Customers Should Be Key 'Analytics Engines' for Companies

NEW YORK—Companies need to learn to trust their customers, provide them with opportunities to share their opinions, and incorporate their feedback effectively into sales and marketing campaigns, presenters agreed on the opening day of the CRM Evolution conference.

Jeanne Bliss, founder of CustomerBliss.com, kicked off the three-day event with a keynote speech centering on delivering meaningful customer experiences that drive profitability and growth. "Successful companies are beloved companies and beloved companies trust their customers. Profitability starts there," she said.

Bliss emphasized that most customers are honest and trustworthy, and urged companies to ask themselves whether their "trusting cup" is half empty or half full.

"You can mix humanity with commerce...believing your customers is about accepting your customer as an asset and suspending disbelief," she said. Bliss cited bicycle rental company Zane's Cycles for its devotion to building a trust-based relationship with its clients. The company doesn't ask for identification or require a credit card for a rental, and only loses about three bikes a year to theft, Bliss shared.

"Beloved" companies are clear and real with their customers, Bliss went on to say. "It's important to take your business seriously, but not take yourself too seriously," she asserted. According to Bliss, it's also equally important for companies to be there for customers when issues arise. "Knowing when and how to say 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."

Experiences are constantly being shared, both good and bad, Mitch Lieberman, managing partner at DRI Global, said in his presentation on social CRM. "Listening to your customers is a way for companies to see the world as they 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 digital marketing consultant Jim Berkowitz. Still, Berkowitz says, marketers continue to focus their attention on paid content, and depend on influencers' reviews. "The problem with that is consumers don't care about the influence of a reviewer of a product he's considering. 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. "There are two kinds of negative reviews—plausibly bad and comically bad. Companies can't respond to everything, especially the latter," Berkowitz said.

When companies do choose to respond, there are varying ways to engage using social media depending on the source and type of information uncovered. "You can answer a question, share some information, offer to be helpful to someone, and show interest in the needs of your prospects and customers," Berkowitz suggested.

Comments about a business and its products or services can help the company get a handle on how it's currently perceived and how customers rate it versus its 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 a company has access to it. 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.

"If a negative conversation forms around your business or brand, you not only want to know about it, but you want to be able to respond, when appropriate, to prevent and mitigate any further damage to your business's reputation," Berkowitz explained. "But if someone is trashing you and their comments seem ridiculous and unreasonable, then do not respond. Nothing good will come of it. Don't gamble with your online reputation and get into an online fight with an unreasonable person," he added. These types of people tend to be notoriously stubborn and vocal, so it's in a company's best interest to walk away. Ultimately, positive comments will push a lone negative one to the side, he added.

Whether the feedback is positive or negative, it's crucial to trust that the feedback is honest, and use it advantageously, today's 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.

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