These are two questions I ask business owners and senior management when I speak or consult on creating a better customer experience. Typically reactive interaction is at 70% or more. And most of the room looks fairly shaken. That’s when I tell them there’s a worse answer: I’ve had no customer interaction in the last 30 days.
You may be well ahead of the audiences I speak to with regard to customer outreach, but I would suggest that having an ongoing, scheduled, daily regimen of customer communication has too many benefits to ignore. By adjusting the ratio in favor of proactive customer interaction, unhappy customers can be satisfied, satisfied customers can be transformed to promoters, and promoters can be inspired to promote more.
The process: Utilize tools, and keep it personal
Let your team know what you’re up to. In many cases, based on what the customer shares with you, they will be the ones who need to take any action.
Start with 5 customers a week. Get a list of customers and knock them off in groups of five. The first few weeks may be a little thin until you get things scheduled with your customers, but 5 a week is a manageable number.
Before you call, do a little research. Utilize your internal systems or CRM to see if the customer has been in contact or contacted by your team and any notes. This will give you a heads up as to whether there are any issues and allowing you to acknowledge with the customer right up front.
Utilize Google and social media. Do a quick search to see what is showing up in Google – have they won an award, have they downsized because of layoffs, do they get a lot of media coverage, is their online presence robust or anemic? Is your customer active in social media: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, to name just a few? Find out by searching their name + Twitter on Google, or using the Twitter search function. Does their company have a Facebook fan page? You and others on your team will want to follow them.
Before you call, know what you’re going to say (realize that 80 percent of the time you will reach voice mail). My introduction acknowledged how long they had been our customer. I thanked them for their trust in us. I asked them if I could schedule some time to talk about their challenges and opportunities and whether our assistance was living up to their expectations. I then sent an email echoing my message, suggesting some possible time slots, and my contact information. Two things: Do this initial outreach yourself (I believe it diminishes the sincerity of your outreach if you have an assistant do the initial contact) and be sure to call first, then email. Also, if I discover anything positive during my research on them, I would include it in my comments (by the way, congratulations on launching your new product/winning the leadership distinction award/etc.).
The Discussion: It’s all about them
When you have your discussion, keep the questions open-ended and let them fully elaborate. Drill down until you are certain you’ve got a good handle on their input. At the end of the conversation, summarize, delineate any action items, and set expectations for follow up – who will be contacting them and when. Then set your team into action. If the customer is open, satisfied but not effusive, ask if there is something you could do to improve the experience from good to great. If the customer is really happy and you think that they would be a great subject for a success story or some other collaboration, make a note and make that a follow up discussion.
If you discover a customer that you want to showcase in a success story, conference panel, customer advisory board, etc., make that a separate discussion. Follow up and let them know that you have been thinking about the things they discussed during your phone conversation and would they be open to sharing those thoughts in a public forum.
The Findings: More benefits than you might imagine
You’ll hear about employees who have gone above and beyond on behalf of the customer. Nothing is more precious than a specific, personal kudos. When I heard these stories, I made sure to tell my colleague and their manager.
You’ll get constructive criticism. Act on it.
You’ll find stressed areas of your business. Fix them.
You’ll get the customer’s story – and the ability to retell that story to your team, to your colleagues, in articles that you write or when you present at conferences.
Your customers will give you a fresh perspective on your unique selling proposition. This includes a fresh vocabulary, tales of unanticipated benefits, insight into a particular niche market that may deserve more attention, to name just a few.
Social Media makes it possible to continue the conversation in a convenient and comfortable way. I would create a customer list and keep that feed open on TweetDeck or HootSuite, posting and replying frequently, as a means of keeping the conversation going. A presence and energetic exchange on social media is perhaps the most powerful way of demonstrating that you care, that yours is a company culture truly dedicated to the customer.