by Augustus Franklin, founder and CEO of CallHub
I’m proud to say that I never speak with my longest standing customer. They’ve been with my company even before we officially got into our current market niche. A lot of their feedback has shaped the direction of my product. So why don’t we talk anymore?
Because we don’t need to.
Businesses talk to customers about how they can better meet their needs and customers reach out to the business when their needs are not met. The goal of engaging in conversations is to shape a perfect trade-off between what a customer pays and the service you provide. Customers reach out to you when they find issues that take away from the value they expect for their payment. Businesses reach out to customers when the value they provide does not match up to the payment received.
When you reach that equilibrium of a perfect trade-off between payment and service, you have yourself a loyal customer who is going to stick with you for the long run. With the above customer, we achieved the perfect trade off, someone who has their needs met with our current product.
But the majority of new and old customers alike have varying needs that requires engagement and feedback and innovation to maintain that equilibrium. The journey to achieving it encompasses product flexibility, customer experience, value added marketing, and customer feedback.
I admit, a lot of people started using my product because it was the cheapest option available to them. It started with a few small businesses who needed a communication solution that covered the basics and was light on the pocket. But then, a few political campaigns found us, or I found them through cold calls, emails, networking and whatnot. The point being that we found each other. Three years later, my voice broadcasting platform tailored for business needs had turned into a supporter engagement and outreach tool for political campaigns, advocacy groups, and nonprofits. The product has diversified to include a multitude of new features and has a niche market that it serves.
If I had been adamant about maintaining my original idea for the product I would still be competing in a generic marketplace facing against the top dogs for scraps of business. Yes, I would have made a supreme effort to be better than the competition. But being better than your competition is not enough to keep you going. Being different is where the cherry’s at. You have to be unique or as unique as you can be in today’s overcrowded marketplace.
And how does my willingness to be flexible with my product relate to nurturing customers? Being flexible is how you become different. And being different means you are now focused on a niche market that finds the most value in your product offering. By willing to change and evolve with the needs of your niche market you are making your product the only viable option to your customers. A business serving a generic market will find it harder to change with the needs of specific markets. But by being flexible with your product, you can find the niche where you can add the most value and focus on the ongoing process of tailoring the product to meet specific needs of your customers.
So, we found our niche and are bringing out new features that help out political campaigns. But a lot of our customers came to me saying that their agents are having a hard time navigating the user interface. It turned out that the customers that approached me with the issue had senior citizens volunteering through our platform.
A product that works well and adds value can still fail if it does not create a good experience for the people who use it. In our case it was a matter of cutting down steps to achieve goals, implementing bigger and brighter buttons, and clearly defining each action.
But customer experience is not just limited to good design. Every time a customer engages with anything related to your product, you are creating an experience. What kind of experience that is depends on you. Customer experience encompasses your website, customer support, product and even your marketing. It is important that every touchpoint between a customer and your business creates a good experience. If you are creating an experience that is easily ignored, as with a poorly thought of marketing strategy or an experience that casts a negative light on your business, as with a tough to navigate website, you are going to drive away customers.
Your first step to improving your customer experience is to identify customer touchpoints and proactively engage customers to ascertain possible issues with user experience. Once you pinpoint customer issues or pain-points, the task of fixing them becomes much easier.
We currently have the beta version of a new feature making its rounds with select customers. Our customers get back to us with bug reports, any issues with usability and rarely, requests for feature revamps. My team and I listen, deliberate and proceed based on the feedback we receive. While it’s a lot easier to stick with your intuitions when it comes to business decisions, letting customer feedback guide your decisions is what makes a product click. Because ultimately, it’s them you want to find value in your product offering.
Customer feedback ties in with long term customer retention on a much subtler level. Listening to your customers is important, but letting them know that you listened is what makes them stay for the long run. When your customer reaches out to you with a problem that goes beyond general queries or basic issues that are immediately solved, the primary goal is always to fix the problem. But the secondary goal should be to let the customer know that the problem has been fixed and to thank them for bringing it to your attention. This is how you let customers know that you see them as real people and not just another metric to be collated and analyzed.
Customer engagement should not just be one sided where it is limited to customers always coming to you with their feedback. Reaching out to your customers is a great way to understand your market, improve the product, and build relationships. While cold calls, surveys, in-app messages, and emails are effective ways to engage your customers, once in a while you have to take it a step further with more personal engagement channels such as client interviews. My company blog regularly features ‘client spotlights’ where we interview clients about how they used our product, their limitations with its use, their successes, and their struggles.
The issue I mentioned earlier about how senior citizens were having trouble navigating our product came to light because of one of these interviews. By talking about this problem and working together to resolve it, that client has gone on to become one of our most ardent supporters. When you show customers the willingness to listen and to change based on what they have to say, you are nurturing customers while at the same time creating brand ambassadors for your business.
Value added marketing.
If you take a look at the CoSchedule blog, a majority of the content doesn’t explicitly mention the product, extol its virtues or ask you to make a purchase. What you do notice is some excellent advice that ranges from managing your content marketing, social media, and general advice on making yourself a better content marketer. They have a separate section specifically for product related updates, advice and how-tos. So, you won’t get any of those articles that go on to explain a problem in detail only to see a product plug that promises to be the ideal solution at the end of it. A post like that doesn’t add value to your audience and it makes them feel like they’ve been taken for a ride.
But I get it, the whole reason you started your blog was to get more customers using your product. If you were the only player in the market offering the only solution to the problem, then this approach would make a lot more sense. But, you’re not. Your customers are being bombarded with marketing messages from the moment they access the internet (and even when they are not, to a much lesser extent). And with users spending almost half of their day online, that adds up to a very large number. Suffice to say, a marketing pitch at the end of your article is not going to do the trick. Standing out requires that you build trust with your customer through content that can add value to their lives. Even if the solution to their problem may not involve your product, keep adding value through your content.
That doesn’t mean a company selling dog food should be writing about how to run a restaurant. But, diversify your content beyond ‘dog food’ to include related niches. Start a community for dog owners, write about finding the right dog for every person, advice people on how to care for their dog. In fact, write about other businesses in your cluster. Including other businesses in your content not only gives you new ideas but also gives those businesses an incentive to promote your brand. Keep adding value, because your most loyal customers are going to be the people who come back to your blog because it solved real problems in their lives.
Maybe you are getting a lot of what I said right. But what you have to remember is that none of these factors are constant. Your product will continue to evolve, new customers will experience your business in unforeseen ways, your marketing may target a different niche tomorrow, and future customers will find new ways why your product doesn’t work for them. But by taking the time and effort to always engage with your audience, being open to change, and questioning the value you provide, you will build on the one thing that will keep customers coming back — the trust that you will always do right by them.
Augustus Franklin is founder and CEO of CallHub, a California-based Voice and SMS service company bridging the communication gap for political campaigns and advocacy groups. When he is not working, he is either making toys with his kids or training for a marathon. Find him on Twitter or LinkedIn.