Cultivating Your Customers

A common mistake many small business owners make is to focus all of your marketing attention on finding new customers. As has been proven many times, it is less expensive to continue to work with an existing customer than it is to find a new one. I don’t want to talk about that today. Instead, I want to share some ideas about how to make your current customers a vital part of your marketing.

To do that we need to make our customers more than just transactional statistics. We need to help them become advocates for our business, or as some say, turn them into “raving fans.” Here’s some ways to do that.

  1. Map Your Customer Experience. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer and walk through each and every interaction they have with your company and the members of your team. Ask these questions: “Is it easy to do business with us?” “Are we better than competitors, maybe who offer a lower price?” “Can people get valuable information from us easily?” “Where are the ‘pain points’ in the process of dealing with us?”

This last one is critically important. While we want to know what makes it easy to do business with our firm, even more important is where a customer faces a challenge in acquiring our product or service. The successful “big brands” map their customer experience around these key pain points that they could mitigate. The Genius Bar at the Apple store is a good example of the companies response to the pain many users feel when dealing with tech support.

  1. Ask Your Customer to Help. The extent to which you can help your customers become more involved with your brand is a good measure of their willingness to become advocates. Make them feel like a valued member of the extended team for your business. Ask them to be a part of an online community, or to join a customer review panel to give your company insights for improving. Most important, react to their input, be willing to make changes based on customer feedback.
  2. Have a Reward Program. Loyalty programs cement good relationships and make them even stronger. Don’t just structure these around purchasing behavior. Give rewards for re-tweeting product announcements or providing colleague email addresses. In other words, get them involved in marketing. Make this easy for them by providing specific tools and steps. Also, don’t assume your advocates will know what you want. Ask them.
  3. Keep your Employees Engaged. Often your best advocates are the people on your team. Make sure they are fully informed about what is happening within the firm, and the marketing initiatives you are implementing. Keep them up to date on what you are learning about the customer experience, and involve them in making it even better. Again, I’ll refer to Apple’s Genius Bar. The staff is so enthusiastic, and accepts each question from a customer as important. They make sure that the customer knows their question will be taken seriously and answered, no matter how basic it is.

Two other companies that are good examples, even for small business owners, are Zappos and Starbucks. Both companies have empowered their employees to respond directly to customer comments and critiques through their online suggestion boxes. A customer can easily track their input, and the company reply. Starbucks has a forum for customers to offer suggestions for improving the store experience—and they read and respond quickly to all customer input.

Want to turn your customers into advocates? Help them become more involved in all phases of the experience with your company.