A few tips on building customer dialogue.

A few tips on building customer dialogue.

As marketing evolves to understand and harness the power of social media, we hear a good deal about creating dialogue and positive conversations with customers. I was asked this week about a few tips to start having these conversations quickly and am sharing that discussion here.

Dialogue is an interaction between the company and the customers – a chance to listen, to answer, to understand each other. Ways to get insights into customer needs.  Companies know that this understanding is vital and need to find ways to capture this whether through formal functions like customer service or research methods or how to start to use (or perhaps importantly how to react to) social media.

Keep talking after the sale

Some companies forget to increase customer contact and conversations once a sale is complete – and have a customer service function that is really only set up to answer unhappy customers. These can be telephone call centre approaches that ultimately frustrate customers rather than encourage them. They are unlikely to want a dialogue and indeed are unlikely to want to make another purchase. Keep or increase your contact with customers once they have purchased. This is becoming as important to B2C companies as it already is to B2B ones.

It’s more than training, it’s your culture

Staff as an important part of your marketing workforce as they all have their own network of people that they use to communicate and listen. It’s good to have them share good stuff about the company or brand with their networks. Many new staff are much more savvy than we often give them credit for and while many companies do understand the mantra of hiring for passion and attitude then train for skills, it can be forgotten that companies themselves can learn from each other. A company culture that encourages dialogue and sharing amongst its own people will be better placed to have conversations with its customers. It is a company culture not a training program that encourages this.

Online methods over time, rather than moment in time research

Many companies use real-time research to gather insights. These are structured conversations that can, with good questions, illicit smart answers. Panels and diaries and ethnographies are important methods of allowing for broader conversations over time – and all can be improved by using online research which can be quicker, in real time and confidential. By building big panels of customers and having regular discussions with them, you can also share how their inputs help companies change – and this in turn will reward customers as well as encourage further dialogue and loyalty.

Human behaviour not corporate behaviour

Corporate concern over what to do in social media often means delay in using it. Where customers mention your brand or complain about it, this is an opportunity. One that can be ignored by companies not used to unstructured ways of having conversations with customers. How companies act on social media is important and that you do it in real time. Try to do it personally by behaving as humans rather than as a corporation.  Saying sorry, saying thank you, using real names in twitter or Facebook to complaints, is a big step in the right direction.

And do so in real time; in full view and not using private direct mail placating with coupons – because a complaint once posted is out there. The response needs to be seen, not just for the person complaining directly, but for all those who read and watch. And keep the practice up so that it becomes second nature.

When you build communities with customers who have actively contacted the company – whether for a positive or negative initial reason – remember to behave like a person would – treat them like you would want to be treated. . Invite (don’t demand or expect) feedback.  Use the feedback to create further dialogue and share progress. Ask don’t tell. Say please and thank you. Say sorry. Use their name and your own personal name – not the brand’s name.

What other tips would help build meaningful dialogue?

A sense of Community

A sense of Community

A lot of the Brand 3.0 thinking has been influenced by the digital shift from simply being interconnected (dot com boom) to the expectations of those who are now connected (the digital communities) with the rise of social media. These connections bring a change to the quality and nature of relationships – who has 3000 friends really? – but also in how to access these broader groups, which in turn, encourages others to “serve” these growing communities.

Community is a positive term & those who serve communities need to ensure that service is positive. This is a relative term – and judged by those in the community. Communities thrive as a whole and the highs & lows quickly feedback into the community via word of mouth (or word of mouse).

Communities are made up of people – whether customers, staff, buyers, sellers, influencers or antagonists. Brands have always had an innate sense of human behaviour and recognise that within the communities in which they interact, brand behaviour cannot be at odds with the accepted behaviours of the community.

Therefore, for brands to succeed they must seek not only the insights that reveal the needs of their customers, they must probe behaviours too. They must ask better questions. New questions. Sometimes the answers are there but they appear, unrecognised, from over the horizon. These are answers to the questions not asked yet. But will reveal insights of what behaviours will be and what is to be expected.

“Moment in time” research will struggle to capture these so called “unknown unknowns” and why many brands need to have a more regular dialogue with these communities. This is as true of their staff, that can make the customer journey so memorable, as well as the customers themselves. Keeping the dialogue going after a sale is a powerful tool that lifts a brand from a product transaction to a service relationship. Anticipating needs and demonstrating a clear understanding of them through the behaviours of the staff on the customer journey is a mandatory for successful Brand 3.0 thinking.

Understanding the human side of business (a brand re-requisite) allows the continuing dialogue amongst the community to shape change and demonstrate rewards that delight. Listening and then acting demonstrate the desired behaviours. Assuming the past was right and/or promising action will disappoint and lose customers. How you deal with customers, who are unhappy or angry, is a strong opportunity to show you listen, you understand and will do something about it. If your people are in a dialogue or who behave “on brand” to these disgruntled customers will reinforce the brand just as successfully as if the customer was being surprised and delighted. Regular dialogue also allows the wider communities of staff and customers to share and shape the brand – to share the ownership of a brand. Feeling involved is a core trait of a strong community. Linking the purpose of your company to the customer’s community via your own staff & brand behaviours reinforces the role your brand has within these communities.

And with all things digital happening at warp speed, the negative word of mouth can lose your customers and their advocates and those they influence inside a day.  Reframing your customers and your staff as communities and recognising behaviours that humanise the sense of belonging to a community will help underpin the future success of y(our) brand.