Looking for Customer Love in All the Right Places

If you’re a vendor, the idea of providing visibility is a winning notion. It’s what’s driven social CRM-related software tools and analytics to their current prominence within the market, and it’s why the “Internet of Things” is so alluring.

The problem that these technologies purportedly solve is a lack of visibility — that is, the inability to understand what’s going on with customers, how customers relate to the things that businesses do, and how effective businesses are at influencing customers to let go of their hard-earned dollars.

This is not a new problem — if there were an easy solution to it, no business would ever fail. Yet even with CRM providing the so-called 360-degree view of the customer, businesses continue to operate with significant blind spots.

The issue may not be that significant things about the customer are invisible. Rather, it’s more likely that those things are visible, but businesses simply don’t know what they should be looking for. In that case, the provision of “visibility” is of limited value.

So what should you be looking for?

Well, I don’t know your business well enough to make specific suggestions — only you know your business and your customers well enough to do that. Still, there are a few broad categories that you should consider when developing metrics to evaluate your customer-facing operations. Here are five:

1. Events That Cause Your Customers’ Journeys With You to End

Businesses often fail to perform post-mortems on lost customers. In many cases, they don’t realize they’ve lost those customers until long after the customer punched out. As a result, it’s all too easy to repeat the same mistakes that caused other customers to leave you.

If your sales, marketing and support team is conscientious in its use of CRM, the activity that spelled the end of the romance should be right there: Was it an unsatisfactory service experience, or the refusal of a discount during the renewal process, or a marketing pitch that struck a bad chord?

The one-offs are not significant, but when trends emerge, it’s time to take action. Ian Fleming wrote, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” In this case, the enemy action is something you’re doing internally that can be changed before it claims any more customer relationships.

2. Similarities in Your Customers’ Stories

Structured data is easy to work with, but anyone who’s ever done polling can tell you that the most compelling data often comes from responses to open-ended questions where the respondents are allowed to share thoughts and feelings that put the more structured data into context.

When you take the time to understand customers’ stories — starting long before they became customers — you can look for similarities. If you have a set of lucrative customers, this is useful in looking for more customers like them.

You also can use this information to identify verticals you can pursue more aggressively, and use it to understand how well your company’s service, sales and marketing interactions are received by companies that remain loyal.

3. Correlations Between Engagement Efforts and Sales

Social CRM is all about the two-way nature of the modern buyer-seller relationship. As a result, the thinking goes that the more engaged you are with customers, the longer they will stay with you and the more lucrative the relationship can be. Do you have numbers to back that up?

This isn’t hard to do when you understand engagement based on customers’ participation in a portal-type website. It’s a little tougher when interactions take place outside the walls of your business in third-party communities and social media channels.

Including these in your measurements of engagement effectiveness is critical. You need to find out whether your conversations lead to conversions — and if they don’t, how you can modify what you’re saying to improve the situation.

4. Intersections Between Your Stars and Your Successes

Every organization has its stars in sales, marketing and support. There’s a general appreciation of their value — especially in sales — but it’s also valuable to understand why they’re succeeding. Do your stars work best with certain kinds of customers? What are the common denominators they share? Are they manipulating their activities to tilt the playing field their way? How can you make others in the company function more like them?

If they’re star performers, then they’ve discovered ways to work with your customers and your processes successfully. Examine them carefully. Their behavior can not only suggest specific ways others in their roles can perform better, but also illuminate new things to look for in future hires.

From a more immediate tactical point of view, understanding where top performers excel will allow you to position them with critical customers in critical points in the customer lifecycle.

5. The Results of Service Interactions, Good and Bad

Service is the key to loyalty, so understanding the impact of service interactions is essential if you want to understand why customers are staying or leaving. Every service event should be part of the customer record, and it should be examined in the context of whether it helped bond the customer to the business or was a symptom of a coming split.

When you understand this and can identify types of service issues that foreshadow the loss of a customer, other resources can be brought to bear to keep the customer on board. Similarly, understanding which interactions were successfully resolved may open the door to upselling or cross-selling opportunities. At the very least, those interactions should be examined to see their effect on loyalty.

Note that the insights in these categories by and large are not going to come from auto-generated reports or simple dashboards. Instead, they will come from structured data your systems generate, conversations with customers, examinations of people and processes in your business, and a correlation with the results of your customer relationships.

This understanding is not easy to achieve — but the fact that it isn’t easy is why getting it right will provide you with a competitive edge.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is director of content marketing at Relayware. Bucholtz is also a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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