How Do You Involve Customers?


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Graham Hill

Posted 21-Jun-2005 03:53 AM
At the CRMGuru Summit in Santa Cruz, a few of the speakers and delegates talked about how they involve customers directly in making CRM a success. And I don’t just mean through getting customers to serve themselves, but also through things like ‘voice of the customer programmes’, developing a Customer Advisory Board and directly involving lead customers in product development.

As companies move from a CRM model characterised by doing things TO customers, through one of doing things FOR customers, to one of doing things WITH customers, knowing how to do this effectively will likely become a new core competency.

This raises an important question.
“How do you involve customers directly in making CRM a success at your company?”

Please share with CRMGuru’s members what you are doing in this area and what you have learned from it.

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant
Customer Value Management Guru

Cathy Allington

Posted 27-Jun-2005 06:04 AM
Hi Graham:

To involve customers, the very first thing you have to do, is make them feel it’s worth their while to become involved.

Some companies try this through loyalty programmes—I am not a fan of these, as I don’t believe they buy “loyalty”.

So how else do you make customers feel involved? The only way I know is to treat and communicate with them on a one-to-one basis. This means such “little” things, as acknowledging when they have first purchased from you; recognising the types of products they have bought from you and only offering offers which recognise this knowledge you have about them and what they have bought.

We all know acquaintances—we see them out and about “Good to see you—must catch up over a coffee/drink”. But we only really follow through with those people who have made an effort to make the relationship a two way street—they give, and you give.

I really don’t know why people have so many problems with involving the customer—it is all about building relationships. And to build a relationship with a customer—as with building a relationship with anyone—you have to build trust first.

As when a friend asks you for dinner at their place, it is considered good manners to ring and say thank you after. We won’t necessarily discount them if they don’t follow up—but we will certainly judge them well if they do.

We judge people on how they respond to those things. We also judge businesses on how they respond to when we purchase from them. We all like to feel acknowledged—just that most businesses don’t get it!

If they responded as people dealing with people, then you would get customers involved.

Graham Hill

Posted 28-Jun-2005 12:30 AM

Thanks for your erudite response.

I fully agree with your assertion that you first need to build a level of trust & committment with customers before you can hope to involve them effectively in business improvement. And that there has to be something in it for customers too.

I would be interested in your experiences and ideas about
WHAT activities to involve customers in,
HOW to get them involved and
WHICH customers to involve in which activities.

Thanks, Graham

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant
Customer Value Management Guru

Gwynne Young
Managing Editor, CustomerThink

Posted 28-Jun-2005 02:41 PM
Can’t you earn the customers’ trust and commitment at the same time as you involve them more? What I mean is, as a customer, I get the most frustrated when I feel that no one is paying attention to me. I feel most involved when I email a recommendation or complaint and I get an immediate response that isn’t based on a form letter.

For example, I called to ask my ISP, who is also my land-line phone provider, if it could send me a separate bill with just the Internet charges. The customer service rep cut me off in mid-sentence with a curt “no.” It wasn’t something they offered. I asked if she could pass a suggestion along to management, and she said if someone happened to play back the recording of her and my phone conversation, maybe someone would pass my recommendation on. Unless the company is using modern analytics, I don’t see that happening any time soon. As a result, I feel absolutely no loyalty or involvement with that company.

But in another experience, I emailed a web site to point out a bug: Whenever I logged on in the middle of shopping prior to purchase, everything vanished from my shopping cart. I got a personal email thanking me for pointing the bug out and saying that it would be passed along to the webmaster. There were no reward points involved, no discount, no advertising. Yet, I had a warm feeling when I got the email back and felt more compelled to do business with that company next time around, over its competition.

So I say, based on my experience as a customer, merely focusing on better communication from reps and giving them a mechanism for channeling that communication up the line would have the extra benefit of involving the customer. I think guru David Rance calls it “listening to the customer.”

Cathy Allington

Posted 28-Jun-2005 03:11 PM
Hi Graham:

If I were that erudite, I would have taken in what you were actually asking in the first place! 🙂

Just to clarify what I understand you mean about “getting the customer involved”. For this to occur, and for the company to know it has occurred aside from increased sales—I am assuming you mean there is two way communication happening.

I have tried a number of things with my clients:
WHAT activities: Implementing a new service where competitors are already offering the same. Contacing—via personalised one-to-one letter and/or email—customers to ask them to share their best and worst experiences with this type of service, and offering a bottle of Moet for a randomly chosen response. When the level of trust is already established, this has worked very well, with up to 50% of customers responding. Each was acknowledged and thanked personally. The feedback was excellent—they liked the fact that we respected their opinion enough to become involved. Once the new service was implemented, we then wrote—again individually addressed—to each who had responded, and advised them as to how we had incorporated the overall suggestions into our new service. We also wrote a similar letter to those who did not respond, letting them know about the new service, and how we had listened to feedback from our existing customers in shaping our offering.

HOW to get them involved. I have covered this in the above—one of the keys to this is that communciation must always be inidivually addressed—easy today with mail merge to either letter or email.

WHAT customers to get involved. Only those relevant to the offering. For example, a real estate development firm was offering blocks of refurbished investment units for sale. Their existing system had allowed them to record previous sales as either owner occupied, or investment property, as the reason for sale. We contacted those who had previously purchased an investment property within the past 1-5 years and invited them to a seminar where one of the partners of an internationl accounting firm—well recognised for his expertise on taxation issues surrounding investment real estate—was the keynote speaker. We also contacted a random group of those who had bought as an owner occupier, acknowledging the fact that although they had not previously bought an investment property through us (we had no way of knowing if they had bought elsewhere), that they might be interested in finding out more. They key here was that we acknowledged their differences in our communication. The developers sold all 48 units within 2 months of the seminar. We also followed up thanking each person for attending.

Cathy Allington


Posted 30-Jun-2005 09:56 AM
The truth is, customers will freely provide feedback to a company about its products and services. Rarely, though, do companies actually read the information! A good example is your local senator or congressman/woman. Send them an email and watch what comes back, “Thank you…blah, blah, blah…but, due to the volume of email received, do not expect a reply”. Wow.

Companies react similarly to customer feedback. Customers will tell you what problems you have with your products or services and how to fix them. They’ll tell you what your competitors are doing, what features they wish you would add and so much more.

Guy Jones
Island Data

Cathy Allington

Posted 30-Jun-2005 10:52 AM
Exactly Guy!

That is why it is so important to acknowledge them personally, otherwise they will give up providing feedback!

Cathy Allington
Client Relationship Marketing


Posted 07-Jul-2005 09:14 AM
I am a true believer of customer involvement and striving towards excllence. Excellence will not be achieved without customer involvement, sharing the ideas, and harvesting the results.
I used to be a customer myself in my industry, and firm believer of collaboration between supplier/vendor and customer/end users. Also helping customers/end users to solve some of their dat to day problems, issues, which will make them more profitable and successful. That is why I moved from being a customer to a vendor, started as Technical/Customer Support Engineer and now with the change of our organization became a project manager. I stay more in contact with my customers even after project completion (phone and e-mail), try to help sales force (but they don’t listen). I consider myself very customer focused and will help customers as best as possible. I know this will create future opportunities for my company but Sales force have a different view/approach. It is crucial to any business or market to stay in touch, in phase, with what the customer think and want. Customer is the user of the product, service, and the true catalyst for any market or business.
My question is, how can I entice, persuade or motivate sales force to capture this cucial parameter? Any ideas or thought, are appreciated.


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