There are various reasons why a business should care about its customers –wanting to be a good influence and positively impact its community, for one. However, there is also a business case to be made for taking care of customers. Let’s look at how business and marketing leaders discuss this topic that is of crucial concern to our business and central to our beliefs.
Jeff Bezos is a controversial figure in a sense; as the founder and CEO of Amazon, many consider him a threat to the “buy local” movement. In fact, Bezos is not just a kingpin of e-commerce but a market leader in other segments too – cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (Amazon Web Services) and, soon, organic groceries (the company’s acquisition of Whole Foods). And oh, did I mention that he owns the Washington Post? Changes Bezos made to better launch the paper into the digital age – split-testing titles and even article body language of stories – have been hotly debated, changing expectations in the way that the media empire interfaces with the public.
Regardless of any controversy, Bezos may know a thing or two, and his words have a lot of weight. One thing that he says is this: “Build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.” It is interesting that he is talking about something that is non-specific to the Internet, also true of any brick-and-mortar establishment: simply be customer-friendly, and your customers will let other people know that they appreciated your service. Makes sense.
There are, of course, plenty of reasons to be good to people. You don’t have to think of it from the perspective of a behavior that will generate you more revenue. The golden rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) and spiritual disciplines give guidance directing people to help those and care about those around us.
Let’s extrapolate from two elements of that Bezos quote, though, to better understand why you should care about your customers from a business perspective, whether as an auto repair ethos or in any other setting.
- Five fundamentals of strong customer experience
- Customer-to-customer interactions as marketing
- How businesses improve word of mouth
- Beliefs that drive business
Five fundamentals of strong customer experience
What is customer experience, or CX? Adam Richardson, writing in a landmark piece in the Harvard Business Review in 2010, said that customer experience is “the sum-totality of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just in a snapshot in time, but throughout the entire arc of being a customer.”
In other words, it’s the relationship. But let’s stick with this notion of customer experience and look at five key elements of strong CX (which should really be an expectation for any customer), from Eric Schiffer, CEO of Reputation Management Consultants:
- Change the dynamic by changing the language. Schiffer first suggests that you don’t want to call someone a customer or client, but instead a guest or partner. That element is a bit superficial but could perhaps change the dynamic in some business contexts.
- Continually assess the needs of the customer. A classic example of this is in a restaurant when the server refills the glass.
- Respect people. Well, yeah. It’s almost cynical to think that you wouldn’t, isn’t it? Of course, you should respect others; it is a bedrock of civilization. Nonetheless, it is easy to obsess over cash “at the expense” of your CX, when happy customer relationships are the real asset.
- Recognize your customer’s importance. Another corporate titan, Sam Walton, used to say that the customer was the true head of the company. That person “can fire everybody from the chairman on down simply by spending his money elsewhere.” Walmart may actually not have quite that much reverence for its customers (just speculating), but that statement is at least accurate that a business should always remember that their customers have other options.
- Grab takeaways and move forward. Mistakes are made, but solutions should be fast, and any promises made should be reflected in action.
So that gives a reasonably good sense of how businesses can think about the experience of the customer and improve what happens to that person – an attitude that is central to our auto repair philosophy. To return to Bezos’ comment, if you deliver on CX (using the above strategies and others), people will talk about you through word-of-mouth. Let’s turn now to word-of-mouth.
Customer-to-customer interactions as marketing
People who own and manage businesses want everyone to do the marketing work for them. Although that sounds funny, it is the dream. The company does not have to spend anything on advertising or worry about getting press coverage. Instead, people talk about them, and their business grows through a natural game of telephone.
It may sound quaint, but word of mouth is so powerful that it remains a huge focus of marketers both online and offline – through the idea of word of mouth marketing, or WOMM.
Kimberly A. Whitler says in Forbes that WOMM (not to be mistaken for the shortened acronym WOM for word of mouth) is the most powerful form of social media marketing. Why does she say this? Because 92% of consumers trust recommendations that they get from family and friends – a higher percentage than any other form of advertising. It is strange to even think of people talking to each other about a business as a form of advertising; getting beyond that, it is compelling that even marketers themselves have to admit that people talking amongst themselves is more powerful than any medium or format they have been able to concoct.
That understanding of the supremacy of customer-to-customer interaction is why marketers have increasingly looked to facilitate it. So we understand the distinction between word of mouth and word of mouth marketing, the latter is a set of business strategies that are attempting to prompt word of mouth. Whitler suggests that delivering good WOMM is about “connecting” rather than “collecting” – focusing on relationship quality rather than building follower count, etc. She also describes an “engage/equip/empower” model – which perhaps starts to sound like marketing mumbo-jumbo, but, in brief, is:
- Engage – Listen and be present.
- Equip – Help fuel the conversation.
- Empower – Facilitate sharing (a little redundant of “Equip” – but sure).
How businesses improve word of mouth
Megan Mosley of Social Media Today gives four tips to companies through which they can create more word of mouth:
Be a standout. Businesses improve their word of mouth by simply coming across as fun and interesting. Blogs that inform will give you more social currency. Keep in mind that “social currency” is a positive side-benefit of simply trying to get your expert, niche advice to your customers – as through an information-driven blog focused on topics of importance to your customers, answering their questions and easing their concerns.
Integrate. It helps businesses to integrate themselves into the environment of a customer. A basic idea of that would be a promotional item such as a pen or calendar.
Do exceptionally good work. Set aside the marketing stuff. If you do good work, exceeding expectations, people will tell others.
Emotionally connect. If you emotionally connect with your customers (as indicated by the connection-not-collection idea above), and they can see you care about them, they will care about you. Aw, shucks.
Beliefs that drive business
We have been talking about how “businesses” can better serve “customers.” However, we care deeply about this subject. At Independent Motors, we charge fair prices and pay our crew fair wages; keeping everyone happy so we don’t have to fall back on gimmicky pricing or trying to sell you services you don’t need. See our beliefs.