Communicating with customers to inspire product innovation and improved customer service isn’t a new strategy. Most of us have used surveys, customer feedback forms and market research to gain insight. Like many business practices, these methods have become less useful as time goes on. They give us a false sense of security today and tell us virtually nothing about what our customers will need tomorrow. That’s because often the information is outdated when we get it, often the information is too generic to spark real insights, and often customers really don’t know what to ask for. If you’d been a Sony Walkman user, could you have asked for an iPod and iTunes, let alone something that embedded all that functionality in your phone? If you really want to make progress towards a healthy bottom line, your level of customer engagement needs new approach.
The most important key to continued growth is predicting what your customers will need in the future. Here’s a little-known fact: Customer Satisfaction surveys DON’T correlate with either retention or repurchase behaviour. In fact, research shows that 67% of customers rate themselves as “satisfied” with you… right before they buy from your competitor. The research also shows that customers rarely buy what they swear they will in focus groups. With your company’s future on the line, you can’t rely on outdated approaches to tell you what your key customers are looking for. But you CAN learn from the shopkeepers of yesteryear, who knew that having real conversations with your customers is the way to build a relationship with them. Now, you may have tried meet-and-greets or sales rep ride-alongs, but that’s not the level of relationship building I’m talking about here. Instead, you need to get good at having executive-level, strategic conversations that pinpoint very specific factors that create value for your customers. The solution is to have what I call a Value Creation Conversation.
When executives start communicating directly with their top customers, they are able to:
- Gain true insight into customer needs – not just today, but in the future.
- Establish a deeper level of trust and credibility.
- Determine exactly what gaps you can fill – profitably – with new products or services.
- Understand willingness-to-pay, so that you can price for all the value you create.
- Find the dissatisfiers that put unnecessary aggravation into your customers’ lives and put and unnecessary costs-to-serve into your business, so that you can eliminate them.
The most important part of the art of Value Creation Conversation is listening. Make it all about them. Forget sales, forget PR, this conversation isn’t directly about you or your business. It’s about the customer and what they need and how they feel. It’s an opportunity to access your customers’ emotional decision-making influences and understand how to get beyond logic and trigger deeper needs and desires. Don’t ask them what they need, ask them what problems they have. Don’t ask them how you can improve your products, ask them what issues they have that your product isn’t addressing. Start immediately when you first approach the customer about meeting with you, by suggesting you get together so you can better understand how you can give them more value. Make it very clear that this isn’t a sales call, it’s premium customer service.
Their feedback is going to shape your business and improve your bottom line. It’s going to give you an enormous advantage over competitors that are still sending out those surveys, because you’re moving forward with the blinders off. Having Value Creation Conversations with your best customers will help you determine customer loyalty, take advantage of their dissatisfaction with other vendors, find out what they need (even if they’re not sure themselves), and how you can add value to your relationship.
It’s just that easy to differentiate yourself from your competition and gain all the insights you need to take your business to the next level, and you can do it in less time than you spend on eMail every week. Stop telling customers you care. Show them it’s true by listening to their concerns and responding with resolutions to their problems. With regular Value Creation Conversations, you are virtually guaranteed to increase sales, cut unnecessary costs, and facilitate sustainable growth.