Six ways to engage customers
In my last blog, I invited readers to join me at the Marketing DELI (Differentiate, Engage, Leverage and Integrate) – a useful acronym for four critical areas of interest that will help bring strategic focus to your branding, communications and marketing planning. I offered some insights on “D” – to differentiate in an increasingly cluttered and busy marketplace.
This month we’re stopping at the “Engagement” counter. Today more than ever (and whether we like it or not), marketing is not directional but two-way, a dialogue with current and potential customers, as well as suppliers and staff. The reality of soliciting unfiltered feedback can be daunting, but it’s also good news – I’ve noted before in blogs that there is no better way to understand our customers than to have a simple conversation. Their input can inform our approach to customer service and marketing better than any textbook or – dare I say – blog post.
The other good news is this type of grassroots market research can be inexpensive if you’re ready to invest some time. I sat down with some members of our team, and we’ve come up with these key points to help clients engage with the market without breaking the bank:
- Invite feedback after work is done – Many clients do this with a paper survey or by emailing a link to a quick web survey. This can provide useful information and over time allows for some quantitative measurement, which is important. It’s also a terrific way to subtly inform customers of the full range of services and products you can provide to them.
However, it’s not very warm or engaging. Consider picking up the phone to ask customers how it went. In addition to the very authentic gesture you’re making as a business manager or owner, a phone call offers one major advantage: the opportunity to listen, pick up cues, and guide the conversation based on what you hear rather than march your customer through a series of questions. In one quick shot, you can offer clarity or quickly correct a misconception, learn more about your customer’s unique situation and if necessary, schedule a face-to-face meeting to follow up on a more difficult or interesting situation.
- Focus groups – these are so 1987, it’s true, and fewer focus groups happen in the Internet age. But there is still value in bringing people together for a facilitated discussion about their needs and how you can meet them. People tend to be more candid when supported in a group of like-minded people. There is a bit of an art to leading a focus group with a firm but gentle hand so you’re not seen as seeding the discussion, but objectively facilitating one. If you or someone on your team can lead this type of discussion, there isn’t a need for outside consultants, and you’ll learn plenty from the effort.
- Public seminars – These are a tried and true PR tactic for a reason – you can bring value to the market while demonstrating your expertise. Consider putting a twist on the one-way presentation by inviting the audience to be part of a dialogue, too – tack on a mini focus group to ask them what they expect of your services, what frustrates them the most, and where you could add the most value to them.
- Talk to your people – too often, we don’t take the time to sit down with staff and other business partners and discuss what’s working out there, and how to properly meet marketing targets. Yet, employees should be the first line of defence when it comes to building an effective marketing plan because they are the only people who understand the two most essential pieces of the puzzle: your business, and your customer. Involve staff in marketing planning, and have regular discussions about how you’re doing and what they are hearing. The more engagement you have, the more empowered they’ll feel to create an exceptional customer experience – and that is the very best marketing you can ask for.
- Online engagement – Online engagement is happening without our permission and control, and there are some rules of the game that can make this an effective marketing strategy rather than a PR nightmare. You can use social media to engage with tech-savvy clients – posting a tweet after a particularly exceptional service experience that tags the business or customer can result in likes, shares and reposts that spread the good word about you. Engaging with customers online is definitely today’s version of that old “she told two friends, and so on…” advertising jingle.
- Address the negative review – A satisfied customer may react to your post by sharing or commenting on it. A frustrated customer, however, will be more proactive and relentless – they will take to social media to vent. A tweet, post to Facebook or nasty review about a negative experience can be a reputation killer. The general rule is to not ignore these posts, but acknowledge them publicly, thank posters for their honestly, apologize if you should, and strive to follow up for more discussion. Avoid being defensive even if you feel the criticism is unwarranted. As the situation resolves, use your own social media feeds or company blog/website to create a case study out of the experience.
What are your experiences dealing with online negativity? How did you manage it?
Next issue, we’re moving along the deli counter to the “Leverage” section. Lots to talk about there, too… see you then.