As the blogosphere obsesses over customer centricity, there’s a contrarian school of thought that goes something like this: “It’s impossible for a company to be customer-centric, because customers have too many individual demands, and all those demands cannot possibly be satisfied.” One writer suggested it is time to “go back to the brand” and focus on what the company wants to accomplish.
In other words, do what you do naturally! Do what you’ve always done! Do what you love to do: Make it all about you!
First of all, it’s a total lie that “customers have too many individual demands.” Thousands of conversations with my clients’ customers (and other great research, such as the “top website tasks” studies conducted by Gerry McGovern) have convinced me that customers have always have top five needs in common.
Second, and significantly, these top needs can always be met by the company’s managers. I know this because I have helped hundreds of clients learn what these needs are and then meet them. They are never, ever impossible. Not even close.
Customers don’t expect the impossible - they expect the company to be reasonable about everything. That’s all.
Bottom line: Meet these top needs, and you will be a “customer-centric” company.
So what’s the real reason this doesn’t happen? Because company managers don’t know what those top needs are. They think they know. They decide what customer top needs are (or ought to be), then talk endlessly about those needs amongst themselves. Never being exposed to anything else, they convince themselves that these assumptions are correct. They are wrong.
When a CEO brings me in, the first thing I hear is the company story, including what the top managers think is important to customers. It is a prioritized list. It always makes sense and sounds perfectly reasonable. The company’s managers have been making decisions based on this list.
Then I go out and interview their customers. They tell me what’s important to them. It’s a prioritized list. And is it ALWAYS different than the company’s list. So the decisions the managers are making are based on false assumptions and flawed data, which, of course, leads to flawed decisions. Decisions that drive customers away.
The best way to find out what your customers are thinking - and what future customers want from you - is to ask your current customers what that they think and what they want. That’s the straightforward path to customer-centricity. You won’t find the answer looking within. The answer isn’t there.
Yep, I've been very busy with client work, as you may have guessed. As you know, I don't post unless/until I have something helpful and well-thought-out to share with you. I have several new posts in the works.
In the meantime, here's a fun 20-minute podcast interview I did recently with Michelle Davidson at RainToday (a great site for service business owners) about how buyers have changed the way they buy - and what business owners can do about it.
Click here to see the short intro article and hear the podcast.
Michelle is very sharp and I had a great time talking with her.
Before you read this, check out this heart-warming video, which shows an amazing French horse trainer, Francois Pignon. Listen as he explains to Martin Clunes that horses are constantly “scanning” human beings to see if those human beings are predators or protectors.
Our customers do the same thing. They’re scanning constantly - deciding who the predators are and who the protectors are. They keep track of companies and take note of how companies treat their customers. They notice, when they are searching for a product or service, how easy you make it for them. Every tiny step in their buying process, from search to research to purchase to use, is a test.
Your customers are constantly asking themselves: Protector? Or predator?
When you look at the world this way – not just the business world – you realize that just about every source of discord and unhappiness comes from one human being attempting to control another human being. Predators control, abuse, and hurt; protectors protect, nurture, and love.
We trust protective companies, the ones who are watching out for our best interests and behaving in a way that proves that they care. We hate predatory companies.
We also hate predatory salespeople. Most salespeople are focused on one thing: Closing the sale. Customers do not want the sale to be closed until they are sure they want to buy. From the beginning of the interaction, the goals of predatory salesperson and the customer are diametrically opposed. This is why customers do whatever they can to learn what they need to know about a product or service without involving a salesperson.
Thanks to the explosion of customer communities, it’s easier than ever to avoid salespeople. Now buyers have very effective tools – the same social media tools that marketers think of as “their” marketing tools. Buyers use these tools to efficiently and quickly find others with similar interests, people they trust to tell them the truth about their experiences with products and services. People who are not predators and who have no agenda.
This is a MASSIVE shift – one of the biggest shifts in the history of commerce. And I don’t mean just within “e” commerce. I mean in the history of human beings buying and selling.
All power is now in the hands of buyers, who don’t need marketers and salespeople anymore to make a buying decision. They can find the answers they need, amongst themselves.
Meanwhile, marketers and salespeople are in pure denial, pretending that they still hold all the power, that customers can be “persuaded,” and “converted.”
They are ignoring the elephant in the room: If you have treated your current customers in a predatory way, your future customers are going to find out. They won’t trust you, and they won’t buy from you.
Predatory or protective behavior starts at the top. I think Amazon, Apple, and Zappos are examples of companies that are seen as trustworthy/protective; I think almost all of the phone companies (certainly ATT and Verizon) are seen as predatory.
Where is your company on the protective/predatory scale? Is your company looking out for the interests of customers and employees? Does management encourage protective or predatory behavior?
No one wants to be prey. Everyone wants to be protected. Now that customers have a choice, they are flocking to the protectors and avoiding the predators like the plague.
P.S. This video led me to the conclusion that there are four types of people / animals / plants (and institutions) in the world: Protectors, Predators, Prey, and Parasites. Of course there are a lot of predators who act like protectors - politics is full of those types. How can we know the difference? Interesting question for our age.
Before someone decides to hire you or buy something from you, one of the criteria they use to evaluate you is your social footprint. They consider three things: Volume, quality, and credibility.
- How many followers you have
- How many social channels you participate in
- How helpful your tweets or posts are
- How original, insightful, and non-promotional your tweets are
- How many followers were “bought” rather than “earned”
- How much your blog posts are commented on or shared
You don’t have to participate in every channel; only the appropriate ones. In general, if you operate in the B2B world, they expect you to be on LinkedIn and Twitter; if you are in the retail B2C world, they expect to find you on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. (Of course, if you want to know exactly where your customers expect to find you and what they hope you will do for them there, you can always ask them using the simple method I describe in my book.)
Twitter currently consists of several categories of tweeters: consultants competing for influence; celebrities interacting with their fans; sports and events tweeting and interacting with fans in real-time; everyday people tweeting about a news event; people with time on their hands trying to get silly things to trend; and companies (or their customers) using it to provide (or attempt to get) customer service.
LinkedIn has become the world’s most efficient recruiting resource, and a great place to find out more about a person’s business background. It’s also become a vibrant channel for professionals to interact with each other, although discussions are often dominated by consultants fishing for business.
Facebook continues to be the best way to keep up with friends and family. However, the customers I interview for my clients tell me that they worry about privacy each time Facebook makes a change. They also tell me that they studiously avoid clicking on the ads, because they feel the ads are an intrusion into their personal space. Facebook has also become a platform for B2C companies (and celebrities) to establish a connection with their customers.
Pinterest has become, almost overnight, the biggest community of enthusiastic spread-the-word (mostly female) window-shoppers. (A newcomer and Pinterest look-alike, TheFancy.com [which does not require an invitation] is trying to combine Pinterest with the referral-points, friend-pestering Groupon model; we’ll see how that works out.)
I should mention Google+ here. It’s still a ghost town, in spite of its evangelists (Guy Kawasaki and Chris Brogan come to mind). The other channels I’ve mentioned have a clear niche. Google’s niche seems to be, so far, “It’s Google, so we need to pay attention, but there isn’t anything there that I can’t get elsewhere.” The format is “more than Twitter and more like Facebook,” but it doesn’t yet meet a unique need in the mind of the people who might use it.
What do your follower numbers say about you?
Those of us who have not “bought” any followers are well aware of the amount of work and time it takes to build followers the old-fashioned way – by earning them with our content. We know what makes our numbers rise (controversy always works, but it has its own risks). We also know when our blog posts or tweets are not really lighting up the revenue scoreboard. The knowledge we have gained helps us advise our own clients, because we know from experience what the social community deems valuable.
Those who “bought” their followers don’t learn these lessons.
It’s gotten pretty easy to figure out who bought followers and who didn’t; a person with 55,000 followers, who also follows 53,000 people, has almost always used the “I follow you, you follow me” method, usually via an overseas service.
What do your tweets say about you?
If your tweets are completely self-serving, you will be seen as just another hypster. The “get rich quick, using my amazing videos” guys fall into this category.
Your tweets should be a healthy combination of retweeting others, tweeting your own thoughts and content, interacting with your followers, and helping anyone who needs it. I have found that if the majority of your tweets fall into these categories, your followers won’t mind at all if you throw in some self-promotional tweets. In fact, these promotional tweets can be the ones most retweeted; your followers will be happy to help you after you’ve helped them.
Silliness, sarcasm, or swearing will come back to bite you when someone is considering hiring you or buying a product. You’ll never know that they came, they looked at your tweets, and then decided you were not professional or adult enough.
Your tweets should also stay on-theme. If you are using Twitter to promote your products or services, save your personal comments for your friends/family channels, such as Facebook.
The smartest companies are using Twitter to interact with customers, real-time, and actually solve customer problems. But they are very, very rare.
Most companies just have not invested yet in the infrastructure and personnel to do this right. They are still investing heavily in Plain Old Marketing, which stopped working a couple of years ago.
I needed new software for my smartphone, so I could conduct customer interviews and record them when I’m not sitting at my computer and using my Skype recording setup. I had several non-negotiable requirements.
- No distracting beeps while recording (I do always tell customers I’m recording, and that I will “anonymize” their comments)
- High recording quality for my transcribers
- Intuitive and reliable, so I could depend on it working when I needed it
- It had to be one-click easy to send files to my Mac
- I didn’t want it to screw up anything else on my phone, including phone security
Price wasn’t an issue, within reason. I assumed I would find an app for free or something like $20, and that’s basically what I found.
I wasn’t going to buy an app from a vendor who was obviously a sleazeball, someone who couldn’t be trusted with my smartphone environment or my email address.
I found that most software vendors are asleep at the switch. They don’t realize what’s really happening to them out there in Customer Conversation Land.
The buying process was PAINFUL
I used Google, of course. I searched on “[brand/model # of phone] no beep recording software.” I visited vendor and online article/review sites. I read reviews and discussion group entries.
If a program looked like it would do what I needed, I downloaded a free trial or a paid version. I installed and tested the software with real phone calls.
Again and again, I was disappointed for one reason or another.
- “Beep-free” software DID beep, even when it was set up and used exactly as instructed. This was true of about half of the “beep-free” programs.
- Several programs used the recording software built into my phone, which I had already rejected, because it had the nasty habit of making the recording sound jumpy. My transcribers would go nuts.
- Some couldn’t send files to my Mac.
- One program correctly recorded the first conversation, and others, but when you played any recording back, it always played the first conversation only.
As I went through this painful and tedious process, one part of my brain was writing this article, because there was such a stark disparity between the software companies’ claims and my very disappointing reality. No wonder buyers don’t trust sellers!
Here’s the boring blather that one vendor wrote:
This application satisfies all your recording needs. It will let you record a voice memo or phone call WITHOUT THE BEEP anytime by simply pressing hotkeys of your own choice. Phone calls can also be recorded automatically based on your choices. You can browse, label, delete and transfer all the recorded memo and phone calls with ease. You can record arbitrarily long memo or conversations. The application will automatically stop recording once the storage space is low on your phone and never will fill up your phone. Hotkeys work anytime, always.
This copy is useless, because it doesn’t tell us HOW all this is accomplished. But the other problem is, the product doesn’t operate as promised.
Under the vendor’s glowing and non-specific marketing copy were customer reviews. There were the to-be-expected and probably planted “Good,” “Nice,” “Works,” reviews, but then there were these:
I purchased and installed version 6.1.2. There is a beep and the recording is skipping - making it useless. Now what???
There is a skip which renders the recordings quite useless on my phone.
The 'No Beep' function is really bad. It beeps every 2 seconds and so far no fix has been offered. My rating is now below average due to not performing as claimed and inadequate support.
Does not work. Recording is missing small portions every couple of seconds, resulting in choppy and incomplete recording.
Wasted my $$$$ in buying the earlier version which comes with the BEEPS!!!!!
Thinking of your experiences as a buyer, I bet there are lots of times you’ve decided NOT to buy a product because reviewer comments scared you off. I didn’t bother downloading and testing the products that were rated this poorly.
Looking at your role as a seller, I bet you haven’t set up an RSS feed for all the places where your product is showing up and being reviewed, and I bet there isn’t anyone in your company dedicated to responding properly to those reviews.
During the course of buying this software, I visited over a hundred webpages. Only about 20% of them were the official vendor sites. The rest were pages that the vendors were obviously not paying any attention to, since the entries placed there by customers warning other customers to stay away were not addressed in any way by the vendors being discussed.
This is why selling is so broken right now. Customers are talking to each other, revealing the ugly truth about products, and sellers are nowhere to be found – either to help, set the record straight, or fix their crummy products.