Sunday, 22 November 2009

Developing a Customer Conversation

whisper Building customer loyalty and engagement - essentially creating a relationship - is much like having a conversation, just over an extended period of time.

Whoever initiates it, whether it is the brand through communications or the customer through a first interaction, the aim is to continue the conversation.

The last thing you want as a brand is to be viewed as socially inept – a social bore - with customers looking to get away at the first instance.

American novelist Edgar Watson Howe famously said of having a conversation:-

No man would listen to you talk if he didn’t know it would be his turn next

The trick with loyalty communications is to get the customer to know it’s their turn to respond and this means creating relevant, engaging communications which demand a response – an interaction.

In order to get a response you first need to listen - no one likes to be talked at or talked over.

In a marketing sense customers are talking to you all the time – feedback in what they buy and what they don’t; when they complain, when they ask questions – in every interaction. If you’re not listening to this and simply send them the next “mass message” (or no message at all) why be surprised when 95% simply give up the conversation.

Even when you listen and respond back with something relevant, you need to consider how to keep the conversation going.

Within a normal conversation, if you answer the question “Where are you from?” with a one word answer such as “Northampton”, don’t expect much more from the conversation. People need something to build upon to keep a conversation going – giving them a reason to respond and letting them know it is their turn next.

If they’ve never heard of Northampton they will struggle to move the conversation forward and likewise for a brand if you, for example, simply say “Thank You” after a purchase, the customer will have no reason to continue the conversation.

Look at conversation experts Amazon – they lead you up to the purchase with wish lists and recommendations and after purchase make further suggestions that fit with your purchase and then ask you to review the purchase. Always looking to extend the conversation – letting you know it’s your turn.

In a white paper by Bazaar Voice they call the development of this conversation the Participation Chain, going on to say:-

[the] “participation chain” – [is] a way of cultivating user involvement so that each action builds upon the one before, building value along the way.

Going on to recommend that you “look for participation dead ends, such as thank you pages that lead nowhere [and] consider possible ways to follow up.”

This doesn’t just apply to e-commerce sites. Think about an individual you’ve spoken to who always relates the same story when you meet – would you be keen to seek out this person at a social function… probably not.

From a brand perspective, if every time someone comes to your site they see the same content do you really think they’ll want to continue the conversation? Are you actually enabling them to have a conversation or simply talking over them every time they come with the same old message (or a message you want to talk about regardless)

Building a conversation with customers is critical to building engagement; and increased engagement leads to increased customer value. As Bazaar Voice points out:-

Time and money are two sides of the same coin. In general, the more time a customer spends with you – assuming a positive experience – the more likely they are to spend money with you.

As a brand it might be worth brushing up on those social skills to develop a customer conversation – learning how to be a social more, not a social bore.

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