A collection of articles written by Customer 1st

Building a Closer Connection with Your Customers

23rd September 2013 | Posted in Customer Insight, Social Media

by Charles Cridland

The days where good customer service simply involved replying to emails within 24 hours and offering a telephone number are over. When it comes to customer service people expect higher standards than ever before. The big review websites and widespread use of social media have led to a revolution in consumer communications. Consumers have high expectations. They expect to be listened to and if you don’t meet their expectations you run the risk of their complaint being seen by thousands of people. One unhappy customer can have a huge effect on a company’s bottom line if their complaint goes viral.

Nowadays businesses need to work on building a closer connection with their customers. In the past the model was simple. Create average products, put together a mass market advertising campaign to convince people that they need your product, and sell it in huge quantities. Treating every customer the same wasn’t a problem but that’s all changed. Advertising channels are more fragmented than ever before and customers no longer accept average products. The internet now means that a huge quantity of information is available at peoples’ fingertips. There’s no room for companies to have many unhappy customers.

In the years ahead being successful will increasingly be determined by how agile your business is. You have to be able to understand and exceed your customers’ demands, adapt when those demands change, and continually innovate.

Taking this one step further the aim of every business in this new digital age should be to create raving fans. One brilliant example of this is Zappos, the online footwear retailer. In 2000 they were a struggling internet start-up but by 2009 they were so successful that Amazon felt the need to acquire the company for $1.2 billion. The key behind their growth and continued success is a relentless focus on customer service. They have a culture book describing the ethos of the company, prescribed reading for all new employees, and their customer service employees pride themselves on being helpful. A nine hour customer service call and speaking entirely in the third person are two famous examples of calls where Zappos’ customer service employees went the extra mile. By exceeding your customer service promise your business can also thrive.

In an age where competitors can copy your pricing, features and products faster than ever before the time is coming when your only real competitive advantage is your customer service. Develop a culture of helpfulness beyond the call of duty and you can create raving fans, customers that stay loyal to your business, regardless of what your competitors are doing.

It’s this customer service trend which led me to launch MessageTheManager in the UK, a site where businesses can get customer feedback via text message.  It gives businesses such as restaurants the ability to take their customer service to a new level, encouraging and responding to real-time feedback. Time will tell whether text message feedback catches on in a big way, but the overall trend is here to stay – customers expect their voice to be heard.

Aside from going the extra mile on the phones and in person, what can you do to build a closer connection with your customers? For website owners there are a number of clever apps worth considering, a couple of which are surprisingly underutilised.

One of the biggest is User Voice, a website app which allows customers to submit ideas, problems or suggestions about your company. Other users can then vote the ideas up and down. It’s interactive, helpful and enables business owners to identify what the key issues are in their business.

Feedbackify is another clever tool. It’s a website widget where business owners can ask their visitors specific questions. It’s almost the equivalent of a suggestion box, but for websites. Sometimes website owners can become blind to problems with their site, simply because they know it too well. Your customers will have invaluable insights into how you can improve. Feedbackify is a tool to tap into those insights. What’s more, once customers start to see that you act on their feedback they’ll become more loyal than ever before.

Finally, consider Get Satisfaction. It’s a user support community for your business and comes with a Facebook app so you can also embed the community directly into your Facebook page. This tool shouts out to customers that you care about their experience and that you’re not afraid to allow your customers a forum to ask questions and post about their experiences.

Imagine a business with a culture where customers instantly get through to a real person whenever they call. A business where the customer service employees go the extra mile, helping out in whatever way they can. A business which has employees quickly responding to comments on Facebook, Twitter, review websites and in a user support community. And a business which asks customers for their ideas, whether it’s via text, a website app, or both. That’s the type of business that will thrive in the years ahead. To help with creating that business, keep these two famous quotes in mind:

"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning” – Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft.

"All of your customers are partners in your mission” - Shep Hyken, Wall Street Journal bestselling business author.

Armed with those quotes together with the mentality to exceed your customers’ service expectations and the kinds of tools I’ve described and you’ll be on your way to building the type of business that will thrive in this digital age.

Charles Cridland, MessageTheManager