The other day I was sitting in my dentist waiting room, which surprising enough is one of my favorite places. Yes, I do like being there. Conversely I really don’t like being down the hall in one of the torture chambers equipped with a dental chair.
But I digress. To get to my point the waiting room is full of great magazines that I personally don’t subscribe to, but love to read. These magazines are full of wonderful photos and articles depicting the “good life”.
Even the ads are attractive in these types of publications. And that was what had caught my attention. On opposite pages were two ads for two very large companies. Both at one time in recent history were dominant players in their industries. The irony is that currently both these onetime best in class companies are now in deep trouble. How does that happen? One day you are at the top of your industry and seemingly the next the vultures are circling?
A closer look at both ads revealed a fundamental flaw which may be the reason for both behemoths financial woes. Though as I stated earlier both ads were visually appealing when I read the copy of the features offered by each company (which is the purpose of the ad) I was left uninspired, unmoved and certainly not called to action.
The result is that I, the reader, had no interest in what was being sold in the ad yet I am a consumer in both verticals. Both companies were spending big bucks to advertise yet the offer left me cold and I must not be alone in this as both companies have slumping sales.
These two ads showed how disconnected from their customers these once industry leaders have become. Sadly this is just a single example of what is happening to thousand of companies that are not listening to their respective customers.
Eric Ries, in his breakthrough book “The Lean Start-up” describes how hard his team worked at creating leading edge features for IMVU. Features that were very difficult and expensive to program yet he found later that his customers could care less about his cool features. What IMVU thought was game changing technology was not why customers used the software. IMVU wasted time and money building stuff that did not drive sales. This waste of effort and capital could have been avoided states Ries if they would have been asking the right questions of their customers and used their existing customer base to test and validate new features.
Eric Ries learned to give customers what they want. A lesson both the big companies in the ads had not learned. Today we are in the era of “Customer Experience”. This represents a major paradigm shift. In fact, Customer Experience (CX) turns the product development chart upside down. It is now CX and UX (User Experience) that is driving adoption rates and even design aspects.
We are rapidly changing from an Information Age to a time of Customer Experience. We are living in an age where we are surrounded with fantastic new products and services. There is no lack of newness. So much so that as a society we are somewhat spoiled (but we will leave that topic to another blog) and therefore focus on attributes such as: ease of use, customer service and entertainment value as much as we do the actual product or service. Having had an extraordinary CX with Zappos or Fab.com means, from that point on all other ecommerce sites will be judge at that high level.
The point to all this is that it makes no difference whether you are launching a start-up or have a mature business; that in order to be successful or to stay successful companies must continually not only monitor CX but get customers involved in designing the customer experience. Customers are to a very large degree driving the train. In today’s world gaining deep, rich customer data is essential. Looking at your customers as not only consumers but a fundamental part of your sales process is imperative.
So, how do you talk to customers? Let me count the ways.
1. Talk to them directly. Get in front of your customers. I prefer one-on-one discussions but certainly focus groups work. You get the conversation started and then stop talking. Your job is to listen. These long interviews can be your most effect tool to making sure you are staying connected with an engaged customer base.
2. Blogs are a great way to engage a specific type of customer.
Customers that post to your blog are of two different types.
- The first is an evangelist. This customer loves you, your product or service, your brand. They get you. This is a great group to solicit ideas for new products/service or changes you are considering. They feel they are part of “the family” and should be treated as such. They are a great resource and a great place to try trial balloons for new ideas to see how they resonate with your best customers.
- The second group is on the opposite side of the customer experience spectrum. These are the folks that do not like you. They have had a negative experience with your brand. These folks are very valuable to you. Use their input wisely.
First find out why they are making negative posts and then use them to craft solutions to those problems that work. This hopefully will keep you from continuing to make the same mistakes which will save you money and customers. And it just may revive and reconnect individuals that once liked you enough to become your customer again. Many times this can be an inexpensive tool for customer retention.
3. Use automated survey tools, such as; Survey Monkey, to gather large amounts of customer input. In general, surveys will not give you the same kind of deep, granular information that a long interview can provide. But, you get a lot of data from across your entire customer base. The real benefit comes from analyzing your large survey data against your smaller but intimate long interview data. Look for points of intersection. That’s where you will find the secret sauce.
As a founder or stakeholder in the company it is certainly your company. But if you want to continue having a company you must stay connected to your customers. Make listening to customers a high priority at your company. Learn what they are looking for, and then find a way to give it to them. Make them happy and they in turn will make you happy.