Another title I considered for this post is, “What can you say about a marriage that’s also true about a business?”
Now you can understand why 3C’s mission is to bring more ❤️ into the world, one customer relationship at a time, and why I’ve been in a near-fight-free relationship for over 30 years, married for nearly 28 of them.
Listen to the talking, and you’ll never get to the yelling.
The love your customers, clients, investors, donors, and other stakeholders feel for your organization and brand may not be romantic love, but the principles are the same. Give some room, show affection, and check in on the relationship status now and again. If you give your partner the chance to speak their mind before a blow-up happens, the relationship cannot only continue but get better.
How is a business relationship like a partnership? Simple. Your customer is looking to you for support, for help solving a challenge or problem they have. This is the classic, “you don’t sell cars, you sell transportation” construction—you don’t sell a product or a service; you sell the solution to a problem. You become their partner in the work and results that are meaningful to them.
My flour client didn’t sell flour; they sold the love a parent shares with their children when baking and serving a tray of warm muffins and a pizza purveyor’s pride at treating their customers to the perfect pizza pie. My deck-building material client didn’t sell molded, prefabricated parts; they sold an easy way to have a lifetime of enjoyment of your home, friends, and family. My cybersecurity client doesn’t sell software; they sell protection from a shady network of bad actors who can disrupt business activities and prevent organizations from fulfilling their mission of helping their customers.
And when you are doing a good job solving your customers’ problems and sincerely focus on giving them a good experience at every step of their journey with you, you earn the right to ask how you’re doing and what you can do better.
How to ask? I’m glad you asked.
In our last blog post, we walked through ways to improve Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and Net Promoter Score (NPS) measures. Asking questions to improve customer knowledge and connection and gauging your success at doing so is a significant first step.
To go further, get proactive. Here are a few steps you can take.
- Build a customer advisory council. Ask your sales and customer support teams who their most thoughtful, helpful, and fair customers are, and build a customer board of advisors. Meet virtually or in person, a couple of times a year or once a quarter. Introduce these helping customers to your top product, customer experience, strategy, and other team members, give them a peek behind the scenes, and listen to their thoughts and questions. Then, come right out and ask them the questions on your mind—why us over the competition?; what drives you nuts about us?; what do you think of this new pricing policy or support offering? And so on.
- Meet up at third-party events. For example, one 3C client, in pre-COVID times, would put on a dinner the night before an industry event. They could be sure their top customers would attend and use the opportunity to schmooze, ask questions and collect input. This also gave them the chance to say thanks and let their customers (mostly non-competitors) get to know each other and form an informal user group helping each other get the most out of my client’s technology.
- Connect your execs to customer execs. A “buddy system” building relationships between your organization and the customers you serve can pay dividends for years. Match like to like—geographic leaders calling on key accounts in their patch, or top finance people talking—you’ll find the right combination for your business and your product or service offering. Give your leaders some tips (and a few rules) on how you want them to invest in the relationship, and let the magic happen.
- Use social media and provide incentives for input. If some of the above are more appropriate for B2B companies, here’s one that generally has more application in the B2C world. Whether Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or another popular platform, engage. Read the Steak-umm account on Twitter for a fantastic example of proactive brand engagement. Here’s a recent sample of the brand being transparent about its goals—
Sometimes in my keynote talk, “Do Your Customers ❤️ You Enough?,” I tell the story of Sally Bailey, former CEO of White Stuff, the U.K. online and brick & mortar retailer. She kept a list of about twenty loyal customers and regularly reached out personally for input. Of course, their input was not her only source of customer info, but it let her get a bead on key issues—and can you imagine how those twenty customers felt about White Stuff, knowing they were confidantes of the CEO?
Get your customers talking. It’s a heck of a lot better than getting them yelling.
If you’re thinking about re-thinking how to listen to your customers better, find me for a short chat. I want to hear your story.