7 Steps to Drive Customer Loyalty and Sales

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

by Blaine Millet

Social Media (Web 2.0) is fast becoming one of the most important and powerful influences in business today. It is evolving at record speed and gaining broad adoption - it isn't just for the technology industry any longer. With its foundation built on sharing information, collaboration, and relationships, it can transform the way organizations attract and retain Customers.
Customer Experience 2.0 is a unique and new way of thinking. It marries and leverages the tools and concepts of Social Media with the needs and wants of your customer - creating a much more engaging and rewarding customer experience. This combination leads to increases in customer loyalty and retention, sales and market awareness. It creates a more innovative and personal way for you to engage, understand and support your prospects and customers.
The experience an organization provides to its customers is at the heart of building customer loyalty. Research shows that if you can keep the promises your customers want and deliver the experience they want, you will be rewarded with deeper and more lasting loyalty. With the introduction and availability of Social Media tools, organizations can now deliver a much richer and more transparent customer experience than ever before. This improved experience will be vital to an organizations survival and/or growth in the future.
To illustrate how "top-of-mind" this topic is today, I recently gave a speech on "How to Build Exceptional Customer Loyalty." 15 minutes into the speech a lady asks the question, "How can we use Social Media to build stronger customer loyalty?" The focus is shifting - organizations everywhere and in every industry are starting to ask the same question. We are entering a "white hot" space for businesses - leveraging these innovative tools to deliver exceptional customer experiences - Customer Experience 2.0.
If I would have written this article or given this speech even a year ago it would not have gotten the attention it is today. There is now more excitement on how to "integrate" Social Media into Business than we have ever seen. The key is not just having the tools, but leveraging these tools to create better interactions with your customers and drive more sales and loyalty. What used to be some cool tools for the "techno-savvy" (developers, bloggers, etc.) is now moving at light speed into the forefront for businesses of all sizes and in virtually any industry.
This is the first in a Series of articles designed to give business owners, top executives, marketers, sales teams and anyone else interested in building stronger relationships with their customers a significant advantage over their competitors. This is a business issue, not a technology issue. By focusing on the business and their customer, organizations can utilize the tools in the "Social Media Suite" to create a differentiated customer experience. By adopting the concept, tools and approaches of Customer Experience 2.0, you can reach more customers, provide them with more transparent information way, get them talking positively about your company, and have others refer more customers.
First, let's get rid of the mystery and mystic that surrounds Social Media. Web 1.0 is the world most people live in today. Since the inception of the internet and websites, people now do online searches to find your business. Websites were originally designed to "push" information to their customers in an "electronic" format. It is up to the user to find the information on your website and learn about your products/services and organization. This is a MONOLOGUE - information and communication primarily delivered in one direction, from your company to the prospect, customer or other interested parties. Web 1.0 is considered "Company Centric" since the company has more control over the information and the interaction with the customer.
There was a dramatic shift when Web 2.0 (Social Media) came on the scene. It started as a way for software developers and others to collaborative, share information and comment on the information being shared. People also wanted to be more connected with others so "Social Networking" was born (MYSPACE, FACEBOOK, LINKEDIN, to name a few). Now people can build a sense of "community" with one another based on similar interests. They are instantly connected to friends, family, co-workers, classmates, and almost any other type of imaginable relationship. VISA, for example, has created the "VISA Business Network" on Facebook for their small business customers.
Now the customer "has a voice" that can be shared with anyone interested in listening. This has become both a huge "threat" and an "opportunity" for organizations. They can still "push" messages to their audience but now the audience is capable of "commenting" and "discussing" the products/services or information being offered before they make a purchasing decision. "Transparency" has become the word of the day and is something almost every organization will be wrestling with in the future. Suddenly, the Web evolved from a Monologue to a DIALOGUE - communication and information sharing in both directions. This is the essence of Social Media.
Your customers, employees, partners, suppliers and anyone else can now "talk about you" and "share their thoughts and feelings" and "learn about you" well before they ever do business with you (or continue to do business) - and the information they get is from their friends as well as complete strangers. The world has gone from being "Company-Centric" to "Customer-Centric" and the customer experience has become a vitally critical component. According to Marta Kagan, Social Media evangelist, customers believe what they hear from complete strangers more than they do you (only 14% of the people trust advertisements, but 78% trust recommendations from other customers they may not even know - Source: Marta Kagan ).
What impact do you think this will have on your business today and in the future? Will you be a "leader" in working with these tools or wait and "follow" your competitors? Being at the forefront will give organizations a significant competitive advantage over their competitors. The opportunity to build a community with your customers will be paramount. In my opinion, the train has left the station - you have the choice to get on board, watch it go by or get run over by it - but the train is moving and won't be stopping anytime soon. The power is in the hands of your customers, partners, suppliers, shareholders and everyone else. For example, Advertising spend on social networks went from $15M in 2007 to $40M in 2008 and projected to be $80M in 2009 and $125M in 2010 (source: e-marketer August 18, 2008).
As you begin to learn about how Customer Experience 2.0 can play a role in your organization, think about your customer. Think about WOM (Word-of-Mouth) marketing. Think about referrals and recommendations. Think about customer evangelists. Think about trust and loyalty. Think about ways or areas that describe how you would like people to talk about you and your business. Now ask yourself, "What are they saying about me and my organization today?" "How do I know?" "Am I being transparent to them?" "What are they saying about my competition?" "Is what they are saying based on fact, fiction or just rumors?" "Is this helping me or hurting me?"
Some interesting numbers offered by Marta Kagan say that 34% of the people post opinions about products/services on their blogs; 36% think more positively about companies that have a blog; and 32% trust bloggers opinions on products and services (Source: Marta Kagan). Today, you can have more insight into what experience your customers truly want - in ways that were impossible before now. Over 57 million Americans read blogs and 89% of companies surveyed say they think blogs will be more important in the next five years (Source: Blogworldexpo).
With that as an introduction to Customer Experience 2.0 and the world of Social Media, what can you do today to make this work for your own organization? Here are Seven Steps you can follow to get you on your way. These will all be discussed in more detail throughout the series. Here are the Seven Steps:
  1. GATHER CUSTOMER DATA - gain a deep understanding of what "experience" your customer really wants from you - not just products and services. What "Promises" do they want you to keep? What experience(s) do they want throughout their relationship with you? Since most products and services are easy to duplicate today, creating a truly differentiating customer experience is still unique.
  2. DEFINE CUSTOMER SEGMENTS - these are groups of customers, based on the experiences(s) they want from you. Notice I didn't say "demographic" or "product based" segments. Go beyond traditional segmentation and add the "experiential" component. This should be based on how your customers want to interact with you at different points in time in the relationship.
  3. DEVELOP A CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE 2.0 PLAN - focus on the desired experience(s) and the use of social media tools. This should support your organizational strategy. The plan is designed in conjunction with the information you collected in Steps #1 and #2 above and how you plan to execute on delivering these experiences.
  4. DESIGN THE CONTENT - what information, education, tools and resources are you going to provide to your customers? What do they want? What content can you offer that will engage your customers and solicit their input? This includes both the content and the messaging necessary to communicate the information.
  5. SET UP A BLOG - get started with the most accepted and widely used tool that is foundational for both Social Media and Customer Experience 2.0. Get it started and improve upon it over time. The Blog(s) you will set up will be the windows into your business where you can interact and communicate with your customers.
  6. EVALUATE OTHER TOOLS - assess the value of other Social Media tools and determine which ones have the biggest payback to both you and your customers. These might include social networking, communities, Twitter, audio presentations (YODIO), podcasts, and others that could be useful to your customers' experience with your organization.
  7. TEST IT WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS - once you have launched a particular tool, test it with your customers. Is this improving their experience? How could you improve upon it? It must always pass the test of being relevant, important and helpful either personally or to their business.
Now you have a roadmap and Seven Steps to creating Customer Experience 2.0 for your own organization. Embrace it, use it and continually improve upon the experience your customers want. This is what creates lasting differentiation and a rock-solid competitive advantage.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/1681394

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