5 Insights on Using Customer Science to Build Relationships—and Business

Conversations with marketing experts are often like reading a good book: educational and, sometimes, entertaining. Communicating with CRM expert and Beagle Research Group Founder Denis Pombriant is like digging into your favorite childhood activity book on a rainy day: thought provoking, highly interactive, and above all, loads of fun. Who knew that a brief exchange on his book Solve for the Customer: Using Customer Science to Build Stronger Relationships and Improve Business Results would cover topics ranging from sociology to “Sucks Scores” to Tolstoy?

Here, Pombriant’s thinking on customer science activities for you to try at home:

Define customer science

Pombriant views it as a subset of sociology. Sociology primarily concerns itself with structure and agency (the ability for individuals to act independently). Structures are the practices, customs, laws and traditions that a group of people observe. Agency is taking initiative to exit structure. “Customers take agency when they churn or leave a vendor,” he explains. It’s your job as a marketer to find out what structures are important to the customer base and then to build structures (i.e.,  processes and procedures) that make customers want to be part of your society (i.e., community).

Hire the best customer scientists

The most successful customer scientists in the marketing organization (or any other function for that matter) possess the following traits, according to Pombriant:

  • They know their way around a bell curve and statistics.
  • They ask open-ended questions that invite customers to tell them not just what they do with a product or service, but also how they feel when they use it.
  • They are empathetic, because understanding feelings often is the precursor to understanding behavior.
  • They have a spark of creativity and an ability to write clearly.

Determine the underlying reasons for complaints

Learning the real reasons behind customers’ frustrations is imperative for retention. Try this simple exercise to gain some insight:

  1. Click to your favorite search engine
  2. Type in a company name
  3. Add the word “sucks”
  4. Read about a bunch of unhappy people venting about a vendor
  5. Take a closer look at those complaints

Pombriant’s analysis shows that people most often complain about a process gone wrong, rather than about a product. “Applying this to marketing,” he suggests, “you might discover that customers often want to progress through some form of nurturing and that they really don’t want the same introductory information seven different ways. Pay attention to the customer feedback, and do offer progressive programs that help mature customers into marketing-qualified leads.”

Apply the Anna Karenina Principle

The Anna Karenina Principle essentially holds that any single threaded process can have numerous ways to get off track but only one way to being completed properly. “Marketing is like that,” Pombriant notes. “If you have a marketing process, where do you see falloff? Is the falloff because people decide against a purchase or is that point in the process difficult or unclear? In many cases the falloff is a moment of truth gone bad and there’s no one or no thing to get it back on track. You might discover that if you can be in those moments of truth with a little support, your conversion rates improve significantly.”

Capture moments of truth

Solve for the Customer contains several big ideas, but one is especially relevant to direct marketers:  the importance of understanding customer-facing processes, not just transactions. “A process involves multiple moments of truth, times when vendor has to be in synch with a customer to deliver on a promise. That promise can consist of something the vendor claims, ‘We’re the lowest-cost producer,” and customers’ assumptions, like ‘This product is easy to use and intuitive,’” Pombriant explains. “When we truly understand moments of truth we can market to them with confidence. When we don’t understand them our efforts can be way off the mark, which can result in customer apathy, mild annoyance, or outright frustration followed by churn.”

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