Previously published on forbes.com.
“We didn’t see it coming.” It’s a phrase I’ve heard a lot recently. The events brought on by COVID-19 have affected businesses in ways never seen before.
It’s true that the impact on our lives has been well beyond what most of us ever imagined. And while sudden and unforeseen by most, it serves as an important reminder that we should always be prepared for the unexpected, and importantly, rally around our customers in these uncertain times.
Disruption comes in many forms, and this is one of many events in the world that can rattle the status quo. However, disruption can often be turned into an opportunity to step up for your customers, fortify those relationships, and improve customer value. With many businesses facing pressures, this is the time to go the extra mile for your customers.
In uncertain times, when teams and budgets are stretched thin, customers will naturally reevaluate whether the value of the product or service they are using is worth the time, cost, and resources. As a result, this means that the relationship between the business and customer will be scrutinized, and rightly so, which is especially the case within the business-to-business (B2B) sector.
This is the perfect time to take a closer look at how your business behaves and treats its customers during a crisis. What you do now will forge your customer relationships for years to come. It will not only impact current client retention, but also future business prospects, as customers are likely to remember the support given to them by their suppliers, partners, and consultants.
More Than Words: Showing Up For Your Customers
Having a deep understanding of your customers — their strategies and priorities, opportunities, and challenges — is fundamental to a strong, productive relationship. Customer needs may change unexpectedly, and being able to respond in a timely fashion to those evolving needs, with a holistic view and innate understanding, will make customers feel valued. This will, in turn, build loyalty, trust and appreciation. What’s more, these happy customers will go a long way to introducing you to your future customers.
Achieving a true 360-degree customer view has many contributing factors. As chief marketing officer of an enterprise application and data integration company, I’ve learned that it is rarely a straightforward process. There can be nuances that apply to one customer, while the process of how another customer works is completely different. With each customer interacting with multiple parts of your business on a daily basis — sales, support, finance, marketing, and more — it’s important that customer information is consistent and up to date in all systems across all departments.
The integration of data across your organization is key in supporting this, allowing businesses to develop a “single source of truth” about their customer. Once established, businesses have a clear, real-time lens through which to review any and all customer information, enabling them to make data-driven decisions and take fast action.
Having this 360-degree customer view starts well before the contract is signed and follows the customer on their journey through product training, implementation and use of a product, troubleshooting issues, and more. It’s about the continuous understanding of the evolving challenges and opportunities they’re facing and responding to them at exactly the right time, in a way that makes customers more productive, helps them do better work, and leads to improved business outcomes.
Where Do Marketing And Communications Fit Into This?
In times like these, how do businesses convey the value they can offer to customers? Delivering on their promises, solving real problems, and ensuring a continuous positive experience are among the most important factors to client retention.
Marketing communication (marcom) teams play a vital role in delivering exceptional experiences and meaningful value to customers throughout their journey. From the beginning of the customer journey, marcom teams are uniquely positioned to take ownership of building the 360-degree customer view. Having one team that leads and refines that process enables better insights and conversations to help the entire organization develop content, products, services or support to meet customer requirements.
If there is no ownership over this process, or if customer information and departmental teams are not aligned, the view of the customer becomes murky at best, which prohibits teams from responding to the customer when and how needed. The result: missed opportunities to engage your customer in the right way at the right time, leading to a sub-par experience.
From developing content to building community, marcom teams have many opportunities to engage with customers, work with them to solve problems, and help them see future opportunities. This engagement is not a one-and-done; it is a fluid, ever-evolving process. Marcom teams should be seeking out opportunities to check in with customers to see how they can help, armed with insights, ideas, and suggestions.
Being respectful of your customer’s time is key, but this is not the time to hold back and assume the customer is busy with other priorities, or hide behind the hope that things are going alright. Don’t overwhelm them and be smart about how and when you engage, but show them that you are invested in their success, understand what they are up against, and can help them emerge stronger on the other side. The very act of having that conversation now will develop a stronger relationship, reinforcing the understanding that you’re there to support them through the change and are flexible to their evolving needs.
What you do today can define your customer relationships for the next several years. So do whatever it takes, use all the data you have, and be flexible to their needs. You just might find that this renewed focus, creativity and commitment to delivering for your customer will make you, and them, better prepared when the next wave of disruption comes along.