Yes, You Have a Customer Diplomacy Problem
The Ten Tenets of the Customer Diplomacy Movement
As business owners and leaders, we know that our customers are the lifeblood of our companies. Without them, we wouldn’t exist. When customers leave us for our competitors, express dissatisfaction, or want to see a change in our products or services, we should set out to understand why. But, why wait until then? If we do, it may be too late. We should proactively seek to deeply understand our customers’ needs, and not wait until a business challenge occurs to get to know them.
The Problem: Not Realizing There is a Problem
In our experience working on behalf of dozens of companies at Avenue Group, we have found that most business leaders do not focus sufficiently on understanding what makes their customers tick. And the few who do focus on customer feedback tend to do a superficial job of it.
Why is this the case? Customer research seems so easy: get a sample of customers, ask them a bunch of questions, analyze their responses, and, poof… insights! Except, it’s not that simple. If your organization thinks it’s easy, you’re likely not doing it correctly. Disregarding the complexity of this issue will lead to the loss of valuable information that would not only improve customer satisfaction but increase company revenue and profit.
The Concept of “Customer Diplomacy”
We have conducted thousands of customer interviews and hundreds of quantitative surveys for dozens of companies, from startups to some of the largest companies in the world. We have found that both the companies and the market research firms that they hire ignore a very important concept: Customer Diplomacy.
Customer Diplomacy is the careful, balanced partnership that a business creates with its customers to develop information that helps both the business and its customers.
Unless you have an extraordinarily small, local business, your customers are not your friends. They are not your enemies. At the heart of the company-customer relationship is a transactional component: your customers provide you money in exchange for a product or service. We want to move the relationship to a place that is emotionally-positive and robust. However, at its core the relationship is transactional. This means that one miscue might tick off your customers, whereas one positive move can lock your customers in for life.
Diplomacy is critical to converting a transactional relationship into a deeper one, and, for maintaining and deepening the relationship further.
The 10 Key Principles of Customer Diplomacy
- Listen to Your Customers: There are many channels you can use to learn about your customers, including online questionnaires, net promoter score (NPS) surveys, focus groups, phone interviews, and anthropological observation.
- Make a Commitment to Learning: Don’t just go through the motions. If customers are telling you something, consider that smoke and not always fire. It is not a customer’s job to know what she wants. It’s your job to figure out what she wants based on the information she provides. Dig deep and move beyond the superficial to truly understand your customers. Your customers are a diverse group of human beings. Their preferences, which are not always clear, are constantly evolving. They react to a changing relationship with your company and your market.
- Be Thoughtful and Deliberate: Approach your customer-learning activities as you would any important business effort. Take time to think about exactly what you want to learn, what language to use in the questions asked, and the best forum for acquiring this information.
- Show Humility: You may not know your customers as well as you think. Approach every interaction with an open mind. We find that when CEOs talk with – and listen to – their customers, they always learn something new and important.
- Focus on Actionable Information: While it can be tempting to throw dozens of questions at your customers and explore every nook and cranny, the purpose is to extract information that is useful for the business. Try to avoid questions that veer away from the needs of your customers and the ability of the company to address them. Focus your efforts on your goals and avoid getting side-tracked with “interesting” information that will not be actionable.
- Qualitative Before Quantitative: We often think we know precisely what questions to ask. This overconfidence can lead us to push out a quantitative survey so that we can quickly get data. This is a mistake. Data alone will not drive decision-making. Rather, a clear story with supporting logic is essential. We always start our research with a qualitative study, such as a series of phone interviews, to determine which hot spot topics to drill down, as well as what language resonates best.
- Ask Questions in an Open Way: If you don’t know with absolute certainty the answer to a question, ask it as an open-ended question. We suggest starting qualitative interviews in as open as way as possible, without any preconceived assumptions about how the customers will respond. For example, start with a broad question, such as, “how do you feel about [company x]?” Adapt as you learn.
- Be Transparent: Be very clear about why you’re asking for input. We find that many consumers happy to offer feedback, feeling deeply appreciated when companies show that they are truly listening. In fact, the act of engaging with customers to get to know them better will improve their relationship with the company. We worked with a client that reached out to customers with one-star Amazon product reviews. Many customers changed the review to a four- or five-star rating just because of the company interaction.
- Use a Trusted Third Party: Ideally, the individual(s) charged with developing customer insights should not have any skin in the game with respect to the business. An independent person or group is better positioned to extract objective information and interpret it with minimal bias. Caution: do not hire a traditional research firm to do this. Ensure that whoever leads the efforts truly understands your business as well as how to conduct research.
- Make the Output Useful: The output of customer insights work is often lost in a long and convoluted report, and not integrated into the day to day operations of the business. Aim to identify the top three to five insights from the research. Less is more. Remember that the information must be consumable and shared in a way that will be effective for your organization.
At Avenue Group, we have found that using these principles of Customer Diplomacy helps companies across all industries become more effective. You may be tempted to rely on blasting out a survey to your website visitors or perusing your company’s ratings and reviews on sites like Yelp or Amazon. Doing so while ignoring the tenets of Customer Diplomacy may be the easy way out but will not lead to your company’s success in the long run.
Don’t listen passively to your customers. Start conversations that unpack their complex, in-depth needs to uncover ideas you had not yet considered. Become a Customer Diplomat.
This article was written by Avenue Group Founder Jeremy Greenberg.