We're living in an age of post-Recessionary caution. "[T]oday, most consumers have to be careful with their spending and only a strongly demonstrated understanding of their feelings and life/business circumstances will inspire them to pull out the wallet," writes Marla Tabaka at Inc. In other words, customers want to know that you empathize with the challenges they face. To satisfy this need, Tabaka has advice like this:

Gain a global perspective. We're all naturally biased about our businesses, products, and services. But it's impossible to understand how someone else feels when we're always focused on how we feel. So take a step back and gain a different perspective.

Organize informal focus groups. You don't need a huge budget and marketing consultants to gauge customer opinion—simply invite 8 to 12 people to attend an informal focus group. Ask why they make purchases, how they regard your product or service, and how it might fix a problem they have.

Provide actively empathetic customer service. "[W]hen dealing with an unsatisfied customer, remember to use language that shows them that you understand and care," says Tabaka. Don't aggravate the situation by defending your product or service—instead acknowledge their frustration, and suggest a solution.

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