The C’s of change
How Curiosity, Commonality, Connection, Celebration AND Collaboration could change the face of your business.
IMAGINE IF THE SECRET TO GROWING YOUR BUSINESS QUICKLY AND COST-EFFECTIVELY WAS RIGHT UNDER YOUR NOSE? IN THIS SPECIAL FEATURE, AWARD-WINNING MARKETER AND BEST-SELLING AUTHOR AMANDA STEVENS REVEALS FIVE STRATEGIES FOR MAXIMISING YOUR EXISTING CUSTOMER BASE AND HOW TO TURN YOUR CUSTOMERS INTO ADVOCATES Ñ RAVING FANS WHO WILL DELIVER YOU A STEADY STREAM OF NEW BUSINESS.
“Describe your wedding to me in 10 words,” he said, pen poised excitedly.
This was the first question couture wedding dress designer George Wu asked me at our very first meeting in June 2015 and the moment I decided that George would design my dress.
George was the third designer I’d met with and it was his ability to ask questions that were surprising, different and unique that convinced me that he approached each assignment not just as ‘another dress’ but a creation based on the individual personality, dreams and vision of each client.
The previous two designers had a stock-standard questionnaire that they went through with me robotically, with the first 10 questions dedicated to the boring, functional stuff like the date, time and location of the wedding, number in the bridal party, style of dress I had in mind, blah blah blah.
I didn’t realise it until later that day, but the questions George asked me not only differentiated him from the outset, it put me into storytelling mode and gave George valuable insights into my vision, not only for the dress, but for the wedding as a whole. It positioned George not just as a dress designer, but a collaborative partner who was genuinely interested in the broader outcome.
It also gave him important information that he could then use to build commonality, through examples and stories of how he’d worked with other clients and his initial ideas in response to my brief.
On that day and throughout the resulting process (13 dress fittings in total) George continually asked questions – not only to check in and ensure I was happy with the progress – but to evolve the process of collaboration. He considered every conceivable
detail in designing the dress and it resulted in a designer-client relationship that was built on complete trust, communication,
fun and friendship.
Often in business it’s the questions we ask that are more powerful than the answers that we give. At the heart of what we all do – whether it be a fashion designer or funeral director, a real estate agent or a retailer – we’re all in the problem solving business; we want to find the perfect solution for our customers.
The challenge is that sometimes, in our enthusiasm and commitment to finding a solution that perfectly suits the needs of our customer, we miss out on the opportunity to ask more questions; demonstrate curiosity and build greater connections, magic moments and, ultimately, customer advocacy.
Brands, as with humans, are only ever in one of two states: interested or interesting. Are your brand messages and customer service efforts merely trying to be interesting or are they demonstrating genuine interest in your customers?
When two or more people are looking up at the sky, do you do the same? If no one is buying a certain flavour of ice cream, do you stay clear of it too?
The force that influences you every day when it comes to decision making, from the biggest decisions like where you want to live, down to the smaller every day choices like what to have for lunch, is called social proof.
Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behaviour for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behaviour, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.
Basically, we’re wired to conform and reflect the behaviour of those we feel we have an affinity with and therefore demonstrate herd mentality to a certain degree at certain times. In a sales and marketing sense, we’re influenced by the thoughts and actions of people we have something in common with.
In a fascinating environmental study published in The Washington Post, researchers examined the effectiveness of signs on persuading customers to use less energy in the summer by turning on fans instead of air conditioning.
Which sign do you think was the most effective at getting people to use less energy? Surprise, it was sign #4 – the one that invoked the positive social proof. That means that in this instance, the positive social proof was more persuasive than saving money (sign #1), protecting the environment (sign #2), and making responsible choices (sign #3), all of which are positive behaviours, but none of which could stand up to the power of group influence.
Social proof works better with pictures and even better with video
Testimonials are one of the most persuasive forms of social proof in marketing terms, again when you can demonstrate testimonials that leverage commonality. Studies have found that when it comes to valuing the opinions of others, our brains place more weight on people we deem to be most like us.
Develop customer testimonials – written or in video. Ensure to find a customer that truly represents (in the best way) what your ideal customer looks like. Emphasise how your company solved their pains and headaches, and then other customers will be able to relate to them. That’s the power of commonality.
How sticky is your brand?
I don’t mean in the literal sense, but how engaging are the different touch points your customer has with your business?
Everything you do in business is what I call an ‘MMM’ – Mini Marketing Message. It’s how your phone is answered, it’s how your invoices are worded, it’s your business card, it’s your in-store signage, it’s everything your customers see, feel and experience.
Your Mini Marketing Messages present an opportunity to build customer loyalty and advocacy by surprising and delighting.
Called your own business lately? Step into the shoes of a customer, smile and dial. Does the response and conversation inspire you or brighten your day? If not, it’s time to change the script and train your front-line people to understand that they are the director of first impressions.
Every touch point across your business is an opportunity to humanise the customer experience and create a talking point.
Here are some other ways to humanise your brand, offer opportunities for your customers to connect with your business and increase your ‘stickiness’.
Your invoices, your receipts, the text confirmations you send clients – they are all Mini Marketing Messages. Are they functional and unremarkable or fun and memorable?
Here are some other ideas for connecting with your customers and increasing engagement, memorability and advocacy:
- Include a fun, unexpected fact in your email signature relevant to your business – how you have your coffee, how many countries you’ve travelled to, who your business hero is, which sport you’re most passionate about, which sporting team you barrack for, how many siblings you have, the best advice you were ever given, or which charity you support.
- Install a herb garden in your store or office and invite customers to take some home with them when they visit.
- Give your customers a choice of three charities you’re supporting and allow them to choose which charity their purchase will generate a contribution to.
- Paint a wall in chalk paint and invite your customers to share an inspirational quote, answer a question of the week, or play noughts and crosses with a staff member.
I recently engaged a new financial planner to set up a self-managed super fund The day after our first meeting, I received a beautifully wrapped package with a silver photo frame and a ‘welcome’ card. Although she did a perfect job setting up my super fund, it was the surprise gift and the fact that I was ‘welcomed’ to the brand that made me a vocal advocate.
As humans we’re wired for recognition, and adopting a milestone marketing approach provides the opportunity to surprise, delight and create customer advocates.
In any business, there are key milestones with your customers. There are external milestones that relate to their life events – birthdays, weddings, divorces, starting a business for example. And then there are internal milestones – anniversaries, spend levels and number of visits.
Celebrating these milestones gives you a unique opportunity to cement the relationship you have with your customers and develop what I call ‘dormant referral opportunities’. Regardless of your industry, your business type and the size of your business, referral opportunities are sitting, dormant, in your customer base right now.
There are loyal customers who buy your product or service, love your brand and are loyal to your business but aren’t your vocal advocates. Why? Because they don’t have a specific, top-of-mind reason to talk about you at a dinner party.
If you analysed your customer base, segmented the top 10 or 20 per cent of your customers and sent them a thank you gift, it could possibly generate more word-of-mouth business than you’ve had in years. It would make your brand top-of-mind and give your customers a reason to talk about you.
Be your customer’s number one advocate
What many business owners and salespeople don’t understand is that they have a multitude of opportunities to create advocacy; they just often don’t take advantage of them. They overlook the most obvious opportunities to celebrate their clients’ wins and achievements and be their chief cheerleader.
I love my mortgage broker Pete. Not just because he gets me great interest rates – which he does. And not because he miraculously managed to overnight some mortgage documents to me while I was holidaying on a remote island in Fiji a few years ago (the original documents had gone missing) – which he did.
When I talk to friends and family about Pete, the story I recall is the hand-written card he sent me in 2013 after seeing a news article that I had been chosen as the supporting speaker for former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, at the Global Leadership Summit. The card included a copy of the article and was signed ‘You go girl!, Pete J’.
If you want your customers to be your advocates, start with being an advocate for them.
When you hear the term ‘collaboration’ you might imagine getting together with other business owners and entrepreneurs to brainstorm ideas. But have you ever considered collaborating with your employees and your customers?
A culture of collaboration starts from the inside out. Are your staff customers of your business?
A culture of collaboration should start from the inside out. Wherever possible, your staff should be your greatest brand advocates. When they can see the business through the eyes of a customer, they will not only be more empathetic and considered in how they deal with other customers, they will be inspired to deliver exceptional service.
Aside from making your team members brand ambassadors, they can also be your innovation partners. In fact, involving your staff and charging them with conceiving new ways to up the ante on your customer service levels can be a brilliant ongoing team building exercise, particularly if it has some friendly rivalry and incentives tied in. Just remember, everyone is different and will be motivated differently.
Collaborate with your customers
Ever wondered what your customers really think? Ask them!
Appointing a customer advisory board is one of the most simple, cost effective ways to collaborate with your customers and see your business from their perspective. You will get a refreshing and powerful insight into your marketing, your business processes and your customer service – through the eyes of your customers. They will not only give you honest answers and fresh ideas, they will value and appreciate that you asked their opinion in the first place.
Make your customers advisors and they will become advocates.
Establishing an advisory board is a matter of five simple steps:
- Recruit a panel of 10-12 customers or clients that are representative of your target audience (hint: diversity is key as it will give you a range of different opinions).
- Source an objective facilitator who can lead and moderate the meetings (you will get much more honest insights).
- Have clear long-term objectives for the program, as well as a set agenda for each meeting.
- Feed back results and outcomes to the group throughout the advisory group program. The group will be more motivated to develop new ideas and strategies if they can see that their thoughts and opinions are having an impact.
- Reward participants. Ensure they feel validated and valued. They will leave the program feeling like their opinions matter – a potent ingredient when it comes to creating raving fans.
What are you waiting for?
Adopt these five strategies and maximise your existing customer base and turn your customers into advocates – experience the C’s of change.
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