Customer Loyalty: Mind & Body, Heart & Soul
from PRODUCT MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES
A Newsletter of Tips For Companies that Develop Software
Volumes have been written about the concept of customer loyalty and how essential it is to a company's profitability and growth. There's no denying that when a company has loyal customers who keep coming back year after year to buy its product and recommend it to others, then that company sells more products at lower cost than it otherwise would. In other words, they get more revenue at a higher profit.
A whole lot has also been written about how to build customer loyalty. These stories cover companies that advocate vastly different ways of creating loyal customers. Many of them talk about providing stellar customer service. Still others say that you need to create a product that delights customers and is such high quality that it needs no service. Others say you need a product that sells itself through word of mouth. Others swear by organizing their entire company structure around customer facing processes. Some companies rely on events like parties or sponsored sports and games.
None of these ideas is a bad one. But it strikes me that with all the companies out there with dramatically different products, some complex and some simple, some intangible and some very concrete, that there's such a variety between organizations that not every company can win with service, or product quality, or what-have-you, as its key ingredient for customer loyalty.
Instead, each company is called upon to understand the hand it has been dealt in terms of product complexity, quality, ease of use, and type of customer. Customer loyalty through business-to-business channel sales will be very different from loyalty direct from consumers.
I believe that each company must craft its own slightly customized, perhaps even quirky, recipe for creating customer loyalty. And that recipe consists of a mix of four ingredients: mind & body, heart & soul.
Read on below for some ideas on how to connect with your customers on the level of mind, body, heart, and soul.
Mind: Man Shall Not Live on Bread Alone
If you want to catch your customers' interest and keep the connection going, your product and your company must speak to them of ideas that are important to their jobs and lives. To quote a colleague: 'Software is squishy. It's shapeless and hard to pin down.' You need to take a product that is merely pixels on a screen, merely a tool to get something done, and present detailed ideas on how customers can use the software to help their situation.
Like the vast majority of the population, your customers are looking for guidance and leadership. But they want guidance from people with intellectual heft, with ideas that are truly impactful and helpful to their situation. Your company needs to provide idea leadership to its customers. When customers realize they can come to you for handy thoughts on how they can remedy their problems, you won't be able to pry them away.
Customer conferences can be a valuable tool for building customer loyalty because you are giving away great ideas to anyone who wants to make the effort to attend.
Weave a mental connection with your customers through the quality and quantity of your ideas, freely shared whenever someone from your company, whether trainer, consultant, developer, customer service rep, or manager has the opportunity to interact with them.
Body: Just Try Living on Nothing But Ideas
Sometimes your customers just need you to do something for them. That means taking action. When they have a question or a problem, they want someone to take care of it, as quickly and smoothly as possible. This is where great customer service comes in. Make sure that everyone who interacts with a customer is ready to deliver good customer service, in the form of hearing what the customer wants and providing it. And that includes checking to make sure that the customer has gotten what they want.
Here's where great customer-focused processes and a high quality service mentality can help lead to customer loyalty. The way to deliver this is to be ready to act, swiftly and smoothly, at least from the customer's perspective. The dust might be kicked up in the back office, but if what the customer gets is a solid response delivered professionally, all they know is that you provide impeccable service.
This is also where logistics and scheduling stand you in good stead for everything from shipping documentation to scheduling training and consulting sessions.
Heart: If You Don't Care; Why Should They?
Just like most people, your customers don't want to be appreciated for their mind alone. They want to be understood, cared for, and loved. This can provide dramatic results at the time of a service call. In some ways, your first and foremost duty when taking a call about a customer problem is to care about their situation.
Customers who sense that you care about them will stick with you. Like everyone else, they've learned how hard it is to find people who care, and they won't let go of that without some hard thinking.
One way to build up caring for your customers among your teammates and coworkers is by presenting stories of how specific customers are using your product. This includes a thorough description of the problem and pain followed by how your product has helped your customer. A Product Manager is in a unique position to hear these stories and to present them in a compelling fashion to technical and non-technical employees alike.
Soul: The Whole Purpose of Your Existence
If the heart of your connection with customers is all about caring and feeling, soul goes even deeper, all the way down to the very meaning and purpose of your existence. Help your company define its mission and purpose so that it is intimately tied to the mission and purpose of its customers. Their reason for living is your reason, too, in that your reason is to support and help them.
Another way to speak to the soul connection between your coworkers and your customers is to educate your company on the deepest meaning and purpose of your customers. For some customers, that's easy. Hospitals save lives, including babies. For others you may have to dig harder. Insurance companies aren't warm and fuzzy. But you can bet that a family that has watched its home burn to the ground feels pretty good about the meaning and purpose of the company that paid for them to build a new home over the smoking hole that was left of the old one.
Natural and man-made disasters such as hurricanes and terrorist attacks help drive home how interconnected and interdependent your company and customers are. You can use the feelings from those events to point out to teammates how important your customers are for your company's survival, and you for theirs.
If you connect with your customers on the soul level, you will form an enduring bond of loyalty that will keep them coming to you for advice, help, companionship, and more business.
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