Love Your Customers and They'll Reward You With Sales
“Love” may seem odd as a business concept. Love includes valuing someone as a person, trying to see things from their point of view, being considerate of their time, trying to make their life easier, working to understand and help them achieve their goals, among other things.
Let's take for granted that you do all this for your spouse, children, parents, best friend. But do you ever think about “loving” your customer? You should. It's good business. Here's how.
Love is Understanding
It still surprises me when I ask a cataloger about their customers and all they know is “65 percent female, average age 30-45, household Income $60,000-90,000.” It completely misses what's essential to you as a marketer: your customers’ lifestyles, goals and motivations.
How do you find this type of information? Big catalog brands with deep pockets can afford research and focus groups. However, most catalogers are small to medium size. Here are steps you can take:
1. Talk AND Listen. Spend some time in the call center taking calls. The marketing decision-makers I know with the most successful catalogs do just that. It's an easy, affordable method to get to know your customers in a way that no demographic report can tell you. (But read the reports too!)
2. Be interested. Don't share your customers’ interests? That's OK. However, do learn enough to see things from their perspective. Read the magazines and blogs they're reading. Are your customers hunters? Take a few lessons in shooting and dog handling. Talk to friends and neighbors who hunt. You'll understand better how to pick the best products, and how to help your designer and copywriter speak your customer's language. And you're likely to find it interesting!
3. Be considerate. Have your designers create a catalog that's comfortable for your customers, not themselves. I know a designer who is urban, cynical, edgy (and designs well for audiences like himself), but his current employer's audience is very different. His very different design for this female, grandmotherly, heartland audience is appealing and comfortable for them — cute, heartwarming, apple pie, with large serif fonts and easy eye flow. His secret to being flexible and relevant? He spent time in the call center to connect with the audience.
4. Defend them. Be a customer advocate. Other staff often just defend the company (which may be a short-term plus, but long-term harm), like cheapening product quality, eliminating deals, making returns harder, squeezing service out of the guarantee, creating longer wait times in the call-center queue, etc. Yes, every catalog must deal with business realities. However, defending the customer can gain creative compromises that yield short-term profit while also maintaining long-term customer loyalty and thereby long-term response.
5. Don't rely solely on big data. Big data is great in its own way. It reduces sending messages to the wrong people and sending the wrong messages to the right people. People are more than data points, however; they're thinking, feeling creatures who can detect the difference between pushing products/services at them vs. actually caring about their welfare. Even if you really are interested only in making money (I hope not), then focus on trying to make your products and services actually improve the lives of your customers. You'll earn more — and not just money.
6. Build lifetime relationships. “Our customers are so great. Some have been buying from us for 30 years and 40 years.” This is a real quote from a cataloger that's doing everything right, and succeeding because of it. Quality products. Knowledgeable customer service representatives. Solid guarantee. Relevant marketing. Despite its success, this cataloger keeps striving to improve. New products, expanded website, better photography. It just keeps on loving and listening to its customers. That's a winning strategy.
Susan J. McIntyre is Founder and Chief Strategist of McIntyre Direct, a catalog agency and consultancy in Portland, Oregon offering complete creative, strategic, circulation and production services since 1991. Susan's broad experience with cataloging in multi-channel environments, plus her common-sense, bottom-line approach, have won clients from Vermont Country Store to Nautilus to C.C. Filson. A three-time ECHO award winner, McIntyre has addressed marketers in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, has written and been quoted in publications worldwide, and is a regular columnist for Retail Online Integration magazine and ACMA. She can be reached at 503-286-1400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.