The role of the customer in marketing today

Certainly the customer is seen as number one in most any business. There’s a retail adage that says the customer is always right. We recognize that without them, all the engineering and product development in the world won’t make a business successful. But aggregately speaking, how much do we really

listen to and value our customers?

A revolution to a more customer-centric approach to business is underway, a key driver being the Internet and other mass mediums, which have made available more awareness of the alternatives for customers today. The fact is, customers have a choice of providers. But they want to do business with a company they know and trust. Customers want someone who knows their unique needs intimately. Someone who understands their history; with whom they can discuss their decision-making process. Customers are seeking suppliers that know who they are, and are aware of their transaction history with the company, regardless of which part of the organization they are dealing with.

In response, leading companies are putting systems and procedures into place, to capture and record each customer touchpoint. Technology is playing a very important and necessary role. Without the power of technology, larger firms will not have the ability to provide the traditional qualities customers look for: convenience, familiarity and a supplier that listens and displays agility in their speed of response. Customers want the personal touch, and the way to provide it today is to identify your opportunities with each customer, and make that information available across the organization.

Implementing a Customer-centric Strategy

In Molenaar’s book, The Future of Marketing, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers suggest that the following four steps will guide you in developing your customer relationships:

    • Identify
    • Differentiate
    • Interact
    • Customize*

Practically speaking, the first step in this process is to recognize and plot out customer contact points. Everyone who has a customer interface must capture each interaction in a technology-based customer profile, contributing to a centralized database network and enabling knowledge sharing across all touchpoints.

Next, evaluate the information you are gathering. What does it tell you about your customers, how they like to be communicated with, and what they think about your company and its products? Are there potential opportunities based on a customer’s unique history and needs, for up-selling or cross-marketing? Remember, customers want you to remember their preferences, and they don’t think they should have to tell you twice. Innovative communication methods, with today’s technology to back it up, can offer you a common view of that customer containing everything you’ve learned about them. When made use of across the enterprise, this tool will continuously add value to the customer experience.

Interact with your customers. Customers want to do business with a company that is familiar and with whom they feel comfortable. Frequently and honestly communicating with your customers will help them to know you better. Listening and responding, will build trust in them. In due course, you will breed a deeper relationship with them. It’s of value to get involved in every aspect of the customer’s business, regardless of where the customer is in the sales cycle. Use sales feedback and market research to develop campaigns and tools to keep your organization top of mind to the customer, while defining the next steps required to convert the customer, or close a particular sale.

Customers want your offering to target their needs, and make it easy on them. Employing technology enables access to information across the company, which can be used to substantiate decisions and maintain customer relationships. It also allows customers to have more ‘say’ than ever before. By providing their feedback and input, by survey, over the web, or whatever the method of communication — this participation and relevance to the process equates to their chance to cast their vote, and feel an interest as a stakeholder, in the outcome.

The Value of Today’s Customers

Knowing the value of a customer goes beyond understanding their current revenue contribution, it’s about understanding the potential of that customer relationship. For some companies, a customer-tracking network is put in place with the objective to better understand return on investment. But the ability to see a customer’s history with your company as well as their profile, accumulating information about that customer over time, also provides greater facility to measure the return on opportunity. When you can see how that lead was obtained and the process by which it was converted into a customer, and view that customer’s stated needs and preferences, you begin to recognize logical up-sell and cross-selling opportunities.

Innovative measurement technologies provide insight into the previously intangible, such as customer loyalty. Sustainable customer relationships have real value — it’s significantly more expensive to find and convert a new customer, than to keep an existing one! Employing a process to listen and respond to customers demonstrates how much you value your customers, who will respond with confidence in your company, and ultimately, loyalty.

Molenaar, The Future of Marketing, Prentice Hall 2002

Chris McCarten is president and CEO of Myriad Marketing Inc, an integrated marketing and corporate communications firm, specializing in Closed Loop Marketing strategies. For more information, please visit myriadinc.com or contact Chris McCarten at chris@myriadinc.com

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