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Ask Not What Your Customers Can Do for You - Biz Platform

28 Aug 2018 - 07:09 |

Ask Not What Your Customers Can Do for You

In our fast-paced world, full of demands and a litany of to-dos, it’s not uncommon to see brands invest in black-or-white thinking. Many default to one extreme or the other when it comes to customers: taking a transactional approach or assuming that “the customer is always right.”

These approaches certainly make decisions easier and faster, but do they actually benefit the customer or the business? Transactions are efficient, which is great for convenience-loving consumers — in fact, Lux Research found these consumers will pay 11 percent more for each added layer of convenience. Those who don’t value convenience often prioritize cost, which means a streamlined, cost-effective process may appeal to them.

Many consumers, however, are turned off by the coldness of a purely transactional approach. But the “always right” approach may not work for them, either — they want a company’s expertise, not blind reassurance. And opting to always give in to avoid customer complaints or a litigious atmosphere can actually backfire, resulting in frustrated customers and disengaged employees.

The better choice is to build a partnership with your customer base and live in the gray.

Getting Them in the Door Isn’t Enough

A lot of brands fall into the accepted thinking that if you get a customer in the door through one transaction, you’ve automatically built loyalty. That’s flawed thinking. “Customers need to know what your brand represents beyond one product or one service,” says Stephen George, CEO of brand and event experience company Surkus. “They might like it, but why have a relationship with your brand overall?”

If customers delete the app they downloaded or leave the event two hours before its end, how far did they really get in the door?

He points out that while brands can be big, multimillion-dollar companies, people think of them as individuals, so companies have to offer representatives of their brand to establish real relationships. Surkus, which enables both online experiences and in-person events, prioritizes one-to-one interactions to gather information about consumers and match them up with the right brands’ experiences. Knowing a partnership is centered on making sure both sides provide value to each other, it then looks for ways to incentivize members — but not through cash.

The brand aims to offer great experiences through its platform, so it incentivizes members with experiences: tickets to a Dodgers game, a concert, a conference. “If we offered $10 for a post about the Dodgers, that’s not building a relationship — people see that as a 30-second effort for $10,” George says. “But tickets to a game so you can experience it? That has much higher value than any monetary reward to keep them engaged in giving feedback on the experiences themselves, which is what our clients want.”

Other brands have prioritized referrals, rewarding longtime customers with enhanced experiences as thanks for bringing in new customers. Blizzard did this with World of Warcraft, offering in-game benefits to returning players in exchange for introducing new players to the game. This has had an added benefit: By allowing these friends to stick together in the game, playing in areas above their level, Blizzard retains new players longer and extends its long-term revenue.

Insurance brand Aviva has incentivized its customer base to buy additional products with retail vouchers for retailers like Amazon. Rachael Laurie, Aviva’s head of customer marketing, said, “We use vouchers as part of a wider program of customer recognition, reward and engagement. The feedback we get from customers is that vouchers continue to be warmly received, and many consider this type of reward the next best thing to cash.”

Capitalizing on Long-Term Engagement

Incentivizing customers underscores the value that they bring to the relationship beyond dollars and cents. By acknowledging their contributions and treating them as partners in their quest to develop more successful products and services, brands can plant the seeds for deep-rooted loyalty.

But that goes both ways: Brands also need to open themselves up to customer feedback, both bad and good. George says Surkus’ platform takes members all the way through a client’s digital experience, which enables them to provide feedback that a disengaged or transaction-oriented consumer might not. Being able to track the steps a customer took and ask about his experiences at each one closes the feedback loop — and increases the chances of a long-term relationship taking hold.

One well-known example of a brand that’s set itself up for genuine feedback is Ritz-Carlton. The hotel chain has authorized each employee to spend up to $2,000 per day on improving the customer experience. This empowers employees to hear about problems or opportunities and use their judgment to capitalize on them, ensuring customers don’t fear dismissal of their feedback. And it helps employees, too: “I believe in the power of recognition and empowerment leading to great employee engagement. And employee engagement is critical to guest engagement,” said Herve Humler, the brand’s COO and president.

By establishing two-way communication streams with customers, companies can establish long-term relationships — individuals become invested in the companies’ decisions because they benefit (or suffer) from them as loyal customers.

Black-or-white thinking is easy, and defaulting to believing the customer is always right — or just one transaction among many — makes sense in the short term. But in the long term, people who have been treated this way by companies don’t become engaged or develop identities as customers of the brand. It’s important to ask not only what your customers can do for you, but also what you can do for your customers.