Sunday, October 24, 2010

The customer saga part II: Talking to your customers

To be able to take care of our customers and create great products that they will really value, we first need to talk to them and understand what’s important to them. In this second part of the customer saga, I will be talking about some of the things we can do to better communicate with our customers.

Show your customers that you want to talk to them

A lot of customers don’t talk to the companies they buy products from because they think that those companies don’t really care about what they have to say in the first place, and that whatever effort those companies make at trying to talk to the customers is just for show.  To change how these customers think, and to get them to give us feedback, we have to show them that we really want to hear from them.

A few things that we can do to show our customers that we want to talk to them are:
·         Making our contact info visible at every opportunity we get and not hiding it in small prints at the bottom or in some subsection of our website, or etc.
·         Being as available as we possibly can when it comes to communicating with our customers.
·         Getting our employees to ask our customers for feedback. Asking our customers a simple question of “How can we make shopping with us a better experience for you?” after they purchase stuff from us or calling our customers just to check up on them and ask them if there’s anything they didn’t like about their experience with our company, can go a long way in letting our customers know that we value their feedback.

Zappos, one of the most customer oriented companies in the world, displays its phone number at the top of every page in its website and take calls from customers 24/7.

Make talking to you a good experience

Customers will talk to you more often and even tell their friends about how good your company’s customer service is if they have a good experience whenever they talk to you. Here are a few ways to make talking to your company a better experience for your customers:

Train your employees to be knowledgeable about your company and your products, and empower them to make decisions on their own, this will ensure that your customers don’t get transferred from one person to the next before his or her questions get answered. 

Be responsive, both in communicating with your customers, and in solving their problems.  Nobody likes waiting on the phone for 10 minutes or have their e-mail go unanswered for over a week. Customers will also stop talking to you if you don’t address the problems they tell you about.

Give them options as to how they can get in touch with your company. Some customers like to communicate through the phone; others might like to leave a comment on your company’s facebook page. What matters is that you give them enough options to satisfy most of them.

Similar to the point above, but leaning more toward us making the effort to get in touch with our customers instead of our customers making the effort to get in touch with us, we should employ the right tools to get feedback. Which tools you use should, of course, depend on your customer base. Some companies might find a focus group effective, others not so much. The important thing is that the tools you employ should be something that is well-received by your customers.

Try sweetening the deal. The feedback our customers give us are valuable to us, so why not give them something that is of value to them in return. Things like gift vouchers can really make our customers happy about talking to us.     

I personally think that the best way to talk to your customers and make them feel good about talking to you is still through your employees. Customers will feel better when giving feedback to a polite, caring employee that genuinely wants to listen to them and solve their problems. This will also give your employees the opportunity to establish a personal connection between your customers and your brand or company.

Create a culture of listening

Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos said in his book “Delivering Happiness” that your culture is your brand. I believe that listening to the customer is one of the values that every brand should stand for, and every culture should represent ( I plan to write an article about taking care of your employees and creating a culture sometime soon, so check back regularly if you’re interested).

If you can really get your employees to accept your company’s culture and live your company’s culture both at work and outside of work, then not only your frontline employees, but all of your employees can play a part in listening to your customers and solving their problems wherever your employees may happen to be.  This way your company gets to talk to more of your customers (this is huge, as according to Lee Resource Inc, “For every customer who bothers to complain, 26 other customers remain silent.”), and lets them know that it values and cares about them.

To reinforce our cultures of listening to the customer, we can do things like get all of our employees regardless of their roles to call up customers and check up on them, or  get our non-frontline employees to take up frontline posts a few times every month. These things will show your employees how important listening to the customers and solving their problems are to your culture.

Dunn Hospitality Group has an excellent culture of listening to the guest and solving his or her problem. A guest staying at any of the company’s hotels can make a complaint to any employee and the employee who received the complaint will take care of the guest's problem herself or himself (found this golden nugget in the book “The Disney Way”).

If you have any questions, or if you have anything that you would like to share, please feel free to comment.Thank you for reading, and may you always sustain good returns on your portfolio. Take care.