We all know the central role that the customer has in business. But this doesn’t always translate into listening to the voice of the customer when it comes to product development, improving operations, marketing, and customer service, among other areas. Beyond listening to the customer, it is equally important to visibly demonstrate that your company benefits translate into customer value, customer faces and voices rather than your own industry-speak and product features. This is a subject worth significant discussion, and here’s why. Just because we know something doesn’t mean we put it into action. In fact, it is often the most obvious truths that sit dormant in our minds when they should be driving our day-to-day actions.
So let’s take a moment and think about your customers. What are some ways that you can make sure you’re truly listening to the voice of your customers? Take marketing, for example. How much do you talk about your company in your marketing efforts rather than letting your current customers define your value and share that with other customers? With social media, you may have little choice but to hear what your customers are saying. (It’s possible you’re pretending that by not participating yourself, you’re hoping they aren’t participating, either. This doesn’t work, by the way).
Do you engage your customers in social media channels by responding to their requests, complaints, and compliments? Are you reading and commenting on your customers’ blog posts? For B2B companies, is your sales team connected to all of your customers and partners on social channels like LinkedIn? There myriad ways to simply acknowledge customers in the social spheres that they are most comfortable with, and you might be surprised how much you can learn by just being part of the channels that are important to them. Of course, you may know all of these things, but do you have a systematic process for making them happen?
Social media engagement is just one aspect of marketing, and marketing is just one area to listen to your customers. How many other areas does your company have an opportunity to listen? How many times does your company interact with the customer, and is everyone at your company aware of everyone else’s customer interactions? (Hint: You may be talking AT your customers too much, mismanaging key opportunities to communicate value, and not giving them enough of a chance to talk on your behalf.)
The customer voice needs to be heard throughout all marketing efforts, sometimes literally and sometimes more subtly, as in the benefits of your products or services. While we all understand the concept of “Like Attracts Like,” it is easy to forget how important this idea is in a business context. If I am part of an entertainment company considering the major purchase of a software implementation, I want to know that this software will work in my unique environment. I may want to talk to a current entertainment customer, read a case study, and see specific use cases to validate that the software understands “me” as a company. Of course, it also helps to read an industry trade article featuring the exact customer scenario that I am planning and to hear it again from a speaker on stage at a conference. The greater the perceived risk of buying a product, the more the “Like Attracts Like” concept comes into play. In other words, the higher the perceived risk, the more pervasive the customer voice should be throughout all marketing. How are you making it easier for potential customers to buy from you by making their voice heard in your own company marketing efforts?
We all want to do business with companies and people we trust. Another reason to incorporate the voice of your customers is to establish trust with potential customers. Earning this trust can often shorten your company’s sales cycle. We can toot our own horns only so much. And as Will Rogers once said, “Get someone else to blow your horn, and the sound will carry twice as far.” The real believability comes into play when our customers vouch for us and proactively promote us to their peers. Why not facilitate a platform for your customers to do this more easily? Asking for an occasional testimonial or writing a case study once in a while is not a program; it is an afterthought. A successful program integrates the sales team into the process but puts the bulk of the work on the marketing or outside team to create an infrastructure that ensures a steady stream of new collateral, events, and media featuring your customers and their successes.
A good place to start is to create a formalized process for integrating customers (and partners) into your marketing efforts, whether the goal is to obtain a press release quote, a customer success story, a speaking engagement, a video testimonial, a reference, a media interview/news story or another opportunity. I have run this process for many companies and created what we call a Customer Champion program to ensure that the voice of the customer flows through all company marketing and communications. A champion is someone who fights for or defends a person or cause. A champion also defeats all opponents. For a Customer Champion program, an ultimate long-term goal could be every customer equals a champion for you. A realistic short-term goal is to start small and build.
Here are a series of steps you can take to establish a core group of Customer Champions:
– Determine the specific qualities you need as champions (specific product used, type of company and/or person, great on camera, level of passion, etc.).
– Target a specific number of desired champions, and build a list of who they are.
– Identify one or two ways to incorporate them into your company’s collateral, campaigns, etc.
– Reach out to them and ‘interview’ them about their relationship and success with your company.
– Publish their stories in a variety of formats, and invite them to do the same!
It is important to remember that just because something is obvious doesn’t make it easy. We all listen to our customers to some extent, or we wouldn’t be in business. But we need to take the customer voice and bring it to operations meetings, R&D discussions, marketing launches and every other area of business.