What Is The Access To Cultivating Customer Engagement and Customer Relationships?

My eldest son is in the process of buying a car, his first car.  He knows his budget (£6,0000. He knows the make and model of the car (Ford Fiesta).  Given this he knows that he will buy a used car – couple of years old.  His goal is to have this car in place by the end of this month.  His challenge is that he has never bought a car before.

What comes with this goal and challenge?  Concern. What is he concerned about?  He is concerned that he will get it wrong: that he will buy the wrong car – it is not sound; and or that he will pay too much for the car.  What does he want?  He wants help: he wants someone he can count on, who has his best interests at heart, to take the problem off his hands.  So he turned to me.

I have no experience in buying cars. My youngest brother is into cars, has bought-sold many cars, and so I have used his services.  So when my son asked me for help, I found myself telling him that I was not in a position to help him.  This was his reply:

“You’re not any help, are you!” 

It is the way that he said this that got my attention.  It was a voice of mild anger and strong disappointment.  Why?  Is relationship missing?  No, we have a strong relationship and this has been the case since his birth. Is engagement missing? No, we are engaged in each others lives – sometimes more than I’d like it to be and other times less than I’d like it to be.

Reflecting on that which occurred it hit me that we value those who show up as useful to us given our circumstances and the ‘projects’ we are grappling with.  Put differently, if you show up as useful to me then I am open to entering into a conversation with you. And through a series of conversations-interactions a relationship emerges.

Looked at this way, it hits me that all the talk of, and focus, on generating customer engagement and building customer relationships through a variety of tips, tricks and technology is misplaced.  It is misplaced. It is foolish. It is a red herring – distracting from that which matters.

So where should our focus be? On usefulness! It is when we show up as useful that the gate towards conversation and thus engagement opens.  It is only when mutual usefulness is present, does trading occur.  And it is on the basis of the repeated conversations-interactions-trading that a relationship emerges. Consider that when someone no longer ‘shows up as useful’ and they want to engage with you, have a relationship with you, they show up as clingy-needy. What is it that almost all of us do when this occurs?  We distance ourselves from these people. Why?  The simply do not show up as useful to us given our circumstances and our ‘projects’.

Please note that it is not enough to be useful as in have a useful product, service or solution.  It is necessary that one ‘shows up as useful’ to those whom we wish to trade with.  That means that an essential task is to cultivate awareness of our usefulness – to all who matter.  This was brought home to me in a recent conversation when the lady at the table said something to the effect “Where were you three months ago?  Why haven’t I heard of you? You should make sure you are on the Gartner report.”

In 25+ years of business life, I can only remember a handful of conversations where the people who matter in organisational life (Tops, Middles) grappled seriously with the question of usefulness: how can we be useful and show up as useful in the lives of our customers?

 

How USEFUL are you to your customers?

Take a look at your business through SD Logic

If you use the Service Dominant Logic lens (as opposed to a good dominant logic) it opens up a new way of looking at the interaction/interface between your business and the Customer.  The key aspects of the Services Dominant Logic (for me) are:

  • the Customer approaches your business because he/she has a job (something to do) and an outcome (the desired end state) in mind;
  • the products and/or solutions you sell are better thought of as services your provide to help the Customer get the job done and achieve her desired end state.

SDLogic gives rise to the question: how useful am I to the Customer?

If you look more deeply into this you are likely to see that a key question arises: how USEFUL are you and your products/services/solutions to the customer in terms of the job he has in mind and the outcome/s she wants?   It seems to me that many are attracted to all manner of toys’ and yet few are focussed in excelling at being USEFUL to the customer across the customer journey.  I would go further and say that what I find most stunning given the whole thing around customer-centricity, customer focus, customer obsession is the lack of conversation around the following questions:

  1. What phenomena (devices, environment, cues, messages, touchpoints…) would have to be present for us to show up as USEFUL in the Customer’s world?
  2. How useful are we?  Where do we excel?  Where do we fall short?  (As viewed through the Customer’s eyes)
  3. What is present that needs to be taken out to be useful?
  4. What is missing the presence of which would make us useful – as viewed through Customer eyes?

Why USEFULNESS matters

It is 3am in the morning as I get up and get ready to drive my eldest to Gatwick Airport so that he can catch is 7am flight to France.  By 3:45 I have walked up to the top of the hill where I parked the car last night and have filled the boot with shovels, supplies (food, drinks, blankets, torch…) and luggage.  I have also dislodged all the snow sitting on all the windows – overnight we got some 15cm of snow as predicted.  At 3:50 we set-off.  This is journey that should only take about 50 minutes and I know that it is going to take at least twice that long: the snow covers the roads and pavements like a thick blanket and so I am driving around  15 mph.  Finally, we make it to the motorway and we are travelling between 40 mph and 60 mph.   Not great but it is ok as I had allowed for this: when you have done enough big projects and programmes then identifying risks and coming up with contingency plans becomes second nature.

It is now 4:45 and we are only half an hour away from Gatwick Airport.  There is one problem – the motorway ahead is closed and so I need to figure out how I get to the airport.  As it happens my son has my wife’s Garmin sat-nav on.  He can’t work it so I get off at the exit, pull over and take the Garmin.  I tap it like I am used to tapping my TomTom, it should take me to the main menu where I can work around obstructions on the route and it will recalculate.  Nothing happens.  I look at the display and I cannot figure out how I get access to main menu or the route navigation menu.  I am in a hurry so I hand it over to my son and reach for my TomTom in the glove compartment.  Within three minutes the TomTom has plotted the route (which includes the blocked motorway), I have told it to avoid the next two junctions (as they are blocked) and it has come back with a new route.  Excellent, I feel great even though it is dark, the snow is falling and the route is about twice as long.  Why do I feel great?  Because I ‘hired’ the TomTom to do a  job quickly – to work out a navigable route – and that is exactly what it has done!

Now here is the point to get.  I am in the process of buying a new sat-nav as my TomTom is old and bulky.  I had been considering whether to buy a TomTom or a Garmin and up to that point I had favoured the Garmin.  Then that incident happened.  Which product am I going to buy?  The one that is USEFUL of course – the TomTom – even though it is about 50% more expensive.  Lets ask that question differently: why would any intelligent customer willingly buy a product/service/solution that is not useful or less useful than a competing product that sells for the same/lower price?

What is the access to being perceived as useful?

Given my sat-nav experience and the work that I have done in helping design websites I would say that you absolutely have to get the following right if your non-human interfaces / touchpoints are going to occur as useful in your Customer’s world:

DEFAULTS:  you absolutely have to understand the default (the automatic) ways that your customers think and behave.  Notice that I used the Garmin the way that I am used to using a TomTom. Why?  Because the TomTom was my first sat-nav and my world of sat-nav is built entirely around my experience in using the TomTom.  Having looked into the Garmin I have found that it has similar route navigation functionality including working around blocked roads.  The issue arose because I had to access this functionality in a different way to the TomTom – a way that I was not used to and appears strange to me even now. Another example is that I always get caught out when I use computers in FranceI touch type and only when I look up at the screen do I notice that the French keyboards are set out very differently to English/American keyboards!

RESPONSIVENESS and FEEDBACK:  when the Customer touches you have to respond within a specific time and ‘speak in the Customer’s language.  We are exquisite feedback organisms – feedback is always going on and we rely on it to orient ourselves and act upon the world.  Just think of the ‘social dances’ that we are immersed in every day.  For example, conversation: those of us who do not pay attention and cut in at the wrong time do damage to the flow of the conversation sometimes bringing to an abrupt halt and/or being considered rude, dominating, inconsiderate etc.

What constitutes responsiveness to a Customer depends on the particular state that the customer is in (relaxed, hurried, stressed….), the particular job that the customer has in mind (urgent, critical, important, sometime…), the nature of the interactive device and who visible the Customer is to other onlookers.  Feedback to occur as feedback (useful feedback) in the Customer’s world it is necessary that the designers understand the backgrounds of the Customers e.g. their culture, their language, their educational level….. And of course feedback must be timely: the Customer must be able to match, easily, the feedback to the action that he last took and use that feedback to take the right next step.

When it comes to my sat-nav experience I notice that the Garmin occurred as non-responsive to my touch and the TomTom came across as responsive.  The issue with many IVR systems is that they utter (speak) rubbish: speak corporate jargon rather than use words/phrases that real Customers think in terms of and speak and as such the Customer is left pondering stuff like what menu option to hit to progress and get his job done.  Put bluntly the Customer already has a schema (mental model) or schemas of the kind of response she is expecting and your response had better fit into one of these schemas if you do not want to disrupt the harmony between you and your Customer.

USABILITY: designing the interactive touchpoint so that it lends itself to the way that customers view, process, use information, manipulate objects of its kind.  Some phones are easier to use than other phones simply because some designers better understand and cater for Customers (users) being human beings.  Some books are easier to comprehend because the information is written and presented in a way that is natural for human beings to process.  Some website are easier to user because the website designers have immersed themselves in usability and have made use of the key tricks and avoided the key traps.

You can make an interactive touchpoint highly useful (it has the content, the tools, the functionality to do the job that the Customer has in mind) and yet it does not occur as useful.  Why?  Because the designers have not put in the time, effort and love that is needed to make that touchpoint usable.  One of my key contributions in my previous role (Head of Customer Analytics and Marketing Solutions) was to take the useful models built by expert modellers and make them easy to comprehend and use by the average marketing manager who had no affinity for numbers and did not know or care about data mining or predictive analytics.

Final Words

If you are not willing to invest what it takes to make an interactive touchpoint responsive and usable then don’t waste your money making it useful!  Very few of your Customers will ever get to the stage where they will actually find the useful stuff and then actually use it: the lack of usability and responsiveness will make sure of that.

I notice that there seems to be crisis when it comes to B2B sales.  Has this something to do with the fact that most B2B sellers are simply not coming across as being USEFUL to the jobs and outcomes that B2B buyers have on their minds?   It occurs to me that the typical functions of providing information and doing demos of products and solutions is really not that compelling anymore.  Prospective buyers can access information, case studies, demos on websites, on YouTube…..  So the question becomes what jobs and outcomes do prospective buyers have in mind and what do we need to be/do to occur as useful?

Finally, I cannot help thinking that a key measure of customer-centricity is how USEFUL you occur to your Customers as view through their eyes.  What do you think?  I invite you to share your views.