A word with your customers

Belfast Telegraph Business Section have asked me to do an new monthy column as part of Web Watch – the editorial thrust is “how businesses can use the web”. In the first article I discuss using the web/internet to build a relationship with customers with Russell Moore.

“The Net is a real place where people can go to learn, to talk to each other, to do business together. It is a bazaar … It is a conversation.”

In April 1999 a far sighted document – The Cluetrain Manifesto  – was published as a set of 95 theses. It didn’t appear as a book until the following year. Yet 10 years on, its observations are still acute. Its simple message was “Markets are conversations.” The underlying message was the Internet can help you understand your customers.
A happy customer is a returning customer. An unhappy customer will talk about your business, but not the way you want them to. A business can use technology and the Web to have real conversations with their customers.
An industry based on managing customer relations has developed and been enhanced by the Web and more recently Cloud Computing.  

With the rise of Twitter, Facebook and other social media, some businesses jump in to what they believe is Customer Relations Management (also called Customer Relations Marketing or CRM) without a strategy. “Many blue birds doth not a CRM strategy make!” says practitioner Russell Moore ACIM. “People are talking about your business; customers, employees, shareholders and competitors. What are they saying and how can you join the conversation?”  
First know your audience. What are they going to be interested in hearing and talking about? “That’s pretty much the reason you’re in business – to satisfy those audience’s needs trying to work out what to make for those people you want to do business with.” says Russell. “Think: Who do I want to do business with? What characteristics do they mostly share? What do they want or need?

“Finding out the answers to those questions is why you use social media – that’s the conversation you have to start!”
But a business that just bounces itself into Twitter and Facebook without a sufficient planning is making a mistake. With all those conversations going on how can you track, monitor, analyse and participate effectively?
“You must first understand that what used to be the online brochure – your website – can now be the cornerstone of your whole business strategy: a gateway into your company, products, services, people, and records all of your interactions with your customers.

“Ideally, that has to be in place as part of the overall strategy before starting the various tactical things like Twitter or blogging otherwise the whole thing could be a waste of time. So, it’s not really about starting with Twitter then ‘moving up’, it’s more about understanding the whole concept and then putting the foundations in place first. Then it all starts to make sense.”

Build your business on a relationship strategy, employ sound CRM methodologies and use each new conversational channel or technology as it arrives. But most importantly ask your customers what they want and listen to what they tell you.

I’m on Twitter (@davysims), identica (@davysims) Skype (davy.sims) and lots of other places, too.

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