The “Community Manger” as Chief Market Listener – Improving the Customer Experience

Last time I described how the “Community Manager” is the key company representative to solve customer’s issues in the online community.  In this post, I describe how the “Community Manager” is the Chief Market Listener.  That is, they listen online to get the real, un-filtered truth of what customers are saying about your products and services in the online community.

This is key to identifying systemic issues that customers are complaining about so that they can be resolved.  Survey after survey confirms that companies think they are doing a good job in the areas of customer service and the customer experience, but their customers don’t think so.  So this is the way to find out what is really going on.

To begin, you need to join the conversation.  Ok what conversation?  The conversation about your company and products but much more broadly about what issues are relevant to your customers.  These may have little to do with what you sell directly but it is where your customers hang out online.  So identify where these places are.  To get help identifying these places and joining the conversation, you may need a tool like HootSuite, Google Alerts or Social Mention.  These work by sending you references to keywords you provide that are relevant to your customers.

So start by listening and then after you get your bearings, step in and join the conversation.  When engaging your customers online, reply with something that is relevant to them, not necessarily relevant to your product or service.  The point is engagement, not sales.  Keep in mind that this is a process and takes time.  You will know when you are successful — your brand will be top of mind.

In the next post I will discuss using social media as a channel to provide customer service.

The Role of the “Community Manger” in Social Media – Improving the Customer Experience

Most small businesses understand that social media is the great equalizer.  It allows you to engage with and cultivate customers online as effectively as any large company.  Social media is all about relationship building over direct selling.  It demonstrates to customers that they are understood by the company providing a product or service.

The “Community Manager” is the person at your company that listens to and talks with the online community.  They are typically in the Marketing department but their role extends beyond marketing to be the key person who responds to questions and concerns online.  Think of this person as your online brand ambassador and chief customer troubleshooter.

So what should this person be doing?  Key to success is they should be solving customer issues and responding to problems that surface online.  In order to do this, they need to be empowered to actually solve issues for customers, or if they cannot actually solve an issue, they must command the respect and cooperation of others in the company who can.  So it is important that everyone knows what this person does and how important the role is to customer satisfaction.  Everyone should know that they need to respond quickly to a request from the community manager for help with a customer.

In the next post, I will discuss other important activities that the community manager performs.

3 Steps to Figure out What Customers Want from You – Improving the Customer Experience

Figuring out what your customers want from you is key to improving the customer experience for them.  If you are like a lot of my clients, you compete every day with companies with big marketing budgets and a big research and product development budgets. The only problem is you don’t have those kinds of resources so you need to get the same information and inform your products and services and the way they are marketed and delivered with the limited resources that you do have.  Here are some ideas.

  1. Ask Your Customers and Listen Carefully

Key to figuring out how to provide services to your customers is to understand what they want from you.  Ask your customers why they buy from you.  Ask some prospective customers why they would and would not buy from you.  Listen to the answers.  You would be amazed to see how eager people are to tell you want you want to know.  Most customers will consider it a form of flattery to be asked.

Another approach is to do a survey.  This can be done inexpensively using a vehicle like Survey Monkey.  We use this for research for many of our customers and for ourselves.  In fact, if you have one minute, you can do our survey by clicking on the following link (after you finish this post of course!):

The only trick is to be sure you don’t ask leading questions that give you the results you are expecting instead of the unbiased results you need to be successful.  If you don’t think you can do this successfully, seek out some help.

  1. Pay Attention to Trends

Most industries today have many industry specific and general trends that are affecting them.  The key is to differentiate between a fad that is more momentary and a trend which is longer term.  You need to look out several years and anticipate how these trends affect you.  Then you need to craft strategies to adapt and take advantage of these trends by creating new services and products that customers will want to buy.  Good sources of information are trade magazines for your industry.  Much discussed are how different generations shop and what kind of products they buy.  Think about Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z and so on.  What is the impact of this on your business?  More on this in a later post.

  1. Communicate With Your Customers

Communicating with your customers and prospective customers doesn’t mean trying to sell things to them (at least not with every communication).  It means opening a dialog with them and keeping the dialog going. You need to keep up with what they are thinking and doing.  Of course, one of the most obvious ways to do this is by engaging them on social media. You need to be listening to what they think of your company and its products and you want to keep them informed about what your company is doing for them.

If you do this well, and use the information from the above three activities to shape your customer’s experience with you, you will be taking a critical first step in improving the customer experience for your customers.

Improving the Customer Experience

Most people understand that having a great customer experience for their customers is the key to customer satisfaction and positive word of mouth.  The customer experience is not just the buying process but starts with the awareness phase and continues past the actual purchase to loyalty and advocacy.

The first thing to understand is that customers have different needs and desires and are different in many, many ways.  They may have children or not, be older or younger, be of different ethnic or linguistic backgrounds, have different core values, etc.  Their priorities, values and experiences inform their perspective (how they see the world).  This means that different customers want different things, at different times and provided differently.  So you need to be aware of each situation and be prepared to meet this differing expectation.

Someone who has little time may prize fast service.  Others may want to understand all the options and then choose.  A starting point to improve the customer experience is to identify the characteristics of your most valuable customers and craft service strategies to meet their needs.  I will explore more on this topic over the next several weeks.

Do you really need a Marketing Strategy?

Potential clients constantly ask me to develop a marketing plan for them that will really work and deliver more customers.  So, I ask them to describe their marketing strategy.  Mostly they cannot do this.  They just want more of any type of customers.  Just bring them in.  So I ask them what is unique about what they sell/do or unique about the way they do it?  After some discussion, they can usually tell me.  Often though, it is not very compelling.  So finally, I ask them who their customers are now?  Are they middle income or affluent?  Where do they live, why are they their customers?

Marketing is going to be ineffective until it is possible to describe a target set of customers, understand what they need and can delivery it in the way they want.  In short, that is what a marketing strategy is.

A marketing strategy is the framework by which a company increases sales and achieves a sustainable competitive advantage.  It is based on a company’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP) which requires a review of customer needs, competitors, opportunities, consideration of all of the internal and external environmental factors, identification of constraints (resource and other) and the evaluation of other factors including technological, economic, legal or political.

When you figure out what you are really selling, (e.g. convenience?), have a unique twist to doing it, and know who your target customer is, you have the outline of a marketing strategy.  Your special sauce, if you will, is best if it is difficult to imitate or it won’t work for long.  This is where the evaluation of your competitors and potential competitors come in.  It is also the place to understand what you do really well so you are building on your strengths not your aspirations.  This is where something like a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis comes in.  This helps you figure this out.

In any case, taking the time to develop a well thought out marketing strategy is time and money well spent, because without one, you will be wasting your money on developing and executing a marketing plan that just won’t work.