According to Gallup, only 29% of B2B customers are engaged with the Companies they do business with.
Let that sink in. That means 71% of your customers are likely not committed to sticking with your company or, even worse, are actively seeking to move their business elsewhere.
This problem is not new. Too many companies ignore the voice of the customer, blast cookie-cutter emails to all the names in their marketing spreadsheets, and lack the right survey and interview tools to gauge the health of their customer relationships.
Customers expect the companies they do business with to understand them as individuals and connect with them in ways that are valuable. Doing this in the age of big data is more complicated and competitive than ever, requiring a thoughtful approach. Companies need a strategy focused on the future growth of the relationship as well as the bottom-line value for both parties. They need ongoing, two-way interactions and a willingness to invest in listening, to get personal, and to create a shared vision for success.
Here are four elements of strong, lasting customer engagement.
Ask Yourself the Right Questions
Strategic customer relationships require thoughtful interactions, which start with companies asking themselves the right questions. These include:
- How well do we know our customers as individuals?
- How do our customers want to interact with us?
- What do we know about their challenges, priorities, and needs?
- How and where are we interacting with customers today, and how can we make those interactions more valuable to them?
- Are our customers committed to us, or could they move to our competitors without much difficulty?
You’ll find the basic answers to these questions in your data, but more insight will come from the conversations you have with customers. Their answers will inform where you should double down, whom you should target for which type of engagement, and where there may be gaps in your approach.
With our clients, we’ve found that a 30-minute call — clearly defined as a strategy discussion rather than a sales call — is a good place to begin gathering these answers. The discussion should be focused on the client’s top strategic areas, whether those areas are related to your business and offerings or not.
Understand Customers as People
Part of knowing your customers as individuals requires understanding them both digitally and offline. The customer you talk to on the phone is slightly different from the one you encounter on social media or through email; no channel gives a full picture. Look for opportunities to learn more about the client’s professional interests and goals. If you know what the client hopes to accomplish, you can find ways to help them do it.
For example, at IBM, if we know a client is trying to advance their efforts with analytics, we can connect them to our analytics work to help them build their expertise. This method can be used by companies of all sizes in all industries. It’s about understanding what matters most to the customer and providing a way for them to attain it, through either your company or your connections. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be about something you sell.
Align the Entire Organization Around Client Engagement
Every organization has a degree of client engagement, especially in client-facing roles, such as marketing and sales. But the whole organization must be focused on delivering value to customers at every touchpoint, including UX design, customer support, and the C-suite. How do you do it?
- Align cross-functional teams to specific customer-experience goals that give them a common purpose.
- Define metrics that are focused on customer experience — Net Promoter Score is one, but they can be even closer to the customer. Invite a small group of customers to help you define your success metrics.
- Empower teams to take action on what they have learned about the customer experience. Give the cross-functional group the power to change things as needed.
- Talk to customers. All too often we make assumptions about what the client wants or what the problem really is. Engage a few customers throughout and use their feedback to break down any silos in your company.
At IBM, this focus on the customer and client engagement comes from all levels in the organization. We build cross-functional teams focused on customer needs and have a defined client engagement model, led by a senior leader, to ensure that all parts of the organization are aligned around the customer’s goals. In many ways, the customer serves as a simplification principle for helping us align around the right set of goals at the right time.
Create Customer Advisory Boards
Customer Advisory Boards are a powerful way to engage clients and advance the relationship on both sides. They offer a forum for identifying what reciprocal value looks like, understanding your customers as unique individuals, and creating a future together. Advisory Board Members can even become your best advocates.
We use customer advisory boards to hear from senior executives at our client companies, who can advise us on their businesses and share important insights on their challenges and priorities. We have received valuable input on our business strategy and go-to-market approaches, strengthening our relationships with the advisory board members in the process. Additionally, the board members help us figure out where our clients are going and how we can help them get there.
Using these four strategies can help companies keep their customers engaged, which ultimately means more value for both the vendor and the customer.