having, following, and digesting unstructured Web 2.0 conversations. Winners are doing it. Losers continue to hide their head in the sand.

No comments: