21 May 2008


For decades, businesses tried to determine what their customers’ wanted using focus groups that offered feedback about how well customers liked certain products. As the business world got more complex and markets became more competitive, the kind of information that could be gleaned from focus groups became inadequate for most businesses. They didn’t provide enough information, nor was the information valuable after a product was already release.

Realizing the limitations of focus groups and similar marketing practices, companies decided that they needed to know more about who were their customers, how they interacted with the company, and how the company could reach out to customers in a meaningful way. This idea of getting a “360-degree view” of customers was a nice concept, but it was never really achievable within the limited spectrum of marketing and communication tools that were available.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software was designed to try to pull together information from various systems to provide an idea of not only whether a customer had interacted with your business, but what kind of interaction occurred, who was involved in the interaction, and what it meant to the company. Unfortunately, most companies could get only limited answers to these questions: whether a customer had bought a company product or ever called in with a question or comment, and whether his or her current contact information was valid.

CRM software didn’t contextualize any of the information it collected. It simply created a repository of information. It didn’t create any data on what the customer actually thought, nor did it allow a way for customers to provide direct feedback. To supplement this CRM data, businesses began to hire customer relationship specialists and product evangelists—individuals whose sole job was to make customers aware of the company products on a one-to-one basis—to interact with customers directly.

For most businesses, this created some sense of value, but the practice simply couldn’t be applied to a large number of customers. Because each individual customer relationship staffer had only so much time, the staffer typically spent most of his or her time nurturing the relationships that had the greatest return—the big spenders—and the majority of other customers were left out in the cold.

Every successful company uses some type of measuring stick when comparing itself to other similar companies. But businesses looking to succeed in the current interactive, customer- and conversation-driven marketplace must consider factors other than the financials. Companies need to value the knowledge made available to them through employee and customer input. One way to do this is by never confusing customers with the popular marketing term: consumer.

A customer should never be called a consumer. A consumer is someone you use for profit; a customer is an asset. Customers are your best product managers, your best evangelists, and perhaps the only people in the world who will tell you the truth about your company. Listen to them. The easiest way to help customers become more involved in a positive, passionate, way about your business is to talk to them and treat them as equal partners.

Too often, businesses look at their customers as they would rows in a spreadsheet. Businesses spend time figuring out how to get more money out of them, analyzing how often they come back and how much they spend on each trip, and figuring out how much a customer will spend on a particular item. But customers can and should be much more than just an income stream.
Customers’ experiences can range from completely unhappy to glowingly positive. Both types of customer can greatly influence your company’s reputation.

Generally speaking, customers fall into one of five categories:
Saboteurs These customers have had so many negative experiences (or perhaps only a handful of incredibly negative experiences) that they will go to whatever ends necessary to do whatever harm they can to your business.

Occasional sufferers These customers don’t enjoy your product or service, but they buy from you when they have to, and only because they have to. Some people who eat at fast food restaurants fall under this banner—although they will never evangelize or even talk positively about what they’re buying, they’ll buy it when absolutely necessary.

Reluctant consumers These customers have had negative experiences with your company—often many negative experiences—to the point at which they simply expect a negative experience or a poor product every time. Occasionally, they’ll be pleasantly surprised and will leave contented, but generally they simply accept that they have to buy from you and they move on. In many ways, these customers are living a balance of positive, negative, and blasé experiences.

Regular customers These customers enjoy your product or service. They may admit it’s not the best in the world, but they buy it because it has value, it is the cheapest, or they haven’t found anything better. They’ve had enough positive experiences that the negative ones seem paltry in comparison.

Evangelists These types of folks have had so many positive experiences with your company and/or product that whenever a subject even mildly related to your company, products, or services comes up in conversation, they just have to tell everyone about it. Many different companies enjoy this type of customer—for example, Apple Computer evangelists can be so passionate that they’ll say Apple is a religion. These customer evangelists are the types of passionate people that will transform your business, and the currency they deal in is positive experiences. (Ref: New Age Marketing Mantra – By: Jeremy Wright)

Each of these personalities is created over time through a pattern of individual experiences with your company. Successful companies strive to create positive experiences for customers through positive environments, well-trained staff, great value, and quality products; whatever your customers are looking for, that you are able to provide, is a potential positive experience.

Do you provide a storefront? Investing in a positive shopping space is vital. Do you provide food or hospitality services? Smiling, courteous, and energetic staff are a must. Do you provide analysis or consulting services? Knowledgeable consultants, value-added services, excellent communication, and constant follow-up will create positive experiences for your customers.

Most customers don’t look for reasons to be unhappy; in fact, most are looking for positive experiences, and often it takes only one of those in a given industry to transform the way customers look at every single service provider in that industry. The influence wielded by businesses who create positive experiences is disproportionate to their size: Apple Computers isn’t the largest or most popular computer manufacturer (not by a long shot), yet it is one of the most-watched tech companies on the planet.

BMW and Mercedes don’t sell the most cars in America, but the consumer desire to own one is palatable. Starbucks may make great coffee, but people aren’t necessarily buying just the coffee—they’re buying an overall positive experience.

But creating positive experiences isn’t really about being a luxury supplier like Apple, BMW, and Starbucks are in their industries. You can create positive experiences no matter what business you’re in by having friendly and knowledgeable staff members, offering exclusive discounts, and generally building your business by contributing to their experiences.

Positive experiences create emotional responses, and nothing is worse than a customer who feels no emotion toward your business: no emotion means no loyalty, so customers really have no reason to stay.