The Age of the Empowered Customer is upon us – whether we like it or not. Customers are increasingly conducting research online and among their communities before even entering a store to purchase a product, and they are not interested in hearing the pitch from the salesman. And even after a sale, customers are increasingly taking control of their relationships with vendors, sharing information as and when they choose, and as needs arise.
Customers want to control which organisations have information about them, maintaining their sense of personal privacy as well as reducing the chance of being bombarded by commercial messages that are unwanted and irritating. Further, as legislation around the world is being enacted to ensure that personal privacy is protected, and that businesses do not exploit data held about customers, the onus is certainly on vendors to ensure that their processes for data collection and communication comply with legal obligations and customer expectations.
But customer data is what helps businesses to learn, to improve service offerings and to inform customers about emergent products and services. So how does a vendor manage to keep their customers happy while also ensuring they are delivering a useful service?
Ideally, customers would like CRM systems to be responsive to their needs. As the Centre for Sales Strategies’ Mike Anderson notes, as a business owner, it is “in your interest to help (customers) manage you, because it makes them a more satisfied, more delighted customer, which means they’re likely to stay with you longer”. Better customer control of personal data also enables data to be more accurate, so business decisions arising from data trends face a lower risk of failure.
What does need to change in business is the assumption derived from outdated marketing techniques, that repetitive, noisy messages, sent to the widest possible audience are the way to sell products. It just doesn’t work anymore. Awareness raising is still important, but qualified leads are a more valuable conversion strategy than carpet bombing audiences with marketing messages. And as customer service guru, Gary Vaynerchuk has noted, customers who feel that their interests are being served are developing relationships with their vendors that are more like those experienced by their grandparents; genuinely personalised service from businesses, and strong customer loyalty.
Businesses that implement a sophisticated CRM system, which enables customers to control information held about them, and which encourages customers to specify their needs, are more likely to succeed in the age of the empowered customer. It’s not just a matter of updating a software package, either. Companies need to facilitate opportunities for customer advocacy, integrate social media activity into customer data, and ensure that influencer loops are being constantly fed. This always-cycling information system reduces the need for customers to introduce their own systems to manage contact from organisations, and it improves investment decisions of business - because the data is more likely to be timely and accurate.
After a generation of optimising sales processes, business strategy needs to shift back to service. In the age of the empowered customer, CRM systems need not to be considered as a giant advertising database, or a means of locking customers into a service relationship, but rather a means to improving customer experience, and enabling genuine business-consumer collaboration.
Joanne Jacobs is an award-winning digital strategist and company director. She advises firms on executive management skills, digital change management and social data analysis. She is on the Board of Code Club Australia, and she is a Director of word of mouth marketing firm, 1000heads, where she formerly served as Chief Operating Officer. Joanne has previously worked in London where she ran a social media production house, and she was a consultant in social networking technologies, and was a professional speaker, business coach, trainer and strategist for digital marketing practices. Joanne has a long history in academia, lecturing extensively in strategic use of information technology and strategic internet marketing. She was co-editor with Axel Bruns of the book, Uses of Blogs (2006). http://joannejacobs.net/