5 Ways to Activate Your Customers

October 28, 2009

It seems that it is a commonly held belief that a highly satisfied customer is one of the strongest marketing assets a business can have.

Despite this accepted assertion, I have recently been in contact with a surprisingly large number of businesses that haven’t given any thought to how they can leverage this asset.  These businesses have been hoping that word of mouth will be an inexpensive, effortless method for growing sales and their customer base.  To a degree, they are right; positive word of mouth will help.  But they could grow so much more if they thought about how to activate their satisfied customers.

What I mean by activating customers is very simple:  motivating customers and giving them tools to enable them to spread a brand’s message easily and authentically.  Customers generally like to share information that they acquire through their experiences with products/services and brands.  By activating this inclination, a business has a greater chance of having customers share their experiences with others and spreading the news or information that the business wants them to pass along.

There are many ways to activate customers.  Some of these are unique to certain industries, business models, or customer segments. However, below are a few ideas that should be applicable to most businesses.  None of these has to be complex or expensive, but these suggestions do require some thought, planning, ongoing management, and measurement to have the greatest impact.  Take a read through these to help spark some ideas on the best ways to activate your customers.

5 Activation ideas

  1. Create a program to formally recognize your best customers. Acknowledge and thank them for being good customers.  Make them feel valued and appreciated with special offers, ‘sneak peaks’ of new offerings, etc.  These customers will feel more loyal, and hopefully so special that they can’t help but tell their friend about their special treatment and great relationship they have with your business.
  2. Give your customers a voice and solicit their ideas and opinions in low or high tech ways. The medium isn’t as important as the act of listening to your customers.  The important aspects of this are that you can ask your customers what they think, give them a chance to respond, and consider their responses in the future to improve your products, services, or overall customer experience.  These things can be accomplished through social media tools, but they can also be accomplished through face to face discussions, phone conversations, focus groups, customer events, and other outlets.  The medium you choose really should be driven by your customers’ preferences.
  3. Keep your customers informed. Whether it is a new product launch or your next tradeshow appearance, ensure your customers are ‘in the know’ so that they can anticipate their next experience with your brand.  By keeping them updated on a regular basis on your news (such as through a newsletter, email, or blog), you can stay top of mind with them and further help them spread your news to other potential customers.
  4. Arm your customers with exclusive ‘marketing materials’. Ideally, this would be something that they can use in their daily lives, but that also happens to tell your brand’s story for you when they use it around others.  These ‘marketing materials’ could be product samples, special catalogs, or any other collateral that customers would find useful and better yet, would be proud to share with their friends because it is so unique or exclusive, and it has made them feel special by receiving it.
  5. Implement a ‘tell a friend’ referral program. For every person a customer refers to you resulting in a strong lead or a sale, give a ‘thank you’ in some form to the referring customer.  There are two things about the referral program that are very important.  First of all, the thank you has to be sincere.  The customer should believe that you really are thankful.  Secondly, the program should motivate the customer to continue to refer people to your brand.  This motivation typically means rewarding the customer in a way that is meaningful and valuable to them.  The hardest part about this is figuring out what that is (and this is where you refer back to #2).

I hope that these ideas encourage you to think about the ways that you are activating your customers currently and inspire you to develop some additional methods you can give to your satisfied customers to leverage.  And if you have some other suggestions of ways to activate your customers, please share them.  They would be much appreciated!


Four Marketing Lessons I Learned on Summer Vacation

August 31, 2009

As some of you may know, I had the luxury of taking a vacation a few weeks ago.  My vacations are very rarely of the relaxing kind.  I am someone who has a hard time sitting still, and so my vacations are generally full of activities.  This vacation was no exception as I spent a week at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York state.

While on my trip, I had the opportunity to hear some very inspiring speakers including Daniel Pink, Anna Deavere Smith, and George Kembel talk about their perspectives on creativity and innovation.  I heard several ideas during the week that made me think that if only I had learned these things when I was still working in marketing for larger organizations, I would have done things differently, and perhaps would have generated far better, more creative work.  Because I think that these ideas have important implications for marketing, and business in general, I thought I would highlight a few for you — just in case you didn’t get a chance to take your own summer vacation.

What I learned on summer vacation:

  1. Rewards don’t work well when creativity is required.  This idea was championed by Daniel Pink who cited study after study that showed that contingent motivators (if you do this, I’ll give you that) do not spawn greater creativity.  Contingent motivators do work well for processes or routines, but they actually limit creative thinking.  Therefore, organizations that try to motivate their employees to develop new products or innovations through things like bonuses or promotions, are not going to get the best creative thinking out of their people.  The rewards change the focus to achieving a goal and become a distraction. 
  2. Self direction leads to engagement (which in turn leads to creative thinking).  If  contingent rewards don’t work to generate creative thinking, what does?  According to Daniel Pink, as long as people are compensated adequately and fairly, one successful motivator is  autonomy or self direction.  Giving individuals the ability to direct how, where, when, and what they work on leads to higher overall engagement and therefore more creative thinking.  I can speak to this first hand.  Since I have begun to run my own business, I have noticed a real increase in my passion for my work.   Now that I choose when, where, and what I work on, my productivity and creativity are higher than they were when I did not have this autonomy.  I realize that it isn’t realistic for companies to allow employees to only work on what the employees want to work on all of the time, but why not some of the time?  Why not start with setting aside one day where everyone gets to work on anything they want for the whole day, with the understanding that at the end of the day, everyone has to show what he did.  Why not see what ideas are uncovered?  FedEx does this once a month.  Why not at least give it a try?
  3. Empathy gives meaning to your work, which is motivating.  Most people who have taken a marketing class know that understanding a customer’s needs is critical to successfully marketing a product.  However, it fascinates me how many people skip over the step that they need to follow to really understand their customer’s needs.  There are a lot of organizations that consider research to be a ‘nice to have’, and most of them don’t think that they have the time or resources to invest in understanding their customer, so they decide to work off of a hunch.  While I understand why they do this, this approach is flawed.  As George Kembel explained, research gives marketers the opportunity to truly empathize with their customer and really understand their customer’s needs.  If they can walk in their customer’s shoes, they more acutely ‘feel their customer’s pain’ so to speak, and therefore have a greater motivation to think creatively to resolve the ‘pain’ or need.
  4. The power of the words ‘thank you’ should be leveraged more often.  Okay.  This idea was not one I picked up from the speakers.  This was one that struck me on my flight to my vacation destination.  I was sincerely thanked twice by the flight attendants at Continental Airlines for switching my seat by two rows on the plane so that a family could sit together.  The action took very little for me to do, but I felt like a rockstar as far as the flight attendants were concerned because they were so grateful.  This experience got me to thinking about how organizations really miss the opportunity to make their customers feel very special (and increase their loyalty), just by authentically thanking them for giving their business.  It doesn’t take much as long as it is sincere and personal.  Do you have a process or program for thanking your customers?  What about the ones who not only give you business, but who help build your brand for you (i.e. by positive word of mouth, referrals, feedback, etc.)?  If not, perhaps it is something you should consider.

So those were my big ‘a-ha’s from my vacation.  What about you?  Do these spur any additional thoughts or ideas?  Or did your own vacation generate some ideas you’d like to share?  I’d love to hear from you.