In business, we have a unique opportunity to act on behalf of our customers in ways that extend far beyond the business we transact with them. In fact, in todays marketing environment it’s one of the best, most lasting ways to differentiate our companies, burnish our brands and grow our businesses. It’s called customer advocacy. The act of raising our corporate voice and taking action to promote the interests of the people we serve.
For as long as I have worked in marketing, I have been continually surprised by how deep our business relationships can run. Our best, most loyal customers make big personal investments in us. Naturally, they risk their money by choosing to trade with us. But they also risk their credibility – maybe even their reputations by recommending us to friends, family or colleagues and referring new business our way. A great customer is our biggest advocate.
The investment our customers make in us is evident in the durability of our relationships, their forbearance when we err, and their enthusiastic participation when we discuss their needs – whether its financial planning and wealth management or designing a new living room.
I have been writing a lot lately about the changing relationship between companies and their markets. Gone are the days when a company could behave any way they wanted then spend a bunch of dough on ads to convince us that they were all about solving our problems and delivering our dreams.
Today, we consumers talk about our experiences with companies. We want a two-sided relationship with the companies we choose to do business with. Why? Because through conversation, social media and personal habit, we advertise the companies whose products, services and behaviors align with our own personal world-views. In this environment, it’s not safe for a company to behave badly and expect us not to care. Because eventually we’ll find out, and when we do there will be consequences.
This is all good news for business people who are serious about building what I call Generous Enterprises. These are companies whose business strategies revolve around the well being of their employees, their customers and their supply chains. Generous Enterprises recognize the profound impact they have on their constituencies and make a commitment to act and invest in ways that serve all their interests.
By actively promoting the well being of your customers and community, you expand the nature of your relationship with them. But how do you go about doing that? Here are three tips to help you figure out what you can do to mean more to your customers. To become more than the place where they pay to get their (your products or services here).
- Ask yourself why your clients do business with you. What needs or interests are they trying to fulfill?
- Patrons of a restaurant specializing in organic food are looking for better health through nutrition and they believe organic foods are a superior source for that nutrition.
- Clients of a wealth management firm are interested in seeing the money they have accumulated be protected and grown.
- Customers of a sporting goods store are participants in team or individual sport. They thrive on the fun, exhilaration and camaraderie they get from sport and exercise.
- Determine where your company’s expertise or authority aligns with the interests of your customers.
- Like their patrons, the restaurant benefits when there is a diverse and plentiful supply of organic vegetables and meats. They also benefit from greater market awareness of the nutritional benefits of organic food
- The wealth management clients and their firms are both interested in transparency, – understanding the markets and their investments, how they work and why. They want to know they’re playing on a level playing field with other, much larger investors
- The sporting goods store, like its clients, is interested in the availability of places and programs that support and promote athletics endeavor.
- Identify actions you can take to effect change
- The organic restaurant could launch a blog with commentary from their subject matter experts and patrons sharing news and developments in healthy eating, recipes, and exercise to achieve better health. The restaurant could also lobby for more and better regulations to reduce the expansion of genetically modified foods and toxic chemical misuse.
- The wealth management firm could make its principals and subject matter experts resources to media and public groups lobbying for free and fair markets, investor choice and the establishment of regulations that support the individual investor.
- The sporting good store could make donations to support in-school and community athetics, or offer free instruction or classes to the community to educate people about the benefits of sport and the avoidance of injury.
By taking action to improve conditions for your customers and your company, you have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of people who have never done business with you, but whose appreciation for your efforts on their behalf could have long lasting implications for your company and its business prospects. Just as important, by being a Generous Enterprise, you’re contributing to a workplace and world where your customers, employees, community and company are all more prosperous.
This is noble work, and something any company can do. What have you done for your customers (and their like) lately?
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