What brings customers back to a brand, creates loyalty, and strengthens financial performance? Price incentives? Loyalty programs? Big investments to build brand awareness?
As much as creative marketing and promotions can help a product, service, or company stand out, it always comes down to a simple premise: Did you solve the need that triggered the customer to act in the first place?
Said simply, did you solve the customer’s problem?
One reason that question may be difficult to answer is that marketing leaders get lost in trying to “surprise and delight” customers with the latest in technology and gadgets, or the most liberal service policies. All those additional features and options are bound to make customers happy in the moment, but if you don’t solve the problem that triggered them to act in the first place, their satisfaction–and your business performance–will fade quickly. This holds true across industries. Customers are looking for companies that can simplify their lives by providing quality service without hassle. A great Harvard Business Review article on customer service highlights two key takeaways that should remain top-of-mind for businesses:
- Delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty, but reducing the work they must do to get their problem solved does. (A win for your customers!)
- Acting deliberately on this insight can help improve customer service, reduce customer service costs, and decrease customer churn. (A win for your company’s bottom line!)
The second reason this question may be difficult to answer is that marketing often doesn’t have complete accountability for solving the customer’s problem. As the old African proverb and a former First Lady have taught us, “it takes a village.” Marketers must work across, up, and down the organization to solve customer needs. Your organization needs a shared view of the target customer experience that solves your customers' needs, and focus in each area of the company making the right daily decisions to make that happen. Marketing typically sets this direction; everyone plays a role.
Who Is Succeeding?
If you’re looking for examples of companies that are living the mantra of solving every customer’s need, start with Amazon. The company does consistently well in customer surveys and performance rankings because of a strong, unwavering focus on fulfilling customer needs. If there is a problem, it is quickly rectified with the goal of getting the right product to the customer ASAP. Technology investments are high for Amazon, but they’re all matched to things customers’ value. When Amazon was ranked the most trusted brand in the U.S. in a recent Millward Brown study, I thought it was a great testimony to the effectiveness of its ability to use technology to solve customer needs in a personal way. The model at Amazon is simple: Create a place where customers can find or discover anything they can imagine buying online.
Other companies that rank well in terms of solving the customer’s need include:
How Does This Change the Role of Marketing?
Make no mistake about it, marketers’ roles are changing. The link between marketing performance and effective customer experience is now unquestioned. Joe Tripodi of the Coca-Cola Company is a great example of a leader that is adapting to the expectations of customers while protecting one of the most well-known brands in the world. By remaining supportive of loyal Coca-Cola brand advocates, Joe and his team are reaping the benefits of customers who fill online channels with positive messages.
The flow of information is no longer just company-to-customer. Information now flows both ways, sideways and diagonally. The marketing team has switched from measuring impressions (views or reach) and now measures expressions (a comment or other kind of action that demonstrates engagement). What Joe’s figured out at Coke is that if they can provide exceptional experiences that solve needs, then those experiences can be multiplied and shared time and again—online and off.
6 Simple Tips
By following some simple principles, most businesses can minimize the risks of negative “buzz” while ratcheting up the likelihood that positive experiences will be shared. Here are six tips to keep in mind:
1. Do what you said you would do to eliminate the customer problem. Seems simple really doesn’t it? Deliver on the promise you made to address that particular customer’s problem in the time period agreed upon. Poor customer experiences arise from a failure to deliver on that initial promise or when surprises in the process pop up that were not communicated.
2. Don’t make your customers jump through hoops. Customers are not seeking another task on their daily to-do list. The reason they reach out for help is an understanding that there is someone out there more qualified to do this job than they are. They are seeking help. The last thing they want to do beg for it.
3. Don’t try and deliver added benefits the customer doesn’t need. Keep it simple. Don’t try and oversell how wonderful you are. Bragging about those 20 new features you just added (that are more about extending your sales or helping your operation than they are about moving your customer toward a need solved) isn’t going to convince anyone to be an advocate for your brand. Keep it simple. Fix their problem. Then stop. Then solve another one.
4. Be emotional. While the tangible product or service itself (and process steps a customer follows) must directly solve a customer need, the emotional elements of the customer experience best inspire loyalty and satisfaction. The trick is balance, a focus on both in a way that solves your customer’s need better than anyone else could. Ideally, what should your customers feel at each step of their experience? Match your actions to that.
5. Be helpful. Any experience must be accessible. You’re the expert. Your customer is hiring you to solve a problem or desire. Focus on how you can be a trusted source by providing the insight, explanation, and resources needed to solve the customer need. This is one area where your website, social networks and greater peer connectivity is a tremendous asset. Another (and often overlooked) opportunity is held by leaders whose customers use their company’s products or services over time (rather than in a moment, like an ice cream cone). My use of Windows software as I type is an example. How can you design your customer’s ongoing experience to give your customers the ideas and support they need to feel good about the process and decision to hire you, buy, and use your product or service?
6. Lead the village. Think about the interactions most critical to solving your customers’ needs as customers learn about your product, try you out, buy, use your product or service to solve their need, and even evolve over time. Which departments, processes and people have the biggest impact on making those interactions successful? Marketers have a key role in defining the target--or most ideal--experience customers should have at each step, and then engaging others in the company to aim at the same target. Building alignment can turbo boost the efforts of smart, well-intended people across your organization.
Ultimately, it’s not what customers accept, it’s what they value that matters most.
All aspects of marketing, promotions, and engagement should be working toward the goal of solving the customer need. If---and how well---a need is solved is your customers’ measure of success. And it’s a key measure of performance for you, your brand, and your organization.
Note: Photo is courtesy of featureset1 via FlickR Creative Commons.