One of the rarest things to find in the world is a company that doesn’t say, “Customers are our top priority.”
Nearly every company or business has it written down as part of their policies and pasted on their conference room walls.
Sadly, very few take it seriously enough to make the customers feel some truth in those words.
Creating love with your customers costs money. However, research reveals that a happy customer is likely to bring, create and keep more happy customers in your business than a bloated marketing budget. A great relationship with your customers is like investing in lifetime returns.
One of the easiest ways to cosy up to your customer is to talk to them and even better, make them want to talk to you. Until a few years ago, it was common practice to collect customer feedback periodically. Today, best-in-class businesses like Uber and AirBnB have built an amazing service ecosystem and unshakable customer loyalty on the strength of customer communication alone.
Here are 5 ways to make it easy for customers to reach out to you:
1. Focus on customer experience, not customer service
A long time ago, I used to roam the busy streets of Jayanagar, Bangalore and relish freshly roasted corn cobs on cold evenings under the dazzling street lights. The street was lined up with corn-sellers, but I was drawn to one cheerful guy. He made it his job to keep his customers happy while making us wait for him to get it to us. His questions would range from – what kind of corn cob to what kind of roast to what kind of spice on it- for every one of us standing around his cart. Most other sellers would ask the same questions – but the eye-contact, the deliberateness, the eagerness and the courteous tone were missing. Not surprisingly, his cart was always crowded despite the longer wait time. And when he finally relocated to his hometown, several people missed him.
What this man gave us was an experience, where most others technically gave us what we wanted.
Customer experience is the reason customers seek out a service or product again or decide to shun it altogether.
2. Don’t make it a hard chase for the customer
Ever landed on a new web page that offered something you could use? You would perhaps like to pick up the call and ask a few questions before you signed up. Or, you try to sign up but draw a blank with a mega-error message flashing on your screen. You look for a customer service number, but can’t find it(or your phone!) If you are the persistent kind, you would try a few more clicks and try a little harder. But if you are like the 76% percent of the majority, you would likely abandon your curiosity right at this stage. Why? Because it takes too much effort to reach the guys in charge.
Redbus, a bus ticketing aggregator recognised this problem and found a smart way to counter it by introducing a click-to-call button right on the web page. This way, when the customer is fumbling and wants a few queries answered, they don’t have to wonder how to reach them!
3. Make the customer’s convenience a priority
There is a well-known story about a small Indian startup, called Flipkart that quickly became a formidable competitor to one of the e-commerce giants in the world. It quickly became a classic David Vs. Goliath case. It only happened because it offered one great, never-heard-before convenience to its customers – to pay by cash after you had your product home-delivered. Until then, only your next door grocer who knew you for years could afford you such a luxury.
When such innovations come for customer convenience, the customer expectation bar is raised- demanding innovation in business and delivery.
When COD was first introduced, people might have been happy to tweak their schedules to meet the delivery guy. Today, the COD product customer expects that he should not have to build his schedule around his package delivery schedule. Also, he does not expect that returns tracking should be his responsibility, and expect minimum interfacing with the business for such transactions.
E-commerce companies have already implemented it with Exotel’s system where customers do not need to follow up with the business on pickup time – it is done for him with a prior messages on pickup time, choices on the most convenient time, an option to reschedule and confirmation on payment refund.
4. Don’t hide behind ‘policies’
“I am furious!” read a friend’s timeline. She had found a nail in her son’s order of food in a very expensive restaurant with all the trappings of fine dining. By all means, this was unpardonable. When she confronted the waiter, she got a truckload of “we are sorry, but our policies don’t allow this and that.” She was so furious and posted her experience all over social media. If she had received a sincere apology and a sensible workaround, she would still have posted it , but it would at least have a ring of positivity and humanness to it. Their “policies” cost them a whole lot of customers (I included).
For a tech company, customers might find a negative experience in a sudden “update” or a failed connection at a crucial time. Research points to 12 positive service experiences to make up for one negative experience. As tenuous as it already is, relationship building is harder with the exposure and the choices that customers get today.
If you screw up, own it and apologise sincerely for it. It happens to everyone- don’t make it worse by hiding.
5. Share Your Journey
Nobody really wants perfect people- ‘being perfectionist’ is a myth because it is unattainable state of being. The same goes for a company. Customers relate more to those companies that share their journeys with them. With content being a big part of customer communication today, it can be leveraged tremendously to connect with your audience.
Sharing a typical workday, being transparent about a survey, documenting the inception and journey of a product, sharing goofy moments , sharing failures, small victories- these things are more acceptable than the “we are the perfect company” facade. It makes it that much easier for the customer to relate to your struggle and reach out to you.
Existing customers can do a lot of you, but they can only do it if they find you approachable and easy to talk to. It’s important not to focus on not just push communication but also have a strategy for pulling communication towards you. A little imagination, empathy and focus can help you go a long way in developing relationships that can last for generations.