Familiarity breeds repeat orders: 6 ways to boost customer retention

Familiarity breeds repeat orders: 6 ways to boost customer retention

How do you keep customers coming back? An HBR article suggests that the customer relationship is more important than value proposition. This blog-post suggests 6 ways to use customer communications to build that relationship and boost retention.

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How design thinking can improve our communications

‘Content marketing’ has spawned a new industry. ‘Cutting-through-the-noise content marketing’ has evolved to address the challenge of getting information noticed in the continuous noise of ‘stuff’ being pushed out every day. There is lots of advice out there about how to write better content; but rather than effectively just trying to shout louder, I think there is an alternative approach that may help us get our message across more effectively: by applying some design thinking before taking pen to paper.

Noise is a real issue that affects our ability to operate effectively. According to acoustics experts Resonics, noise distracts, increases stress, causes confusion, demotivates. As well as being an issue in an open plan office, I think noise is a real problem for people trying to spot the useful and relevant information in a sea of emails, social media, phone calls, brochures, apps, ad popups and even your desktop operating system pinging messages at you.

Engagement or turn-off?
The problem affects internal communications just as much as B2B or B2C communications. Internal email, project updates, texts, instant messaging and the intranet combine with external messages to create an environment where important information gets missed, or people just don’t have time to read it all.
In the face of all this opinion, advice and enticements to download the latest whitepaper, I find myself switching off rather than being engaged. Which is a shame because I’m sure that, buried in there somewhere are valuable nuggets that someone has worked hard to produce.

How to communicate effectively in this noisy environment?
Advice for being heard midst the chatter tends to focus on content quality. According to digital marketing ninja Dave Chaffey: “as the volume of content marketing grows, the importance of high quality editorial and journalism increases to help cut through the noise … focus on publishing less but doing it better.” Amen to that, but what if there’s not much you can do about the content (eg. you’re sending out a report) or creative writing is not one of your core skills?

The first thing to remember is that the purpose of all this communication is primarily to build relationships with customers, prospects and stakeholders. My current book-of-the-month is “Universal Principles of Design” and it has inspired me to think that applying some of these design principles can help all of us be more creative about how we go about engaging with our audiences.

Here are 5 simple ideas as a starting point:

80/20 Rule:
Focus 80% of communication effort on listening and only 20% on ‘talking’.
For business leaders, walking the floor provides the opportunity to engage employees by being visible and accessible, listening to concerns, asking for suggestions, recognising achievements, and responding to questions. If you can’t literally be out there with customers and stakeholders, spend a bit of time on internal/external forums listening and being helpful eg. connecting project teams to people with relevant experience. O2/Telefonica UK CEO Ronan Dunne would use Twitter to listen to customers; internal forums or user community groups can be equally useful.

Aesthetic Design:
“Aesthetic designs foster positive relationships with people”, (source: Universal Principles of Design). Time taken to consider the first impressions of your business case, user-manual, website or report is not wasted. For example, Sphero makes the BB-8™ robot. It is expensive and it is small, which might invite the buyer-response “Is that it?”. But the slick design of the BB-8 packaging creates a positive expectation of something special inside.
Engaging with someone is much easier when they are starting with a positive frame of mind rather than disappointment. Where it is clear that not much care and attention has been taken in the way something is presented, the recipient will spend time looking for the faults rather than your core message. Where your audience is pressed for time, aesthetic design may help your document get to the top of their reading list.

Consistency of style and appearance enhances recognition and sets expectations. Companies use consistent branding for exactly this reason, but the same techniques can be used to mitigate the risk of your emails or updates getting missed or overlooked.
Create a ‘brand’ for documents that relate to the same topic: it can be as simple as creating a project mnemonic and using it in the subject line of all related internal emails as a flag to stakeholders; or having an icon or consistent colour theme that is used on all related presentations and reports.
A user interface can use this technique to group related information. The AppGate XDP secure access system from Cryptzone uses consistent colour and icons in the user interface to draw attention to important security notifications.

Instead of pushing out content directly or top-down, use existing networks and communities to promote your messages indirectly or peer-to-peer. Building relationships with influencers can simply be a case of giving time and attention: reading and sharing their material, using it in your own publications/reports, or involving them in decisions or process development. Check out “4 Ways to Get Influencers to Spread Your Brand Message” for more ideas.

Desire Line:
“Desire line” is the preferred method of travel or interaction. Posting information on the intranet may be the accepted way of communicating to co-workers or project teams, but is that where your audience actually goes to find information?
Observe how your audience chooses to get information eg. via computer or from friends and colleagues, direct email or from the project office, detailed report or 1-paragraph summary? If they print out every proposal to read on the train home, present yours either pre-printed or in a format that is print friendly. We’re getting used to the idea that if you want people to see your web content, make it mobile friendly because that’s the device that your audience is like to be using. Similarly, as Forrester’s Kerry Bodine points out, just because it’s called an intranet doesn’t mean that the information has to be delivered via computer.

This is only a handful of ideas. If you’re a CX or service designer, what design principles do you use to engage your audience? Is ‘noise’ and issue in your organisation? If you’re running a project, do you have any tips for making sure that your stakeholders don’t miss the information they need?

Customer satisfaction - who exactly is the customer?

We all know customer satisfaction is important, for internal customers as well as corporate clients. But in the dash to set about satisfying customer needs, there is a point that may get overlooked: who exactly is the customer you need to be impressing?

Traditionally the customer was considered to be the individual with the term ‘purchasing’ somewhere in his job title. However, it has long been recognized that organizational buying is a process involving several individuals. A much referenced paper from the 1970’s by Webster & Wind (Webster Frederick E. Jr. and Yoram Wind, “A General Model for Understanding Organizational Buying Behavior”) focuses attention on the buying centre: “those individuals and groups who participate in the purchasing decision-making process”.

The problem with the ‘buying centre’ is that it doesn’t necessarily include a key customer – the end user. The end user may not have direct involvement in the decision to buy from one vendor or another, but he/she potentially has significant influence. Consider a processed food manufacturer. The decision of which packaging supplier to use will be driven by senior managers in marketing, operations, finance and the MD. The guy in the warehouse who has to deal with the packaging deliveries coming in on the lorries won’t be involved in the decision. But he does have indirect influence. Issues and grumbles about late loads, early deliveries, incomplete loads or loads stacked in the wrong order will filter through to the factory manager and thus on to the ‘buying centre’, impacting future buying decisions. So, who is ‘marking’ the guy in the warehouse to check that he’s happy? To achieve our objective for customer satisfaction, we need a wider definition of who the customer is.

An excellent book, “Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service” by Ken Blanchard has this definition of the customer: “everyone touched by the product or service”. This acknowledges that every employee involved with the product and the process of dealing with the vendor, from the warehouse through the accounts department to the managing director, should be on our list of “customers”. The buyer-seller relationship goes beyond the interaction between the salesperson and the purchasing agent. By implication, the opportunities to influence customer satisfaction involve a wide range of employees in the customer’s organisation, and a correspondingly wide range of employees in the vendor’s organisation – wherever the two organisations interact.

“Customer satisfaction” will depend on what is important to each ‘customer’. Achieving customer satisfaction therefore requires a good understanding of the individuals involved, their issues, prejudices, job requirements and goals, what it would take to create ‘Wow!” experiences. And of course the customer is continuously changing – people leave or move jobs. A customer satisfaction strategy needs to be flexible and continuously reviewed, requiring good, cross-functional, internal sharing and collaboration. This is beginning to feel like we’re trying to hit a continually shifting target. In this situation, information is king, and your best sources of information are the people at the coal-face by which I mean not only your employees, but also partners, associates and suppliers who are interacting with customers on your behalf. They understand how the customer’s business operates, who the individuals are, their day to day needs and gripes, and they probably know the customer’s perceptions of your competitors.

So the challenge is how to create a customer satisfaction strategy that addresses everything that you do for the client organisation, enabling your team (internal and external) to be responsive and relevant even as the client changes and evolves. Perhaps we can learn from the principles of Agile Software Development?  The concept of Agile Marketing is catching on. I would be interested to know your thoughts if you have any experience in this area. I look forward to your comments.


Fran Bodley-Scott

Fran is a business communications consultant specialising in customer and stakeholder relationship marketing. She started out in engineering and product development before moving into marketing and business development. Fran brings a blend of marketing experience, system thinking and creative design to client projects. She is a thought leader in applying marketing thinking inside the organisation and is passionate about improving business effectiveness and efficiency through relationship marketing.

If you are interested in talking with Fran about your project, please get in touch.

What do customers really need?

Meeting customers' needs is central to achieving customer satisfaction. But beware mistaking "want" for "need".  Your customers will say they 'want' lower prices. The problem is that many suppliers assume that they must compete on price to keep the business. They drop the price and cut their own margins but don't necessarily keep the customer. If you actually ask customers why they choose you as a supplier and how your company helps them to achieve their objectives, then you may be surprised to learn that there are other factors at play, and that you have other options.

Here are two examples of organisations that cottoned-on to the fact that customers weren't necessarily driven by price.

 In the early days, Amazon offered the lowest price. Then they changed strategy. They raised their prices across the board but included free post & packing.  So, they went from being a lowest-price provider to most convenient provider. Has it affected sales? Yes - upwards.

The second example is from personal experience from the days of manufacturing cans for the food industry. Supermarket price wars were putting pressure on all players in the supply chain to cut prices. Competition to supply the likes of Heinz and Campbells was fierce. We were not the cheapest supplier on the block so it was potentially bad news if price had become the main differentiator in the market. So we asked our customers why they chose us – what was the most important factor in their buying decision: price, quality, innovation, logistics, choice, service? The answer surprised us. One of the most important factors was dependability. Delivering orders on-time-in-full to the quality spec meant no production hiccups at the factory and no additional costs of stopping the line. And it meant the production manager could focus on solving all the other issues because he could depend on us to do our bit. Dependability was a key differentiator for our organisation.

According to a recent study by IT research and advisory company Gartner technology providers are failing to communicate what differentiates their market offerings. 52% of vendors had trouble working out what made one product better or worse than others on the market. “In the face of sameness, buyers often turn to brand familiarity and reputation.” i.e. no-one ever got fired for buying from IBM.

Vendors may be failing to win new business because they are not communicating what makes them different, or because they don’t know their real value proposition.

Michael Skok has some good advice about creating a compelling value proposition. One of the key points is to actually ask your customers why they buy from you. You know all the features of your product or service but do you know how customers actually benefit from your expertise?

Product differentiation will help you get your foot in door, but may not be the complete answer. Two different products may both offer equally viable solutions for the customer. At that point, buyers will look for the extra clues on which to make their decision. Brand reputation is a subject for another day, but while you may not be IBM, it doesn’t mean you’re out of the running. There is a lot you can do to ensure that your business is appealing for quite different reasons.


Fran Bodley-Scott

Fran is a business communications consultant specialising in customer and stakeholder relationship marketing. She started out in engineering and product development before moving into marketing and business development. Fran brings a blend of marketing experience, system thinking and creative design to client projects. She is a thought leader in applying marketing thinking inside the organisation and is passionate about improving business effectiveness and efficiency through relationship marketing.

If you are interested in talking with Fran about your project, please get in touch.