The Evolution of Customer Relationships
Often times, I find companies proclaim a devout loyalty to customers, which can be unfounded. Customer loyalty is when a strong, and often times, a symbiotic relationship exists between the service/product provider and the end-user / customer. There’s an emotional connection… one which goes beyond superficial platitudes or an acquiesce to continue interacting. What it means is that both parties are invested in each other and gain an advantage through the relationship. This is positive engagement and that is the mark of an astute and usually successful company.
The digital age has changed many things, including the way companies and customers interact. When customers are engaged, they will provide (unsolicited) testimonials, tweet appreciation, post comments about positive interactions and gladly acknowledge the company/service provider. The venues are many and the dissemination of their acknowledgments are, often times, instantaneous. For the organizations that “walk the talk” for service, this immediate recognition is a blessing. However, for the companies that provide only lip service, these customer responses can be highly detrimental especially with social media amplifying these vitriolic messages with speed.
Walk a Mile in Their Shoes
To truly understand the customer experience, companies need to delve into understanding customer expectations and set them appropriately. Even if a customer is new to an organization, this person will come into the relationship with a subconscious expectation of how they want to be treated, what will be considered satisfaction with the end result, how the quality of the service or product is delivered, the simplicity or difficulty of the interaction, and how this experience compares to that of equal or similar products and services. Of course these perceptions are based on each person’s individual history, but in general, many people will agree on what is a bad service experience versus a good one.
Is Price Really the Reason?
The one thing that many customers and companies easily confuse is mistaking price for value. Though price is a factor in the purchasing decision, it’s not the main reason why people buy. This is why online sites like eBay do so well. People are bidding for items they deem as valuable with the intention to purchase based on their reality of value. This reality of value is where companies have an opportunity to get aligned with the consumer. This understanding allows companies to position themselves and their products/services to an audience in the market for their wares. In this instance, the organization’s value proposition is congruous with the consumer’s view of value, which better allows the customer to believe the price is indicative of the value for the item they desire.
Keep in mind, there are consumers who believe they can always have the best quality for the lowest price. These individuals have not evolved in their understanding of what value and price mean and how they are two separate things. They are a tougher sell and will require more education, a more in-depth series of questions to understand their motivation, and they need time to comprehend why and how your product/service is of value, regardless of the cost. Customers who lose sight of why they want to purchase something and only focus on getting the lowest cost can become a service nightmare after the sale. They haven’t listened well as their focus was strictly on price, and subsequently, they may require more time and energy after the sale, which can be costly. Keep in mind, your time is part of the equation and with that has a value associated with the transaction. Selling at any cost can be a losing proposition for the service provider, as profits can be negatively affected, as well as your brand reputation. Carefully weighing the pros and cons in this instance is highly recommended and don’t be afraid to walk away from prospects who maintain a myopic focus on one thing… the price.
Everyone Needs to Understand Value
It’s important for the company and those selling to fully understand and appreciate the value of the service and product being offered. Articulating the benefits is a must for successful comprehension to occur. When companies can explain the benefits of their products and services, a door opens to a more in-depth engagement. Likewise, the buyer is reassured in knowing this understanding exists so the reality of value is easier for them to understand and to move forward with a purchase. Companies that understand their value proposition and know how to position their products and services to trigger appeal have made the commitment to evolve their customers’ experiences to a higher level of engagement in the relationship. This is where the win-win situation happens.
Engagement Create Advocates
The multitude of advertising venues available today is endless. Yet all these venues cannot compare to one singular form of marketing… promotion by word-of-mouth. Testimonials and endorsements are by-and-large the bellwether of customer satisfaction and impending engagement. According to one source, 90% of consumers will look at reviews prior to interacting with a company. Testimonials and endorsements allow engaged customers to promote and advance the value of your product/service because they deem the value to be in direct relation to the price they paid. This sweet spot is when you know the company’s value proposition and customers’ reality of value meet at the center of the interlocking circles. This is, also, where engagement flourishes and the customer relationship needs continual nurturing. This attention will encourage customer engagement to endure and grow, all the while an infusion of new customers begin interacting with your product/service.
Though both have value, customer experience and customer engagement are two separate interactions. Engagement is the by-product of a well-managed relationship and one that all companies strive to attain. It’s the win-win and the most beneficial to both parties. Elevating your customer interactions should be a goal and one that is part of your company’s value statement. Engagement will always beat out experience.
— Previously posted on TalentCulture.com on June 8, 2016
Photo courtesy of Ken Teegardin.