Your customers might not be ready to talk to you yet

Be honest to yourself for a minute: do you feel passionate about every single product you use in daily life? I am pretty sure you don’t.

You might associate yourself with the amazing brand of car you drive, yet not care much about the mediocre telecom provider you have a subscription with. Subsequently, you might let the car company pick your brain and interest you for car upgrades, while you expect the telecom provider to not bother you and to improve their quality of service first.

So, how does this apply to the business you run? Would your customers be receptive to an invitation to join a brainstorm session, for example? Read on and learn why you should care.

Jumping in with both feet

Community building, co-creation and collaboration have been buzz words in the world of marketing and customer engagement for a while now. Therefore, it is difficult for any forward-thinking company not to be lured into adopting these new ways of interacting with the outside world as well. After all, you need to stay ahead of the game, right?

Some early adopters have a tendency to jump in with both feet, chasing one business trend after the other, clearly unfazed by their lack of knowledge and a well thought-out plan. Obviously, this is not a winning strategy when you are implementing new tools and ways to engage with customers.

It’s not about who is first to adopt new technology or a different approach. It’s about whose business is able to gain the most added value from it.

Whether or not your customer base is ready to partake in product redesign, for example, depends heavily on your current approval ratings. Or to put it more bluntly: are your customers satisfied enough to actually give a damn? The answer to that question tells you how likely it is for people to applaud and join your collaboration initiatives. It is essential to understand what you can reasonably ask and expect of your target audience.

Stages of customer engagement

Your customers’ willingness to participate in collaboration is at one of three consecutive stages. Are you curious to know at which stage your company is operating, and what you can do to progress to the next? I am about to tell you.

Stage 1: “First, do what I pay you for”

When most of your customers have a poor to average experience with your business, your relationship is most likely a cold and strictly transactional one. You deliver a product or service, and in exchange they pay you an amount of money. Beyond that, there is no meaningful, lasting connection. The bulk of the interaction between you and your customers consists of formally processing basic service requests and complaints.

Customers who have a transactional relationship with you, are not necessarily dissatisfied. In the current situation, this arrangement simply suits them best. With time being a limited resource in life, people tend to focus on the things that matter to them the most, and you are not on that list right now.

As long as your approval ratings are below par, or uncertain at best, it is probably a waste of your time and effort to try to involve customers in any collaboration project, like by inviting them to a brainstorm session. Practically no one would show up. Or even worse, your invitation could upset customers for you having your priorities all wrong.

Before you focus on collaboration projects, and such, you should first prioritize meeting the basic expectations people have of you. Surprise every single customer by consistently providing him or her with quality products and awesome service, and then some.

Eventually, the image of an underperforming, irrelevant company should fade, and the way to a more engaged customer base should open up to you.

Stage 2: “I can count on you, so I will return”

Have you figured out how to meet your customers’ expectations, with reliable products and services? Then you should start seeing more and more familiar faces, as satisfaction leads to loyalty. People will come back to you, and your business will obtain goodwill.

Having goodwill means that customers are willing to cut you some slack, all on account of their repeated positive experiences with you so far. They might disregard an honest mistake you made or lend a hand when you ask them for help.

Goodwill lays the foundation for dialogue that adds value for everyone involved.

Don’t push it though. Only engage in conversation when it leads to keeping returning customers satisfied. Ask them for feedback on their previous purchase, for example, or let them vote on the color of a new product. Bottom line: try to keep it quick, simple and nonintrusive.

Stage 3: “I will tell others about you”

The pinnacle of customer engagement is when people start telling others about your excellent products or services. At this stage you have become a like-able company that always exceeds expectations.

Among your customers a few brand ambassadors will emerge, becoming the voice of your company and attracting more business.

Also, expect a relatively small number of your loyal customers to engage with you more extensively. It is likely that they would accept your invitation to join a time-consuming brainstorm session, for example. These voluntary participants of co-creation will help you make the most desirable changes to your business.

Showcasing your engagement with customers to the world, through online channels, will further improve your overall reputation.

There is one catch: when you want to reach and maintain this ambitious level of customer engagement, you cannot let your efforts slip, or your reputation will hemorrhage. So, keep initiating interesting collaboration projects, stay approachable to the public, and never forget to celebrate achieving things together by putting a big spotlight on it.

Pick your priority wisely

Make sure you focus on the stage of engagement that fits your customers’ current expectations.

You may already have outspoken fans of your business, who are eager to join your collaboration projects.

Maybe, instead, your full attention should be directed at increasing the number of returning customers.

Or would it be fair to conclude that you need to lay the groundwork first, by minimizing product shortcomings and getting to a reliable basic service level?

When your business is ready to engage with customers, Gaining Goodwill provides you with the tools to do so. Read on about increasing the number of returning customers in the article about social listening. In case you already have a loyal customer base, start exploring topics like community building, co-creation and content marketing.