3 Ways To Dominate Your Market

My area of expertise is in leadership development using the philosophy of Lean Six Sigma, in other words “process improvement strategies”. 

Now join me on the journey I call A Tale of Two Companies: One business allowed its workers to be engaged by making improvements that allowed the customer to be first in mind. The second created an environment of “it’s not my job” eliminating employees from using client-first thinking. Now you might ask, “How can the customer not be first?”

Many believe Lean Six Sigma is solely for engineering and manufacturing companies. That’s the first misconception. This managerial approach is built on the premise of eliminating wasteful elements and focusing solely on the customer. Having taken that quick glimpse of Lean, as an entrepreneur, you can now see that this philosophy applies to all businesses. Every business operates in what Lean practitioners call SIPOC, (Suppliers, Input, Processes, Output and Customers). Understanding that small segment of lean thinking will open the door for you to look at the three ways to dominate your market. 

Related: Define Your Brand Identity in 3 Steps

How can I hinder?

Meet Office XYZ, a Dental Facility that has a small staff of 5-7 individuals each having their unique jobs when dealing with patients. I called this facility to make an appointment for my mother and was told they needed to verify her insurance and would call back once they received the approvals. Two weeks went by before I realized I had not heard from anyone regarding the insurance verification.

I called the office and asked to speak with the individual that was to call back, whom we’ll call Kelly. I was informed that Kelly was out of the office and had been ill for the past two weeks. My next question was: “is she the only person that verifies insurance?” The response was affirmative and I then asked to speak with a manager. I was told Kelly was the manager. Let’s stop here because now we enter that well-known rabbit hole of “it’s not my job.”

Related: Trends That Can Move Your Business Forward in 2021

How can I help?

Meet Office ABC, A Pizza Company with a similar-sized staff. One night I called for a pizza. Upon placing the order I was told my meal would be about 30 minutes. Half an hour on a Friday evening? This company operated far differently than the first. When I placed my order something incredible happened, I received a text with the following message:  “We’re making your order. It’s all coming together now. The kitchen staff is busy with your order making sure everything is just right.”

A few minutes later I received this missive: “It’s on the way. The driver has left the store and will be at your location shortly”, followed with, “Delivered! Time to eat. It’s been our pleasure serving you”.And it was within the time promised by the associate. 

The “go and see” mentality

These two very different experiences gave me moment to pause. Did Company XYZ know about the importance of “lean thinking” and did Company ABC know they were using the lean six sigma philosophy in their operations? Did the leader of Company XYZ actually walk the process to see if there were any wasteful elements that allowed their service to lack the three main components of customer first thinking: quality, speed and delivery? And what about Company ABC, did that leader utilize the concept of Gemba, meaning “go and see” to improve their value stream and get to the point where they asked what their customers appreciate?

When exploring Lean Six Sigma’s methodology the first step is to find the root cause for the identified waste. Then you move into seeking what the customer defines as quality, you determine the speed of getting your customer the item or rendering the service and you seek an appropriate method of delivery.

Focusing on the three lean strategies

One can’t assume to know what the clientele defines as quality unless they have actually been asked. In Company XYZ it is evident that no one took the initiative to seek input through surveys, focus groups or used any feedback techniques. There is a concept in the Lean lexicon called (VOC) Voice of the Customer. It simply means find out what your customers want and are willing to pay for. This is where you will find that notion of quality.

In the tale of Company ABC, you can attest to the fact that quality for their customers, myself included, is hot pizza, and being notified as to what’s going on with their order. How did they come to know and implement this into their operations? After receiving such great service I had to call and speak with one of their leaders. I was informed this is how they compete as a reckoning force within the market. 

The need for speed

Being the fastest in your field has a huge impact on your market.  As you can tell from the visit with Company XYZ speed played no major role in what they deemed as important to customers. Two weeks to verify insurance is beyond an acceptable practice. And, by the way, I failed to mention that I did speak with another person, upon request, who did call back within 24 hours to inform me that they did not accept the insurance.  Yet I waited 2 weeks for something that could have saved me both frustration and aggravation. Speed and convenience are major players in our buying experience.

Company ABC, epitomizes the importance of speed. On each text message I received that time stamp of delivery was also listed. Today there are ample services to ensure your customers get items and services in a speedy manner. This company has a system in place that allows employees to know time schedules for various sizes, as well as any increase in time based on selected toppings. Have you looked at your level of quickness, while keeping the high standard of quality appreciated by your customers?

Why is the method of delivery so important to your customers? Is it easy to obtain your product or service? Delivery in its simplest form equates to how a customer receives your product or service. Simple right? Company XYZ’s delivery was neither exceptional nor satisfactory. The level of professionalism of their staff created an angst for the customer and therefore any method of delivery they deemed appropriate was subpar. There was no option as to whether they could email, text me or call me. Based on their performance I don’t think any of those options would have changed the outcome.

Related: Entrepreneurial Takeaways From 2020 to Guide Your Next Big Move

Company ABC created a delivery method that allowed me to select how I wanted to receive the product. They of course deliver in their vehicles, but I had an option to have it delivered to my door and left in an appropriate place, to have them ring the doorbell and I receive it face-to-face or contactless, it’s in the trunk and I come out and retrieve it. This allows the customer to select an option.

We have just visited two companies:  One eliminated waste and the other added to it. Which business are you? 

By: Sheryl Mays Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

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5 Reasons Why Your Clients Don’t Read Your Agency’s Reports

Establishing the business value of your SEO performance as an agency is part of client relationship building. It’s also what keeps the churn rate low and the referral rate high.

Yet, when it comes to reporting, why is it that some things get lost in translation?

Picture this – an SEO agency just managed a massive win for their automotive client, a 5% visibility improvement on both desktop and mobile for their highly competitive keywords list in the last month. From the content-driven campaign, over 25 links were built as well for one of the client’s main money pages.

But all of these insights are compiled in a fully automated report that gets sent to the client, together with all the technical tasks and other actions, without being highlighted in particular.

How can the agency make sure the client understands the ROI delivered for their business? Maybe the team is relying on the monthly meeting, but the client postpones that too.

Reporting is a critical activity for an SEO agency – one that supports effective communication and retention. And it can be tedious or strenuous work.

At times, clients don’t react as expected – but doesn’t have to be so.

Let’s dive deeper into reasons why reports sometimes fail to accomplish their objective and what do to about it, to make the best of your reporting process.

Here’s Why Clients Don’t Read Your Reports

Clients Have Different Expectations

One reason why clients won’t read reports can be the implicit expectation to see certain metrics included there or to receive them at a certain date. Or it can be that they don’t understand the specifics of your SEO activities, so they let it slide.

Keeping your clients close from day 0 is mandatory for communications to work. That means setting the right expectations regarding the agency workflows and what’s expected of the client’s team from the onboarding phase.

Reporting is a huge chunk of that so be sure to take into account the following questions and clarify them in the first month:

  • Why do we report?
  • When do we report?
  • How do we go about reporting?
  • What data goes in and where do we get that information?
  • Who is responsible for this client’s reports?
  • When should we escalate an issue? When do we make recommendations?
  • What’s the frequency of our reporting and meetings?

After negotiating all those aspects above in the agency-client alignment meeting, you can create an agency internal dashboard that includes your clients’ portfolio, the account managers responsible for each client report, monthly statuses, and due dates. That way you have an overview of your reporting process at all times.

Confusing, Long, or Unbalanced Reports

Whether it’s a fully automated 70 pages report containing every single SEO action the agency’s done or a document with inconsistent branding and copy-pasted data from various tools – it’s not an actionable document that a client can easily read and understand.

You need to have the end goal in mind: the client reading and getting how your work is helping the business. If the client doesn’t engage with your report, it’s a missed opportunity for both showcasing results and gathering feedback.

To avoid these situations, once more think about the main KPIs and SEO objectives you’ve agreed upon:

  • Do they have a keyword list they’re particular about?
  • Are they an ecommerce client wanting to increase the conversion rate?
  • Is it a lead generation campaign?

Having clarified the expectations and business objectives, that’s what you’ll report on monthly while explaining how your SEO intervention directly impacted their KPIs and business results.

To settle inconsistencies, you can create an agency template with a focus on these key insights and your agency’s brand and unique voice:

  • Think about highlighting the most important trends and victories on KPIs like non-brand organic traffic and Visibility trends.
  • Areas of focus and keyword groups.
  • Content performance.
  • Competitors’ insights.
  • Major updates that affected the campaign (if applicable).
  • Technical insights and recommendations.
  • SEO opportunities.

Then, you’ll have a good foundation that you can go on personalizing for each client.

After all, as each SEO campaign has its particularities, you need to make sure you report on the client’s specific requests.

Too Much Data, Not Enough Explanations

Apart from long or unbalanced documents, another reason for clients skipping on reading the monthly reports can be data-heavy documents, with lists upon lists of keywords and complex graphics that aren’t self-explanatory for a non-SEO specialist.

Sometimes you might work with in-house SEO professionals, but most of the time it will be a stakeholder that is interested in reaching their business goals, so they need to talk business. And even if you’re the extension of the in-house SEO and digital marketing team, they still need to justify the ROI of collaborating with your agency.

In the end, highlighting how you influenced marketing leads and sales is much more important than going into the nitty-gritty of rankings and traffic.

Want more time to focus on what matters? Then think about ways to automate data gathering.

Instead of spending multiple hours in your SEO tools, copying charts, making screenshots, and searching for the most relevant insights, optimize for time and integrate these actions into your daily routines.

For instance, with a reporting module like SEOmonitor’s, you get an assistant in the form of a Google Slides add-on that surfaces the critical insights from your campaign – that you can insert with a click. Those insights are transformed into visually appealing slides, within your predesignated agency template.

You get to focus on what matters – explaining the metrics behind your actions, how the strategy evolved, and what’s next for the client’s business.

Inconsistent Reporting Frequency

Was it supposed to be monthly? Or did you agree on a custom period?

Not getting the timing right and in alignment with your client can be another reason why reports pile up in the unread file.

Having a set frequency, which is usually month by month, helps both from a process point of view and as a ground for calibration with the client’s team.

To make sure you send your reports on time, you can use a project management tool or, again, your internal agency dashboard. Having a support system with nudges and alerts, via email, Slack or something else, keeps you on schedule.

Don’t forget to set your notifications beforehand for preparation – compounding the insights and creating the document itself. Also, you may think about the roles involved in the reporting process from the start, so you coordinate with all the team members in due time.

Unmet Expectations

There may be unmet expectations on both sides: your team made some important SEO recommendations that the client hasn’t implemented, the client expected to see a different outcome.

Returning full circle to the crucial part of alignment and expectations setting, there’s also one final aspect to take into account: communicating why it’s important to receive the report beforehand and read it.

It can work as agenda-setting for the last step in the reporting process – presenting it.

It’s also in the monthly meeting or call that you get to clarify, explain, and make recommendations while presenting the journey so far.

It can even be an opportunity to recalibrate the relationship with a silent client. It’s not the unread report per se that needs solving, but the way you both communicate.

Maybe it’s time to rehash what you both agreed during onboarding or maybe it’s time for a new approach that benefits both sides.

All in all, having the same foundation for this discussion raises its efficiency. You and the client can now focus on campaign fine-tuning and strategic talk because you know where you’re standing, the questions that need urgent answers, and can infer the next steps.

Ways to Optimize Your Reporting Process

Creating an efficient reporting process for your agency is important because, to a certain degree, reporting is retention.

Being able to articulate how your monthly activities and SEO interventions are improving business results will not only be beneficial for your client’s trust, but also for their continued collaboration.

In brief, here are the main things to consider when designing that reporting process:

  • Establishing the rules of reporting and clearly communicating them to the client in the onboarding phase.
  • Having a set internal process for how you approach reporting and its strategic objective.
  • Create a visually appealing monthly report to use across the agency, that showcases your approach and the most relevant SEO insights: SEO actions, visibility status, keyword groups, and their performance, competitors insights, SEO issues and opportunities, and next steps.
  • Automating data gathering so you have time to focus on what matters: strategy, tactics, and explaining what happened in order to translate SEO interventions to business results.
  • Creating a transparent process and gathering feedback. Your reports and meetings are a great opportunity to take the pulse of your clients and find out what you can optimize. For the sake of transparency, you should offer your clients the context to give you feedback and ask burning questions.

Our team at SEOmonitor researched this process through and through, and after gathering insights from SEO agencies, designed a reporting module that takes into account all the aspects above, so you don’t have to struggle.

You get:

  • An overview of your reports’ status at the portfolio level.
  • The status of a client’s report at each stage of the process (Due, Overdue, Submitted, In Progress), in your account manager dashboard.
  • A builder that leverages your campaign data from SEOmonitor into Google Slides – our smart assistant pulls the most relevant insights from each campaign that you can click and insert in your agency template in seconds. Plus, we’ll generate visually consistent graphs and charts that are easy to follow.
  • A feedback tracker for each monthly report that highlights engagement data: the most engaged slides, the most liked slides, and the client’s overall satisfaction, collected at the best possible moment – just after reading your report.
  • Reporting doesn’t have to be a painful or time-consuming experience for your team. And it can be significant for supporting client communications.

By: SEOMonitor

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Building The Customer First Mindset

Agile is often thought of as a process when it’s really a mind-set (supported by processes, of course). Yes, it’s about testing and learning, and new ways of working, but at the heart of agile is the determination to provide the customer with something she or he wants or needs. That’s the point. Enshrining this principle across the business provides a consistent point of reference. But while almost every company will claim to be “customer first,” a closer look under the hood often reveals that internal efficiency or profit rather than customer need is the true driving force.

An agile mind-set starts from the premise that everyone is responsible for the customer, be it the CEO who determines the business strategy, the salesperson directly serving the customer, or the data scientist developing analytics platforms. You will only be able to embed agile ways of working once this becomes a core value, providing cohesion and purpose. This isn’t about doing your job better; it’s about serving the customer better.

The way a true customer-first ethos comes to life is through design—the process of integrating the customer point of view into all development.

This is much more than gathering insights or building elegant websites. It’s about building an adaptive learning process around the customer for everything the company does.

Getting design right is worth a lot. Companies in the top quartile of the McKinsey Design Index, which rates companies by how strong they are at design, outperformed peers in their sector in terms of growth by as much as two to one.

Here are two of the most important things the winning companies do:

1. They Make Huge Efforts To Know The Customer

A design approach requires solid customer insights to understand the real needs of potential users. Yet only around half the companies McKinsey surveyed conducted user research before generating their first design ideas or specifications.

One international pizza chain wanted to improve home delivery, a crowded market where consumers were already spoiled for choice. Data analysis revealed that one of the biggest drivers of customer satisfaction was how hot the delivered pizza was. This fact led the business to invest in “Intelligent Kitchen” technology, which determines when orders are baked based on the delivery address, driver availability, and current location, as well as road conditions to ensure the customer got a piping hot pizza. This approach grew overall sales 7 percent in the first  year, and more in the years following.

The best results come from constantly blending both quantitative and qualitative research. One top team invites customers to its regular monthly meeting solely to discuss the merits of its products and services.

And the CEO of one of the world’s largest banks spends a day a month with the bank’s clients and encourages all members of the C-suite to do the same.

2. They Continuously Improve With Customer Feedback

Continuous improvement is key to success for a digital transformation. This is the raw learning capability. You can see it in companies that foster a culture of sharing early prototypes with outsiders and discouraging excessive time spent on mock-ups or internal presentations. Despite the value of iteration, however, almost 60 percent of companies in our survey said they used prototypes only for internal-production testing, and even then, only late in the development process.

New technologies allow companies to uncover insights and test products in a dramatically faster way than traditional market research or focus groups. Digital marketing teams can convene online customer panels using video chats and watch as the panels test products and provide feedback in real time. One insurer created digital diaries to help identify customer pain points that would previously have gone undetected.

Similarly, digital companies can quickly A/B test new products and campaigns with thousands of customers in hours or days.

Agile Defined


Agile isn’t just a process. It’s a mind-set that puts customer objectives first. Team autonomy works best with guiding principles about what needs to be done and why.

Agile coaches are necessary to train people to learn new skills fast—leaders included.

Agile budgeting helps scale agile by quickly allocating money to projects.

Agile ways of working can’t take hold unless they are supported by stable processes.

Design thinking is the commitment to completely understanding your customer.

Contributed to BSI By: Arun Arora, Peter Dahlstrom, Klemens Hjartar, and Floria Wunderlich. Excerpted from their book Fast Times: How Digital Winners Set Direction, Learn, and Adapt (Amazon Publishing)

The Blake Project Can Help You Create A Brighter Competitive Future In The Jobs To Be Done Workshop

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

By: Arun Arora

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Shep Hyken: Customer Service & CX Expert

Go to http://www.TheCustomerFocus.com or call 314-692-2200 to learn more about Shep Hyken or to learn about customer service training. Your people attend customer service training. They learn techniques and tactics on how to deal with complaining customers, angry customers or customers who just need a little support. They are taught the right answers to some difficult questions. This is what customer service training is all about. But… What happens when something happens that is outside of the parameters of the training your employees have received?

Why Customer Engagement Should Be Every Business’s Top Priority in 2020

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Everyone’s talking about customer engagement — but why is it so important, and what does it really mean? How does customer engagement look in action, when you’re a business trying to connect with your customers today?

We already know a lot about the customer journey — how it’s made up of numerous touch points, from search to purchase to post-purchase support. And we know that providing a good customer experience at each of those touch points is critical to building and maintaining a solid reputation for your brand. But customer engagement is often overlooked, even though it’s critical to nudging customers along their journey.

Customer Engagement Impacts Profitability

Customer engagement is about inspiring your customers to interact with your brand and willingly take part in the experiences you’re creating for them. If you do it right, you’ll grow your brand and build customer loyalty — and, in turn, drive revenue.

In fact, there’s a direct and proven correlation between the level of customer engagement and business profitability. A study by Constellation Research reported that companies who improve engagement can increase cross-sell revenue by 22 percent, up-sell revenue by 38 percent and order size by 5 to 85 percent. Reputation.com research backs up these findings —  a high rate of customer engagement increases Reputation Score, and we’ve found direct links between high Scores and revenue in multiple industries, including Automotive and Healthcare.

Today In: Small Business

Despite the immense financial impact engaging with customers can have, some companies are still not doing it.

Case in Point: Retail

In the recently released Retail Reputation Report, data scientists at Reputaiton.com found that most retailers simply don’t respond to reviews — particularly negative ones. Think about the message that sends! I’m a customer who’s had a bad experience with a business, so I do the only constructive thing I can do to express my frustration: I write a review.

Probably like most consumers, I assume the business will care if I have had a negative experience and try to fix it. If they do, they’re better off. If they don’t, I might be left feeling like they simply don’t care what kind of experience I’ve had. Am I likely to buy products from that business again? Well, much less likely, right? And if I do, I’m not going to feel good about it. I may tell my friends I dislike that business, and they’ll probably avoid it in the future, too. Perhaps most importantly, I will almost certainly not say GOOD things about the business to my friends.

When someone takes time to leave a review — good or (especially) bad — it’s the ideal time to engage. We all get this, but surprisingly, the average response rate to negative reviews among leading retailers is just 2 percent. It’s no wonder Amazon is eating away at retailers’ market share, with their frictionless shopping experience and infinite inventory.

Now let’s consider a brand who does a good job of engaging with customers. Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack scored exceptionally high for engagement, compared to many other retailers (61% and 79% respectively). That’s because they place a premium on delivering exceptional service and ensuring their customers are happy and engaged. And maybe that’s one of the reasons that, while many retailers are struggling to keep their doors open, Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack are still reporting strong profits.

Investing In Customer Experience Is a Huge Lever for Revenue

The power of engaging and connecting with customers isn’t limited to the B2C world. According to Econsultancy’s Annual Digital Trends report, B2B companies identify customer experience — the product of meaningful customer engagement — as the single most exciting opportunity for 2020.

Temkin Group reports that companies that earn $1 billion annually can earn $775 million more within three years of investing in customer experience with “modest” results. The report found that to be true across industries, with software companies earning the most ($1 billion over three years). Success, effort and emotion, according to the report, were the three factors impacting customer loyalty, and an improvement in emotion increases loyalty more than any other factor. A meaningful customer engagement is the best way to stir up the positive emotions that keep customers coming back.

Take a Walk In Your Customer’s Shoes

So how do you connect with customers on an emotional level and improve customer engagement? Here are a few starting points:

  • Analyze the customer journey. How else can you know what the customer’s experience with your brand or locations is like? Take their journey, and take note of and sticking points or frustrating interactions. Are the emails you’re sending helpful and informative, or intrusive and self-serving? Are your locations easy to get to and welcoming? Is your staff friendly and professional? Do you follow up after customer interactions and respond to reviews? Every one of these customer touchpoints presents an opportunity for engaging with your customers in a mutually beneficial way. Make sure you’re doing that, and if you’re not, it’s time to start.
  • Listen to what customers say about you. Today’s customers are vocal, and it’s easy to find feedback on Google, Facebook, G2 and other review sites. You should also invest in social media management, so you can actively monitor social commentary and reviews as they come in — 42% of customers expect a response within 60 minutes, and a delayed response is almost as bad as no response.
  • Deliver seamless omnichannel experiences. If you analyze the customer journey properly, you’ll find brand interactions occur across many channels — search results, emails, websites, physical locations and even text. Make sure to deliver a consistent and pleasant experience every time you engage with your customer, regardless of channel. One bad or confusing interaction can ruin the opportunity to engage effectively, and could even begin to break down the trust and loyalty you’ve invested in building.
  • Pay attention to all factors that comprise your Reputation Score. Increasingly, brands are turning to Reputation Score as the most accurate measurement of customer experience. It’s more thorough than NPS, because it takes into account all the factors affecting your reputation. A critical component of the score is engagement, as measured by your brand’s performance across every customer touch point. Knowing and monitoring your Reputation Score is an essential step to mastering the art  — and reaping the benefits — of customer engagement.

Don’t Force It

An important thing to remember is you can’t force your customers to engage with you. As HubSpot’s Paul Greenberg said, “Customer engagement is the ongoing interactions between company and customer, offered by the company, chosen by the customer.” The customer decides how to interact and engage — you can only create the opportunities, and ensure that your diligent effort and reputation inspire people to take action.

Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website.

I’m the Founder and Chairman of Reputation.com. I started my business because digital privacy, Big Data and online reputation are issues that impact everyone from individuals to massive corporations. People should be the center of the Internet machine – not cogs in its wheel. More empowerment online, not less, not what we have now. Follow me @michaelfertik.

Source:https://www.forbes.com

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Session recording from Industry Preview 2018. Session abstract: Salesforce Marketing Cloud Chief Strategy Officer, Jon Suarez-Davis (“JSD”) keynotes an engaging session drawing upon real life examples from working with some of the world’s biggest brands, shares Salesforce’s vision for the future of marketing, and makes some predictions about what’s coming next.

Why Your Customers Should Be Central To Your Innovation Efforts

There’s a big mistake that a lot of companies make. It’s one that until a few years ago was common in my own organization, and it stems from a worthy goal: to boost innovation. The mistake is adopting what I call the “science fair” mentality: encouraging employees throughout the organization to innovate freely but without much, if any, direct contact with the very customers these innovations are intended for.

Unconstrained innovation sounds exciting, like the sort of thing startups do. But the truth is that successful startups actually don’t do that, because they know that innovation without a framework rarely leads to business success. It does lead to inventions that are impressive and creative, but they ultimately prove impractical or irrelevant for driving business growth.

How, then, can you get employees to innovate products and services that actually improve the performance of your business? The answer is by creating a structure that involves your customers, from an early stage, in your innovation efforts.

Focusing on the customer (for real)

It’s a rare company these days that doesn’t claim to put its customers first. It’s also a rare company that doesn’t do market research. But what is exceptional is a company with a framework to channel innovative energies so that they solve customer pain points and result in a commercial outcome the market will pay for.

Getting employees to innovate products and services that improve the performance of your business requires a structure that involves customers, from an early stage, in your innovation efforts.

Building this framework does not mean stifling creative energies under a heavy layer of bureaucracy. Rather, it means making sure that the innovation responds to customer needs and has the flexibility to evolve as you better understand those needs.

For instance, one of the projects I lead at PwC, the Global Innovation Challenge, could be a model for your organization. Invite employees from around your network, from all disciplines, to submit early-stage, technology-enabled business solutions. But require that before a team can enter the contest, it must include examples of marketplace interest — not just an explanation of how (and how soon) the project will meet specific client needs, but also feedback from potential or actual clients on a prototype or pilot.

Internal incubators are also ways you can create ongoing feedback loops with the marketplace. Multiple customer and third-party interviews and growing signs of market interest are required for a project to receive and keep funding from these groups. As you assess the customers’ feedback, the teams make changes in line with the customers’ needs — and if the market response isn’t promising, you pull the plug.

Four steps to make customers your innovation partners

No part of this process is improvised: Criteria and milestones are critical, including a framework that ensures that the customers are guiding the innovation. To take just one example, before PwC New Ventures, an internal software-as-a-service incubator, releases the first round of funding for a project, it needs to see at least 20 interviews with customers. Indeed, many projects have more than 100 interviews over the development period.

Here are some ideas to get that innovation-guiding framework started:

1. Get specific. It’s not enough to say “talk to customers” or “research the market.” Set specific criteria for the quantity and quality of customer interviews.

2. Set milestones. Even after you’ve made the decision to invest in an innovative project, continue to check not just technical progress, but also customer feedback, on a regular basis.

3. Offer expert guidance. Brilliant technical minds aren’t always brilliant at interacting with customers. Assign a person or team to train technical people on customer outreach, and to do the outreach directly when needed.

4. Set procedures to react. Ensure that the team has the time and the processes to reflect on market feedback and adjust design appropriately. Be ready, if the feedback is poor, to terminate the project and reallocate resources.

What happens when you listen

A team at PwC recently developed a new tool for franchise owners designed to quickly, easily, and digitally market their stores. The team planned to make this digital platform the core feature of a new product.

Following our framework — and our core principle of customer-driven innovation — PwC team members reached out to customers. Listening to the franchise owners, the team learned that one of their top priorities was to support their customers, the franchisees. So the team members went back to work, adding components that the owners could use to help franchisees reach their end-users. The resulting product that was introduced to the marketplace attempted to solve problems for our clients while enabling them to solve problems for their clients.

The result of listening with empathy and emotional intelligence is that you will be able to not just mostly fulfill a customer’s needs but truly fulfill them, which is usually the difference between that customer ultimately buying or not buying your product.

Another big benefit of really listening is stronger customer relationships. After frequent interactions with your design teams to ensure that the final product will meet your customers’ needs, these customers start to view your people as partners and friends. And frequently, customers discover needs — which your new product or service can meet — that they didn’t even know they had.

If your innovation efforts are to truly add value to your business, customer-centricity will have to be more than a motto. It will have to be a framework to turn your customers into your innovation partners. The insights they bring will make all the difference in ensuring that the product not only solves their problems, but also provides an exceptional experience they’ll keep coming back for.

Vicki Huff By: Vicki Huff

Source: Why your customers should be central to your innovation efforts

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