Insert Humanity and Trust into Customer Relationships

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Companies need to trust their customers, provide them with opportunities to share their opinions, and incorporate their feedback effectively into sales and marketing campaigns, presenters agreed throughout the three-day CRM Evolution conference in New York in mid-August.

"Successful companies are beloved companies, and beloved companies trust their customers. Profitability starts there," Jeanne Bliss, founder of CustomerBliss.com, said during the conference's opening keynote on August 19.

Bliss cited bicycle rental company Zane's Cycles in Branford, CT, for its devotion to building a trust-based relationship with clients. The company doesn't ask for identification or a credit card for a rental and only loses about three bikes a year to theft, Bliss says.

"Beloved" companies are clear and real with their customers. "It's important to take your business seriously, but not take yourself too seriously," she asserted.

According to Bliss, it's equally important for companies to be there for customers when issues arise. "Knowing when and how to say [we're] sorry is a company's humanity litmus test," she said, "because when things go wrong—and unfortunately they will—the way you handle the issue will determine whether you'll earn a rave or a rant.

"It's about improving a customer's life," Bliss said. "A memory creation is customer [service] currency."

But just as good customer service can lead to better customer relationships, negative customer experiences can inspire disgruntled customers to take to social media and voice their complaints to a potential audience of millions.

"[Customers'] perception is their reality, whether it's true or not," Bliss added. "Customers are telling your story, but are they telling stories you want people to hear?"

Experiences are constantly being shared, both good and bad, Mitch Lieberman, managing partner at DRI Global, said in his presentation. "Listening to your customers is a way for companies to see the world as [customers] do and experience their perspective."

And this feedback undoubtedly makes a difference. About 61 percent of consumers read online reviews before making a purchase, and positive reviews demonstrate an average of an 18 percent sales lift, according to Jim Berkowitz, founder and CEO of CRM Mastery. Still, Berkowitz says, marketers continue to focus on paid content and depend on influencers' reviews. "The problem with that is consumers don't care about the influence of a reviewer. They care about the product and the review."

Reviews from regular customers, rather than influencers, tend to carry more weight, Berkowitz explained, especially when they're negative.

No matter the tone of the review, it can provide valuable insight into how the brand is perceived and how it compares to competitors. "You may find opportunities to make improvements to your business here. Or, when the comments are positive, your response could help to create more brand advocates," he said.

Berkowitz also reiterated that engaging successfully requires an understanding of what to do with social media intelligence once it is acquired. It's also important to make sure the right people within the company are aware of it, and that each item requiring engagement is responded to appropriately and on a timely basis.

Whether it's positive or negative, it's crucial to trust that feedback is honest and to use it advantageously, presenters agreed. "While there are plenty of excellent analytics tools out there, you have to keep this in mind: Your most important analytical engine is your people," Lieberman said.

That applies as much to employees as it does to customers. Bliss said a key to providing good customer service is providing a good work environment for customer service agents. As Bliss put it, "Create a place where people can bring the best version of themselves to work. Trust that employees can and will do the right thing."

In closing, she urged companies to "hire memory makers, not just functional employees."

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