3 Steps to Engage in More Meaningful Conversations With Customers

  • Darshan Mehta
  • October 6, 2017

Are you worried your customers are giving you the silent treatment? Have you considered that they may be treating you the same way you’ve been treating them?

Like any relationship, the brand-customer connection depends on open lines of communication. But many brands simply don’t get it. They don’t foster the dialogue, and then they suffer the consequences.

Gillette, which dominated the razor market until 2012, is the perfect example of this. Instead of actually talking to customers, the brand continued tweaking its product, adding blades, moisture strips, and flashlights. With each enhancement, the price went up — so much so that stores kept them locked away, forcing customers to get a store clerk’s assistance to make a purchase.

So what happened? The launch of Dollar Shave Club in 2012 completely disrupted the razor market. Touting his frustration with the razor industry in general, founder Michael Dubin convinced customers to sign up for his subscription service. And they signed up in droves — within 48 hours after it launched, the brand received more than 12,000 orders.

What we can learn from this is that customers want to converse with brands. Most brands — 80 percent, in fact — think they have a solid view of their customers. But customer surveys show that this view is quite off base. Seventy-nine percent of customers say they want brands to show them that they care, but only 37 percent feel like their favorite retailer truly understands them.

Why Brands Fail to Have Meaningful Customer Conversations

When brands avoid meaningful customer conversations, they miss important opportunities. Some mistakenly think they are already engaging with customers, while others think that customer engagement takes too much time or that they don’t have the right tools.

Even when companies do try to get to know their customers, they struggle to balance the time and budget required to do the research, and a lack of knowledge around research methods makes the process even more difficult. As a result, many brands turn to surveys, which, while helpful in answering “how many”-type questions, don’t help much in answering “why” questions.

Gaining customer insights is an ongoing effort, so you’ll need to do more than send out a few surveys to capture valuable information. With a dedicated director to manage your efforts, customer insight becomes an investment that’s vital to growing your brand.

Also, because customer conversations are an investment, don’t expect to see results overnight. It takes time to establish trust and build loyalty, but all that time and money will pay off in the form of increased growth and profitability.

You are responsible for breaking the silence with your customers, and you have to engage them for them to engage with you: 

1. Let Them Lead the Conversation

Seventy-four percent of Americans will spend more with companies that provide great customer service, according to an American Express survey. But customer service doesn’t involve selling as much as it involves listening and getting to know your customers on a deeper level. Enter the conversation assuming you have something to learn — not sell. When you solve their problems, they will buy your solution without you having to sell to them.

Amazon is a master at customer service, which is what helped transform it from an online bookstore in the 1990s to the $100 billion-dollar behemoth it is today. In fact, Amazon is so serious about customer service, every single manager — including CEO Jeff Bezos — has to spend two days at the customer service desk to ensure they’re (literally) listening to their customers. 

Too many brands don’t understand the customer experience, so they end up offering huge discounts when most customers care more about experience than price. Customers want delightful, truly outstanding service, and they’re willing to pay extra for it. So what’s stopping you from giving them what they want?

2. Invest in the Customer

Listening to the customer is only half the battle — you’ll also need to dig deeper and understand what they need. They’ll give you details to uncover the tip of the iceberg, but it’s your responsibility to ask questions and understand their pain points, fears, and motivators to gain a better view of what’s below the surface.

DEWALT, a leading power tool manufacturer, keeps an ongoing pulse on its customers by maintaining an insight community of 100,000 end users. It regularly taps into this community when testing new products, packaging, and messaging, and the company has made an investment and commitment to its customers and the future of growth of the company.

If you’re not actively listening and engaging, customers will quickly notice and take action. More than half of consumers say they’ve switched to a different provider or brand because the customer service was subpar, and in the U.S. alone, the costs associated with customers changing brands is estimated at $1.6 trillion. 

The first step to solving this problem is asking yourself why customers are switching brands. Most of the time, it’s because they’re frustrated when their expectations aren’t met. To hold onto your customers, put yourself in their shoes to understand their perspective and solve their problems.

3. Build Loyalty, and Sales Will Follow 

Getting to know your customers is a process that takes time, and you can start by organizing your conversation as in inverted pyramid. Start off with broad questions that build rapport, comfort, and trust because these will help customers feel relaxed, engaged, and interested in the conversation. Then, once they realize that you really do care about how they feel, you can start getting more specific with your questions.

The key is remaining authentic, and authenticity will help build loyalty. By delivering outstanding experiences consistently, the bond between customer and brand grows stronger. Some companies — such as Apple — are so great at establishing this trust and loyalty that they’ve built cult followings that are still going strong.

Ultimately, that trust translates into sales. Loyal customers are five times more likely to repurchase from a brand, five times as likely to forgive a brand after a negative experience, and seven times as likely to try out a new product. And they can even lead to new business, as they’re also four times more likely to refer other customers to the brand.

If your customer is giving you the silent treatment, there’s probably a good reason — and that reason is often that they feel ignored and undervalued. Getting everyone talking again will help your brand grow and stay relevant in the future.

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