Today’s customers have an increasingly wide range of options. Some firms and pundits are referring to them as “empowered” customers, but that suggests organizations should “grant” power or offer concessions to customers.
Today’s customers are instead liberating themselves as they’re enabled by external forces such as technology, global communication and networks, and industry disrupters. The situation today is analogous to the American colonies in 1776. The British had offered a number of concessions and grants of privilege to the colonies, all proving to be inadequate. The Americans liberated themselves, using tools analogous to the ones customers use today: the printing press (mass communications), committees of correspondence (self-organized networks that stayed in constant communication), and a brilliant set of Founding Fathers who offered them an entirely disruptive new system.
Your customers are already ignoring irrelevant marketing communications and will fire vendors who don’t meet their needs. <– Click To Tweet
Your customers are already running your business, so how can a business win and keep today’s liberated customer?
1. Understand and meet customers’ needs—and do so at each stage of their journey.
I’m talking about expending the effort to understand customer needs, and then measure how well the business is meeting such needs. This includes holding the operations—such as marketing, sales, delivery, services, support, product management that are supposed to be meeting those needs accountable for their actions. They should be just as accountable for meeting measurable customer needs as they are held for meeting business objectives.
2. Provide customers considerable access to their peers.
You’ll need to lead your customers to the other leading customers in your industry. One of the easiest sales you’ll make at any stage of his journey requires getting a customer in touch with peers who have the same needs that he does—especially if they’re further along in meeting said needs.
Businesses who become simpatico with this dynamic are inserting existing customers into their customer-impacting operations in highly creative ways.
For example, some firms once used customer references primarily to close deals at the end of the buying process. However, firms like IBM and Citrix have long understood that buyers respond to customer information and interactions throughout the buying process, starting with awareness and the early phases of considering a solution.
LinkedIn and Misys are deploying customer advocates after the sale, realizing that it’s a great comfort to a new customer in the white-knuckle, early days of deployment, to have the experience of a peer to lean on.
Salesforce was an early pioneer in forming customer communities that, among other things, provide a source of technical support that customers wound up preferring.
SAS Canada was able to reverse an unexpected decline in customer retention by getting experienced customers in front of potential defectors to show them that the firm’s software was keeping abreast of their needs—by far the information that customers found to be most credible.
So what keeps organizations from doing these things that today’s customers value and demand? That’s the topic of our next post.