One of the biggest consequences of this topsy-turvy year is that everybody is re-evaluating their priorities. In times of crisis, we all re-examine what matters most to us: who we care about, whether we’re in the right job or career, where we want to live, and so on. This is also true for our customers and clients, who are also re-examining their priorities, suppliers, and path for the future.
In two weeks’ time, I’m running a breakout session at the Professional Conference Organisers Association conference about engaging more with your customers and clients. One of my key messages is the importance of maintaining our relationships with customers and clients. Don’t take them for granted, and do find out what really matters to them.
In our obsession with social media metrics – followers, likes, shares, connections, reach, and so on – it’s easy to forget your customers and clients, who already know, like, and trust you. You already have trusted relationships with them, so treat them with respect. These relationships will be more powerful than all the shallow connections at the edge of your network.
This isn’t about what you can get from them; it’s also about what you can offer for them. Here are some simple ways to leverage these relationships.
1. Connect them to each other
You know something about each of them, but they might not know much about each other. One of the easiest things you can do is introduce two customers to each other. Simply starting that new relationship might be the most important thing you can do. In many cases, all it takes is a simple e-mail to both people, with a brief paragraph introducing them to each other, and then leaving it to them to take the next steps.
2. Recommend them to others
Even if you can’t connect people to each other directly, recommend or refer them to your wider community. For example, you can write a LinkedIn recommendation for them, which boosts their profile.
3. Partner with them
Some of them could be candidates for some sort of partnership with you. In fact, if you already have a partnership idea, these people are the ideal candidates when starting your search for potential partners.
4. Share your journey
Your close connections want to recommend, refer and promote you, but they can only do this if they know what you want. So don’t be shy in sharing your progress, goals, and projects. You don’t have to ask for anything specific; it’s just about letting them know what you’re doing.
5. Ask for their input
It’s easier than ever before to invite “outsiders” into your projects, and many of them will participate enthusiastically with no reward expected except the opportunity to contribute. Here are some examples:
- Fashion designer Carte Blanche asks consumers to vote on their favourite designs, and only manufactures the most popular designs.
- When Etihad Airways was designing their new A380 service, they asked consumers for ideas, and incorporated eighty per cent of those ideas in the aircraft’s design.
- The basic idea behind crowdfunding services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo is that you’re asking people to back a project before it’s even started, and to put their money behind it as well.
- The National Car Rental company asked 300 frequent business travellers to share ideas in an online forum.
6. Ask them for feedback
It’s not always possible to invite people early into your project process, but you might find it easier to ask them for feedback later. For example, Auckland City Council used the Streetmix service to show residents the proposed changes to street layouts, and invites residents to dynamically adjust the designs online to suggest improvements.
Many people conduct surveys asking for feedback, but most surveys have a very poor response because people are so busy. However, if you ask a small group of trusted customers, they are more likely to respond and with high-quality feedback.
7. Ask them to do the work
Some people in your network might even be willing to do your work for you – for example:
- Many software companies create online forums for customers to help each other, rather than relying on the official customer service channel.
- The “Dead Pedal NY” project asked New York residents to report broken bicycles that have been left abandoned but still tied to bicycle racks or posts. The project wasn’t even set up by the city council; it was created by a local resident who saw how to use Instagram to provide this service free.
- Monmouth, a town in Wales, became the first “Wikipedia town”, posting QR codes throughout the town, linked to Wikipedia pages online that local residents can update.
- Wikipedia itself works this way: It’s the world’s largest encyclopedia, written entirely by thousands of volunteers.
8. Tap into their network
Ask your customers for introductions, referrals and recommendations. Even Google ranks search results based on recommendations from your friends. You can do the same by asking them directly.
What are YOU doing for your closest customers?
Which of these ideas can you apply right now? Look through this list and set a goal to do one thing every week.