Originally published on LinkedIn, October 3, 2018
I work with a lot of companies. Some of them are very big, some of them are as small as one person. A mistake that is made from the top of that list, all the way to the bottom, is selfish practices and strategy. We talk about how the customer is always right — I disagree. But what the customer wants is always top priority.
Our first iteration of this idea
When we first began discussing why you shouldn't focus on your wants and needs over that of the prospect it was in a blog post about never building the website of your dreams. We have said no to a lot of projects that called for over-investment in pieces of the puzzle that would not move the needle, and ultimately harbour a negative bottom line impact. I have never sought to be the agency known for style without substance, I have always put the profitability of our clients at the top of our decision-making list.
This idea of thinking about what the customer wants ahead of what the company wants is not always popular. As an entrepreneur myself, I am aware of the healthy dose of "because its mine" that comes with the territory. I am extremely guilty of it in my hoarding of office plants, pushing to tidy desktops at the end of the day, and preference for my handwriting on whiteboards over everyone else's (I have teacher-worthy whiteboard skills!)
But this idea of not building the website of your dreams is surface, it was our version of this concept when we were learning about consumer insights, dabbling in data and wading through the process of turning all of this information into actionable market plans. Our industry has evolved, we've evolved with it. We now know that there is even more to consider when it comes to putting the needs of our customers first.
Marketing is communication
And the way that prospects want to be communicated with has changed. It is no longer enough to look "open for business" but more critical to show how you're open for business and offer a touchpoint on entry.
I remember working as a hostess at Jack Astor's (a Canadian chain) when I was 14 years old. My entire role was to make sure that as soon as someone walked in the door, I was there to cheerfully greet them and to help. My job description included words like "friendly" and "available". I would often have to deliver the devastating news that there would be a 25 minute wait for a table, and cheerfully suggest options to keep busy or to enjoy other areas of the restaurant while they waited. This is the most elementary example of delighting through early stage communication I can think of. We hadn't made a sale yet, but I was there to ensure that the sale guarantee stayed on the table.
When you consider this tried and true strategy for keeping the revenue potential with your company, doesn't it feel crazy to have a website with a contact form and hope that this works? It isn't proactive, it isn't meeting customers where they want to be met, and it isn't helpful.
Here is what we know about how prospects are reaching out to companies:
- Instagram has become a lead generation tool for B2C and B2B businesses
- Chat components on websites are used more often than contact forms
- People do not always contact between 9:00 am and 5:00pm
Meeting this new demand
With what we know, it is easy to see that our normal methods of customer care and prospect communication are beginning to fail us, and that downturn is going to get worse. How do we ensure that we are communicating with our clients at all hours of the day, providing the information they need and ensuring that we manage expectations of our future relationship with that client after the sales process completes? We have a few ideas.
Website chat (bots)
Amongst the fastest and easiest methods of keeping in touch with your customers is to add a chat component to your website. At the agency, we introduced this with our new website and have seen 70% of our inquiries come in through chat versus form. This is reflective of a larger industry trend, where we are noticing the on-demand function of chat as a preferred method of communication.
Companies are shy to apply this to their overall communication methods because it can feel impossible to keep up. There is this idea that the chat will have to be monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; it doesn't. We have implemented a Chatbot, and a simple one at that. Our bot asks questions, prompted by answers from the prospect, and decides how to handle the contact. If someone in our office is available to chat, they will put the chat through to a desktop. If we do not have an available staff (even during the day) we prompt one of two calls to action: book a meeting, or expect a follow up email within one business day.
A simple method of ensuring your prospects are being met where they are is communicating and meeting expectations. We have rigorous tracking of communications in our office, and a slack channel that delivers the intel to supervisors. All of our staff meet these parameters:
- Project clients receive correspondence every other day
- Retainer clients receive weekly summary correspondence
- All client correspondence received is returned within one business day
- All prospect correspondence received is returned within one business day
- No slack notification goes unreviewed for more than two hours
We communicate these expectations to our clients and prospects, plainly. "You will hear from a member of our team within one business day."
This simple measure keeps our communication prompt, it keeps our clients in the know on what is happening on their accounts and it tells them that they are top of mind. It also paves the way for managing expectations moving forward, which, is a huge business hurdle for any entrepreneur to overcome.
Social media auto-messaging
Similar to deploying a bot, social media auto-messaging is popular, necessary and is perhaps most wonderful for its benefit of time and cost savings. Because your company can be contacted at any time, on any channel it is critical to have a plan to deal with this communique.
At the agency, we have found a few tools that assist us with ensuring our clients are never left with unanswered correspondence, and that our agency is never left with stale messages that deserve a response.
If This Then That and Zapier
These tools draw simple API lines between software tools and allow you to build your own single line API. We have custom messages set up to ensure that our clients are given time to return correspondence, but also that they are prompted during work hours to dive in and find those messages to ensure that they aren't missed within our one business day standard.
As the leader in innovation of social mediums it is no surprise that Facebook has already deployed automated messaging to ensure that your company has the bandwidth to stay on top of correspondence, and also the response time rating that tells customers you're on the ball and eager to tend to their needs.
This tool functions similarly to the chat bot and offers options for correspondence. We've found it incredibly useful in assisting our clients and in managing the expectations of incoming correspondence to our own channels.
Tying it up
The idea of being customer centric is wide, I've wandered through a few examples here but these should represent a greater organizational shift. Pricing to maintain your bottom line versus pricing for visibility for the client, improving products for manufacturing efficiency over innovating to meet new consumer demands; the ideas are endless. But they are also the difference makers in the great companies we see coming up next. The delivery economy is here, answering the needs of the busiest households in history. The expert product makers are arriving, showcasing the individual attention to detail and innovation over the bulk providers of any and everything. We are seeing a massive shift in how people are consuming, what they are consuming and how they make those decisions. Being customer centric as the primary tenant of your business philosophy is the stand-out similarity. Join them.