Customer Caring in the Age of TechnologyLike it or not the Digital world is here to stay. The wonderful world of technology is impacting every area of our lives personal and business. Internet usage is doubling every 100 days! Technology has sped up time, shortened distance, and connected us globally in real time in a way never before possible.
Technology in the business-to-business sector is giving us the opportunities to provide value like speed, convenience, information, two-way dialog to our customers and prospects alike in a manner that is effective and efficient. Customers are letting us know that, in many cases, they prefer self-service! Many are actually delighted that they can now track their own packages, book their own airline tickets, and configure their own customized computer systems. The customer is empowered to finally get it their way, when and how and where they want it. Many are fed up with the poor service they have received in the past and now take charge of the service themselves - a trend that portends danger if we don't discover how we can understand these customers and give them what they want before our competitors do. And, then, keep them engaged and loyal. It's a tall order.
We are all on untested ground and have no proven models to follow (although the early arrival of Amazon.com seemed to set the standards for many.) Used well, today's technology will broaden our ability to get closer and stay closer to our customers, and build a bridge of knowledge and understanding. Used poorly ("For the accounting department dial one, for the productions department dial two, for sales dial three") it will build walls that will push our customers right into the arms of our competitors.
While many think of technology only as "internet," the technologies our businesses use to touch or alienate our customers include database, telephony, EDI, bar coding, point of sale systems, and of course, internet and extranet applications like e-mail and websites.
A few of my columns put forth some ideas on how to employ your technology to get closer to your customers and provide the personalized, customized, "high touch" level of service that is most likely to engender loyalty in today's rapidly changing world. (Sorry - no guarantees here - your customer is changing every day.)
Since most businesses, small and large, employ some form of database to manage their customers and prospects, I will begin with some ideas on using your database to get closer to your customer. Herewith a few of those ideas:
Celebrate. While most people suggest that capturing and remembering birthdays is a good idea (I do too) so few people actually do it. Why not remember your customer with a more significant date each year - like the anniversary of the day you started doing business together. Record the date in your database and celebrate the relationship with a card, a call, a gift.
Be specific. The emerging SOHO market has very different needs then corporate America. How might you fill them? (Sometimes the toughest part of leaving a corporate job is that you can't call the IS department for help any more!) What value-add support systems can you provide for your small office, home office (SOHO) business clients? What needs do they have that others don't - pay close attention to this emerging sector and step in to fill unfilled needs.
Identify the role. Decision Maker, Influencer, Buyer, Specifier - in B-T-B a person often has many roles, depending on the product they are buying. Can you design your database to be flexible enough to understand the particular role one places in the purchasing process? Once you do that, direct your communications to the values and benefits that matter to that person in the role they are playing.
Engage the customer. See the web in combination with your database as a tool to get even closer. Those companies that are offering a private web site, or client-only sites have the opportunity to capture a lot of information on what is really important to specific customers. Let the customers know that this is one of the benefits of their interacting with you. You understand more about them and will be able to serve them better. BTB clients understand the capture of information and are willing to provide it, if they know how you are going to use it. Be up-front and clear about how you will use the client's info, and their e-mail addresses. Be sure to give the client an option to "opt-out" of your marketing too. It's a must in our privacy-concerned times.
Customer directed marketing is now possible. Ask how often and how people want to be contacted - let customers update their own profiles and let them direct you. Today's customers want to have more control over their relationship with their suppliers, and they want only that information that is relevant.
Think "behavior." What behaviors can you track with your database that will be helpful in the future? Get out of thinking only about transactional information and think behavioral characteristics. (For instance, I like to buy things on sale. There are some catalogs I will never buy from - unless of course they offer me a sale - why don't they see that?)