Ready or Not, Your Customer is Calling the Shots...As She Should Be! - SAVVY INTRAPRENEUR

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Ready or Not, Your Customer is Calling the Shots...As She Should Be!

‘Tis the season for all good business analysts to announce their top trend lists for the year.  Just do a search for “2012 trends” and you’ll get pages of hits for what people will drink, how we’ll exercise, which mobile apps and cars we’ll buy, where we’ll travel, where we’ll send our kids to school, what colors we’ll paint our homes, how we’ll invest our money, what stocks we’ll follow in 2012, etc., etc.

Why bother paying attention to these top trends lists? If you want to understand consumers’ pulse on your brand – and your competition’s – know what trend predictors have observed for the year’s buying patterns.

Twitter is my source for learning of business trends
and predictions. I enjoy reading Tweeps’ finds for trends lists in how businesses will manage their offerings for customers, both business and consumer ones. Companies have learned to parallel their operations and marketing strategies to greater degrees with consumer-driven trends, preferences, and needs. 

Customers lead brands to engage one-on-one
After all, it was customers who guided brands in recent years to engage with them on social networks and other non-traditional, two-way communications vehicles. They’re really
good about determining statistically-proven receptivity to companies’ goods and services. And customers are becoming more vocal (in real time, completely openly) about their experiences with brands’ products. YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook are not just for kids any more, Mom and Dad.

Customer relationship management (CRM)
is changing the way businesses interact with their customers and prospects. I remember when stores were closed on Sunday. There were no pre-holiday sales, no money-back guarantees, no zero-interest loans, or returns after seven days. This bit of reminiscing demonstrates that companies, not customers, dictated the way goods and services moved through the pipeline. These days the reverse reigns true. You, the customer, can shop 24/7 online, take 30 days to try out your purchase, and return it with no questions asked. (Except for a survey that pleads for your feedback about the transaction.)

2012 trends for customer engagement

Two trends forecasters that caught my attention are William Band, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, and former Microsoft guru, Paolo Tosolini, who’s now a social media and online video consultant for corporations.

Band offers 13 customer management trends that suggest business must move beyond tech- and corporate-speak about focusing on customers and developed clear strategies for doing so. I like his idea that every employee and external partner is essential to successful CRM, not just the sales team and Web site managers.

For Band, organizations will continue to provide mechanisms for customers to have direct interface with employees, requiring the ouster of beleaguered “silo” mentalities at the office. Trend #13 concludes that “customers will become and engine for cultural change,” so companies need to be nimble enough to address shifting needs.

As an employee communications strategist, I enjoyed Tosolini’s trends to watch in corporate communications. The good news is that corporate email may soon die, while cloud computing will continue to thrive. Brands are publishing their own versions of “educational” media, fun and interesting platforms that align learning with the company’s mission. Employees are my customers, and Tosolini assigns communicators the task of forming internal community managers to start conversations and engage employees in corporate intelligence. When employees are aligned with the company’s brand promise, so are customers.

Technology is only a tool
While trends for CRM activity are turning more to technological solutions, we have to remember that social networking platforms and global Web conferencing are CRM communications mechanisms, not the dialog we exchange with customers. The corporate social network sites only work when companies join in the conversation with relevant, useful interchange.

Gee, that reminds me of when we actually talked to kids on our smartphones. . . .

Karen Meek is a corporate communications strategist. Follow her @karenmeektweets.

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