TRUE BELIEVERS | article abstract
The Winter 2006 edition of Business Week’s SMALL BIZ supplemental magazine includes a very interesting article on how passionate customers can transform companies. It’s a worthy read but for those suffering from acute time fatigue and/or from an attention deficit disorder, I’ve whittled down the nearly 3,000 word article into a 500-word abstract.
TRUE BELIEVERS: Passionate Customers can Transform your Company. (by Amy Barrett)
CEOs have been talking about customer loyalty for years, but entrepreneurs know that making people truly loyal to your company—to make them really, really like you—takes a lot more than a frequent buyer program. It means nothing less than getting people so jazzed about your brand that they become engaged contributors to your company's sales, marketing, and innovation efforts, and ultimately its success.
How does that happen? By knocking down the walls between "you" and "them" and creating a larger, looser community that is inviting to both your customers and your employees.
For many companies, transforming customers from passive buyers to active participants demands a seismic shift in thinking. You can't just slap up a blog and expect people to get excited. It requires an intense focus on customers that shapes everything you do, from how you hire and motivate employees to how you design products.
Then it's a matter of spotting loyal customers and starting a real conversation with them. Customers should have multiple channels through which they can express their views, and employees should respond by addressing their concerns, enlisting their involvement, and collecting their suggestions to improve existing products and services and create new ones.
Every company has loyal followers who may become advocates. It's simply a matter of finding them. One way to get into customers' heads is through surveys. Blog postings can also be revealing, which is why CEOs or top managers should regularly blog on a company Web site about products and issues of interest to customers and encourage customers to respond.
It's also a good idea to see what is being said about your company on industry blogs. Ben McConnell, a Chicago marketing consultant, suggests hosting a party or reception, possibly with an educational or training component, and inviting a large number of customers. Those who show up may be good candidates to become advocates.
Customers who see themselves mirrored in your brand are more likely to be loyal. You can develop that reflection by building a community in which customers can interact with your employees as well as their peers.
"By bringing customers together you give them the chance to talk about their experience with your product or brand," says McConnell. "And if you invite [prospective customers], then existing customers often become the salespeople."
You can't create [customer] loyalty if your employees aren't putting your customers' needs front and center. Think long and hard about how you want customers to be treated, and then set firm rules about who you'll hire to work with them. Continuous training of employees is crucial to keeping them focused on customers. Try having a lunch session once a month [with employees] on topics such as listening more effectively or handling angry customers. And ask employees to share stories regularly about the creative ways they assisted customers.