Toward a Best Informed Customer™: The central player in sales and marketing.
Even more than prospects, customers are arguably the central player in the sales and marketing experience. Best Informed Customer is part CRM and part common sense. Here’s why.
Gallup Research affirms that organizations with high customer satisfaction and engagement receive higher revenue and earnings per transaction or transaction experience, increased referrals, reduced customer acquisition costs, and sustain more significant growth and profitability. In contrast, detached customers, struggling in inefficient transactional environments that place increased demands on their time and attention, leave organizations at significant risk of customer defections. Satisfaction studies of prospects, customers and employees consistently point to one factor that can raise satisfaction: communication. The reason is fairly obvious: people can’t engage what they don’t know, let alone understand. Information is empowering.
According to the research, five of the top six priority issues customers have for their suppliers deal with communication between the customer and the supplier organization:
Responsiveness of the supplier organization
Customer’s job made easier
Supplier organization deals well with changes and requirements
Confidence in the supplier organization
Communication with the supplier organization.
Further, using a healthcare example for a moment, in their white paper Engaging Physicians in a Shared Quality Agenda, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement offers six recommendations for engaging physicians. These can be directly translated to the customer experience: Involve them from the beginning; Work with the real leaders and early adopters; Choose messages and messengers carefully; Make involvement visible; Build trust with each initiative and Communicate candidly and often.
While creating an environment that engages customers and other important stakeholders is hard work, the benefits that come with an engaged customer justify the effort. And while any organization’s dynamics are unique unto that organization, we can take note of the fundamentals practiced by those who have had success.
In his book Hardwiring Excellence, Quint Studer observes, “When everybody understands what is important and what is expected of them, tremendous growth can take place. Employees take charge of their own development and feel more fulfilled. Leaders are more effective, and the organization keeps getting better and better.”
“I don’t think we can be confident we are doing a good job at communicating until the cashiers in the cafeteria have the same information about the organization’s goals, direction and progress that the vice presidents have,” says Studer.
Given their overall importance to the success of a brand and the organization, one would think that senior leadership teams would understand every nuance of the customer world. Yet, all too often, there is a serious disconnect between organizations and customer agendas, complicated by financial issues and incentives, market competition, and sometimes, simply human nature and behavior. The most important thing that marketing leaders can do to enhance their organization’s relationship with customers is communications driven — in sum: solicit, respect and respond to their needs and ideas, keep them informed, involve them and work to reduce hassles and time wasters.
Again using a healthcare example for a moment, in his book, The Baptist Health Care Journey to Excellence, Al Stubblefield, president and CEO of Baptist Health Care Corporation, calls it building a “WOW! Culture.” According to Stubblefield, “Communication — with employees, with customers, with physicians, with board members, and with the community-at-large — is at the heart of a WOW! Culture.” He goes on to say, “The more information your employees have, the better they will understand the elements of your culture, the goals of the organization and the value of their contribution…Physician (read: customer) involvement is crucial to the success of any healthcare organization and effective communication turns them into partners…I keep this in mind by frequently invoking a simple mantra: ‘Communicate, communicate, communicate!'”
Stubblefield is right: communication is the key to successfully engaging customers (and all stakeholders, for that matter). It is especially important — no, critical — when you consider the practical realities involved in actually creating a culture of excellence amid the over-taxed, over-stressed, under-staffed “thousand fires” that is everyday life in business. Ironically, too often, organizations may pay lip service to the importance of communication, but do not have the evangelistic commitment to communications that Stubblefield exudes.
They launch internal initiatives with little or no budget for communications and even less of an engagement plan — and then wonder why they don’t see the results they want. There needs to be a leveraging of strategy and resources to create full engagement and commitment — top-down and bottom-up; inside-out and outside-in. The vision, described with passion and expressed with genuine evangelistic conviction, motivates more effectively than a thousand sales meetings or customer events.
To successfully engage customers, the strategy must include a strong emphasis on communication designed to get important and key information directly into their hands at strategically chosen touch points. But it is not a simple matter to create clear consistent communication channels with diverse groups of customers. Challenging, yes. But it is doable. And in our view, there is no other way.
Best Informed Customer is part of a broader approach to applying strategic communication to marketing planning issues, one we call Brand Buy-In™. Best Informed Customer acknowledges the pivotal role played by customers in the success of the enterprise. It also acknowledges that less is often more in the busy lives of customers. The challenge is matching the right vehicles for the right messages and not burdening them with information they don’t value — more succinctly, it is imperative to get the right information in the right hands at the right time. All of the time.
Importantly, neither Best Informed Customer nor Brand Buy-In™ are “stock” programs. They’re not one-size-fits-all, off-the-shelf solutions. Rather, together and individually, they represent a considered process, a strategically driven framework and approach for applying strategic thought and communication to drive and effect sales and marketing success. In that process — from strategizing, planning and concepting, through development, through deployment, through measurement — effective, meaningful, strategic communication is absolutely imperative and key to the success of the initiative.
In each case, it is important to examine and be responsive to the customer’s needs at that specific touch point. Applying strategic communications against these touch points can remarkably improve customer satisfaction, engagement and alignment, and by direct extension, sales. That thinking and opinion, that definition of, and delivery on, Best Informed Customer, shapes our approach to brand development, marketing planning and marketing communications execution for all of our clients.
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