As a business, we have one goal – to get (and keep) customers. For years, we’ve sought out formulae and brought in marketing experts to find out how we can find the biggest, best customers to make our business profitable. There has been a consensus over the years that the marketing funnel is the most effective way to convert a customer.
What’s a marketing funnel? It focuses on the phases in the buying journey and usually goes from Marketing > Sales > Customer, in the shape of a funnel.
What we notice here is that the buck stops at the commodity, the customer. The marketing team derives the leads, hands it over to the sales team, and the latter closes the deal. The marketing and sales teams high-five each other for a job well done and go about their day to do it all over again. Rinse and repeat.
In this new era of commerce where companies are more visible than ever, the way we are conducting business is outdated and needs to change. Which brings us to the new era of customer journeys, the Flywheel.
The Flywheel’s model is Marketing > Sales > Service > Marketing > Sales… and so on with the customer at the nucleus, and looks like a wheel. What this means is that not only marketing and sales but also the operations of company activities revolve around the customer. This model doesn’t view the customer as a commodity but as a thriving lead-generating machine.
No, this doesn’t mean that we are de-valuing the customer. Quite the opposite, in fact. What the Flywheel suggests is a notion that over the years has become trite due to overuse: Customer is King. It plays upon the very real fact that is the core of the business - that the biggest threat to your company’s growth isn’t your competitors. It’s bad customer experience.
The traditional customer experience, as we saw it, began at awareness (marketing) and went through consideration (marketing + sales pitch) and ended at decision (sales closing). However, this experience actually continues through to delight (service + operations), and proceeds to a key stage: evangelize.
What this means is that delighting a customer through good customer experience leads them to keep the brand at the forefront of their mind, with the confidence that they have made the right choice. With nurturing over time, these customers become advocates for your brand through earned loyalty.
Brand evangelists are important for three reasons: firstly, they are a performance indicator of the company’s current services and that it’s doing something right. Secondly, new customers are far more likely to trust a referral from friends and family or business partners rather than strangers. Lastly, the advocates become a (sometimes free) marketing platform for the company with very little additional effort.
So how do we start shifting the focus from treating the customers as a commodity to a machine? It begins at the awareness stage. It’s not what we sell that really matters, it’s how we sell that really matters. Here are a few methods:
Are we making the customer onboarding process as smooth as possible? What do they get from us when they decide to partner with us, that they wouldn’t be able to from a competitor? Identify factors that would make this process smoother.
Are we able to empower our customers through our processes and make them more efficient? Is our software/service/contact person allowing them to do their job better or making it easier? What tools are we giving them to succeed? Understand the customer and empathize with them.
If a customer faces service issues, the last thing they want is to be handed from one person to the other to resolve them. Training our employees to be on-touch contacts will avoid this and customers will experience a seamless trouble-shooting process.
We need to treat our customer associations as marriages. The courtship does not end at making a sale – they need to continue to be nurtured and harbored. Do we have a policy in place to ensure customer ‘marriage’, and a contingency ‘hail mary’ plan in place in case of a separation?
Most sales folks lose interest in a customer after closing a sale and begin working on other customers. This is a mistake - most customers question their purchase right after making them, so this is the right time to ensure them that they made the right choice – by thanking them and allaying their fears while creating value.
Despite all efforts, customer attrition is inevitable. But they say ‘a known devil is better than an unknown angel’, and 25-60% of dormant customers are open to reviving lost relationships. By regularly contacting customers who have worked with us in the past and understanding their grievances we can address gaps in service and offer improvements.
The key to all customer retention is building long-lasting relationships. A scheduled roster of touch points should occur consistently and automatically at defined points through the customer journey. People respond to this positively and appreciate it because they feel valued and important. It acknowledges them, keeps them informed, allays all post-purchase doubts, reinforces the reason they’re doing business with you and makes them feel like a part of your business which makes them want to come back again and again.
This is the foundation of the business – the actual product that we’re selling, coupled with how we’re selling it. The customer needs to be treated well while conducting business, without a ‘passing the buck’ mentality. Customer satisfaction is key in getting the customer to return again and again.
A prime focus must be placed on interpersonal skills of the team which affects the spirit of our organization. The vibe of the company translates in all interactions with the customer – which means that all internal and external communication needs to be reviewed. Employees and contractors who feel valued are more pleasant for customers to deal with, and come across as warm. The human touch is vital in developing stronger, more trusting relationships with customers.
A business should always ‘walk the talk’ – always practice what you preach. There needs to be consistency between the sales pitch and product delivery, and total transparency in how the business is conducted. There should be a clear line of communication without shying away from delivering bad news, and demonstrate integrity in the way the product is delivered and how the customer is treated. Customers can forgive a business mistake, but they will never forget a sly or underhanded company – in fact, they’ll make sure that others know about it as a cautionary tale.
Up to 96% of customers simply walk away when they’re dissatisfied. This is usually because don’t see the point in complaining or don’t know how to. These customers go on to tell their peers about their experience and can lead to a colossal loss in business and goodwill. Extracting complaints or poor feedback gives us a chance to rectify what we’re doing wrong, and allows us a shot at improving the customer’s experience and delighting them, thereby demonstrating commitment and loyalty to the customer.
Customer Relationship Management is not limited to a piece of software. As the Flywheel suggests, the heart of the business transaction is the customer, who at the end of the day are humans. We need to systematically move away from a customer-chasing mindset and begin looking at our customer conversion model more as individuals who just want to be treated well. A simple shift in mindset will convert customers to influencers, and the number-crunching game will be a thing of the past.
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