The best customer is a connected customer. Yet determining how and when to connect seems more complicated than ever. Companies that leverage multiple channels online and offline are creating more connected and therefore more loyal advocates than ever before. If it were easy, we'd all be dominating our industries and capturing customers for life. Today, consumers are so connected they are now detached from the way they used to buy.
Just as everything old becomes new again, customers are loyal to those with whom they have the greatest connection. Providing that visceral, dependable connection has gone beyond the core product to now include digital interactions in ways more measurable than ever.
The key to creating connected customers lies in:
- Understanding the connections your customers have and want.
- Ensuring you enable "connected moments" across multiple channels. A connected moment is best described as "the exact connection a customer seeks (action/interaction/transaction) at a given time (anytime) in a given place (channels).
I use the term "connected moment" because a real connection occurs at a moment in time, and it's that moment that matters. Connection is not simply engagement. Often marketers discuss engaging their audiences. And while this is valid, it is only one of several ways customers need to both feel and be connected. Having a presence in channels is a start. Focusing on engaging for the sake of engaging is less important than focusing on enabling connected moments.
Four ways to translate customer connections to loyalty
Indispensable connection: The customer feels a sense of connection to the product/service itself (what you offer is so valued by the customers that the product/service is the root of the connection)
Shared values connection: The customer is connected to your brand. He or she feels a sense of affinity and alignment with your brand values beyond just the products and services.
The right connection: The customer is able to connect whenever and however they prefer (you make yourself available for the customer to engage, interact, and transact as he or she prefers across physical and digital touchpoints).
Community connection: The customer is connected to a community with which he or she directly associates your brand. Customers often feel connected to brands that support/enable a community -- both physical and digital -- where their passions and interests are aligned with others who they enjoy interacting with.
The connected customer needs
It's a common fact that consumers now -- in virtually all demographic and psychographic groupings -- are actively utilizing both wired and wireless internet through PCs, laptops, tablets, smart phones, and kiosks. And many groups are active in consumer social environments -- with younger generations flocking to various and shifting preferred social interaction. Sites like Instagram and Houzz.com are transforming online communities.
The increased number of ways and means consumers have to interact has driven even more need for unified, omni-channel communications strategies. The rapid increase in mobile devices and their internet usage has further spawned what some refer to as "the app economy," in which applications and services via mobile are more and more valuable for attracting and retaining customers through high-value connection moments.
Ultimately, customers seek information, services, advice, and often escapism related to your products and services. Consumers of athletic footwear are interested in all these things:
- Information: news and reviews
- Services: ways to understand and manage optimal health
- Advice: best footwear and apparel for body/foot type
- Escapism: get lost in games/apps/stories about fascinating fitness heroes
Even in B2B, such as heavy HVAC equipment, these needs exist:
- Information: news and reviews
- Services: ways to assess gear and equipment
- Advice: ways to improve TCO of equipment
- Escapism: stories/forums discussing previously unthinkable futuristic innovations that will transform the industry
Rethink your customer experiences
Recently, a major pizza chain innovated by creating "my orders" online, which not only allows an order to be bought online (e-commerce for pizza delivery), but it also captures preferences and favorites making it easy and convenient to order again. They have clearly done the research to know this will increase consumption ("share of stomach" as they say), and they have also simply rethought the customer experience, as good brands have always been skilled at doing. The use of a digital app that has a simple function with a high-perceived value that ultimately increases orders? That's quite a topping on an already good business model!
Because all these digital channels and communities work actively in your favor and against your best interests, companies must takes a balanced approach -- defense and offence -- to create more innovative connections while defending current connections.
While I tend to take a more optimistic point of view, today's consumer has an abundance of choice, so a good defense is a must. In this case, I advocate that defense starts with presence in the channels used, an astute sense of customer sentiment, and clear understanding of customers' wants and needs (by channel).
All companies should routinely audit the activities of themselves and competitors in social, direct push, such as email and SMS, mobile and web experience, and e-commerce.
Ultimately, the logical and expected customer connections must be present, relevant, and effective. Here are some examples:
- Be present: If you don't have presence in channels, you can't connect.
- Be open: Make product information and support information available.
- Inspect what you expect: Monitor your reputation online and take direct action to leverage positive commentary and sentiment, and to mitigate and resolve negative commentary and sentiment.
- Show don't tell: Videos and interactive content create a far more valuable connection with customers.
- Be direct: Digital channels provide a direct link to your most profitable and loyal customers; your existing customers. Create and maintain meaningful direct connections using the power of digital communications like twitter, SMA, and email.
Digital channels create new ways to connect and engage, but prioritizing these initiatives and their returns is often a bit of a mystery. Companies can use simple benchmarks and strategic philosophies to extend their connections in the digital space:
- First things first: Do the obvious things first.
- Reward loyalists: Pay special attention to your top customers. You can leverage more wins here, faster, to help generate proof points, insights, and plan broader campaigns. For example, if you are newly using SMS, consider leveraging it for your loyalty program before applying it to a broader audience such as customer service. By doing this, your leading customers feel special (being first), and you have the added benefit of a controlled approach before mass-usage of the solution.
- Seize the day: There are times, often, when current events create a relevant opportunity to do something "out of the norm." These create unrivaled connection moments because they appeal to the audience on multiple levels. For example, let's say you are in the auto parts business, and the cost of gas is rising out of control (imagine that). You could extend your connection moments by promoting an SMS push campaign that helps drivers reduce cost of ownership with simple maintenance tips (for example, "Suds Save -- a clean car has less drag and therefore gets better gas mileage").
Drive connections with customers
We are all consumers, and we are all shifting how we use and perceive the internet. Our growing dependence on the web for education, access, interaction, transactions, and entertainment are changing how we perceive brands and how we connect with them -- both in consumer and business environments.
Whether consciously or subconsciously recognizing it, we are drawn to those companies that make magic happen whenever and however we want/need them to. And we are more and more drawn to the advice of others with whom we associate in communities. All this has translated to a plethora of connection moments where we experience brands and formulate evolving opinions about them. When these connection moments are timely, relevant, logical, and valuable, consumers respond with loyalty. If connection moments are absent, brands will feel at a minimum, a silent attrition of consumers, who are lured away to those providing more relevant and valued experiences.
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