Never underestimate the customer’s desire for information. The Kaiser Foundation, an independent firm focusing on major health issues, finds that 68 percent of young adults between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four in the United States have searched online for health information. This is not just an online phenomenon, and it’s not just a health-care issue. People value information. OAG, a company that provides flight schedule information to airlines, airports, and travel agencies and publishes the Official Airline Guides, made more money in 2001 than all of the U.S. airlines combined. Information is more important than product and is an important ingredient of the dialog required to help customers manage your relationship.
You can’t determine what information to share with customers until you understand how they think your company can add value to their lives. Effective dialog requires changing the way you do business, moving from transactions to solutions, from getting the order to helping the customer. It means building an interdependent relationship between the customer and the company in which each relies on the other for solutions and successes. The customer values the relationship and believes in it. The company creates a common bond with the individual customer based on trust and a shared win-win approach.
As a company develops this CMR partnership, customers begin to initiate more interactions. The customer can suddenly choose where and when to contact the company, where and when to do business with the company, even which channels to use. The customer becomes partly responsible for the company’s marketing strategy. The customer begins to engage in more self-service activities, gaining a greater level of perceived control while, at the same time, saving the company some expense. Customers start to offer opinions or advice on products and services and in that process find new solutions for themselves and for the company. As the relationship grows, customers engage in new types of dialog that provide extensive knowledge of the customer by the company and a new level of input into the company’s business approaches by the customer.
Baseball’s Seattle Mariners, with exciting new stars such as Ichiro Suzuki, set a team attendance record in 2001 by drawing more than 3.5 million fans. One reason behind this could be because they understand the importance of dialog. They listen to their fans at the ballpark and at the fan forum on their website. The Mariners responded to the fans’ complaint on opening day of 2001 that there was no sauerkraut for their hot dogs, something the team hadn’t considered very important. The concession stands started serving sauerkraut, and a customer’s potential problem was solved. The fans feel important when they are listened to, which will help to ensure continuing support for the team.
Why is this kind of attention to customer sentiment important? In today’s I-want-it-now world, real-time communication can mean the difference between a great customer experience and an irrecoverable service failure. Sometimes adding something as simple as sauerkraut can turn a service failure to a delightful customer experience and the word-of-mouth that results, but you have to listen to your customers to find the secret ingredient.
Finally, for the payoff in sales, constantly measure the extent to which customers take advantage of your personalized offers. You will quickly learn the value your customers place on customized communications—customized by content, by context, and by time.
Creating dialog with customers is more high-touch than high-tech. It’s a simple matter of asking customers to tell you what they value in your relationship and what more you can do for them. It’s not rocket science. It’s not even difficult. But it does mean using your two ears more than your one mouth.
How will you know if you are winning the dialog game, if your customer is truly interacting with you or just reacting to you? Here are some questions to ask:
What share of the communications do you initiate and what share do customers initiate?
What is the frequency and intensity of the conversations you have with your customer?
How easy is it for your customer to communicate with you?
Can customers easily get the information they need?
What can you improve? You can gauge the strength of your customer dialog by monitoring the quality of the information you gain. How much is the customer willing to tell you about his or he preferences, needs, and desires? Develop a scale and rank customers by relationship values, just as you do by the values of their transactions.
Don Peppers, “A Healthy Base for E-Customer Relationships,” INSIDE 1to1, January 12, 2002, p. 6.
For more detailed information on the ideas in this chapter, read Wireless Rules: New Marketing Strategies for Customer Relationship Management Anytime, Anywhere by Frederick Newell and Katherine Lemon (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001).