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?