Your Customer Is More Than An @ Sign

A dialogue is a conversational exchange between two or more people.   Communication is in the rawest form requires information to be packaged and imparted by the sender to a receiver via some medium. The receiver must decode the message and give the sender feedback.  Communication requires that all parties have an area of communicative commonality. 

When I go with the flow and throw out the proverbial "we want to develop a dialogue with the customer," is it really a dialogue I mean?  Are we really communicating with the customer -- or just throwing spaghetti against the wall hoping it sticks? 

Aside from in-person connections and synchronous exchanges, we really don't communicate with the customer.  We interpret response to stimuli!  As poorly as most online surveys are constructed, I'd question whether that is really a form of communication.

In the marketing and digital world we change the definition of both dialogue and communication to some degree.   For instance, an online poll is a way of gathering feedback on a particular single or cumulative experience.   But is it a dialogue?  Is a welcome email series a dialogue?



Think about the brands you are most loyal to.  It may be Starbucks, because you are the nut, like me, that spends far too much on $4 lattes twice a day. It may be the dry cleaner to whom you trust your third most important asset:  clothes. House and cars usually precede this.    It may be the Lexus or BMW.  It may be the chain restaurant like Macaroni Grill where there is no denying the consistency you'll receive each time you visit.  Or better yet, if you are a traveler like me, the airline, hotel or car rental company where you live 30% of your life.   

When was the last BMW ad you recall on a Web site? Or email you've opened from your local dealership?   How many direct connections can you recall with your most engaged brands?  Loyalty is a funny thing, driven by habits.  In order to replace loyalty to a brand, you must break a habit and form a new habit.   It doesn't happen overnight, unless there is a great deal of motivation driving this change.  And brand dialogues connect these experiences with these core values.

The most impressive brands make connections through many forms of stimuli and reinforce experiences through many media, email included.   I now receive an email communication from my dry cleaner asking me if I was satisfied with their service after they drop off my clothes each week.  It doesn't include a coupon.  Yes, I pay $6 to starch and press a shirt in California. 

I receive continual communications from BMW from all points, including the dealership asking me to assess my experience when I bring in my car for service.  Ironically, they do this as a performance assessment for their service agents, usually preceded with a call from the agent asking me to give him/her a high ranking as her bonus is dependent on this rating.  But I also receive local promotions and test drive events. Since my lease is up for renewal in a few months, I've seen a dramatic increase in communications from BMW marketing and my local dealer/salesperson.  

The key to these connections, my loyalty and purchase persistence is: each brand provides continuity to the experience through many channels.   While I might survive on just the dining experience at a hotel and the value of the 900,000 miles I have with American Airlines, it's digital communications that keep me close to the brands I most covet.  

Now, look in your inbox -- and more importantly- at the products and services you buy -- and assess how you are using digital dialogues to build continuity with your customers.   Do you regularly check their pulse?  Do you use key experiences to trigger a reason to communicate?  Do you reinforce buying experiences?  Do you choose lifestage and other critical consumer events to stay in front of the customer?  Is your brand goal and customer experience symmetrical? 

As I've said many times, email will inform, educate and inspire. It will help you build social connections through brands and experiences, it will entice consumers to buy something -- possibly more often than they normally would have without this stimuli. 

Key to great dialogues is a commitment to the small things without losing sight of the customer.  Far too many times, we, as marketers, lose sight of this connection and the value we bring through asynchronous channels like email.  Your customer isn't an "@" sign.

6 comments about "Your Customer Is More Than An @ Sign".
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  1. Barry Dennis from netweb/Omni, January 18, 2010 at 1:24 p.m.

    Spam vs. Mass Marketing E-Mail. If you can't tell the difference you're not helping Clients.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 18, 2010 at 1:43 p.m.

    Why do you want to live in an echo chamber? Because you pay $6 to wash and iron a shirt? I took my car into the garage to get my oil changed today. They do a good job, they charge a going rate, they get in done in a reasonable amount of time, I go back the next time. They can ask me what they want when I pick up the car. I don't need a bunch of repetitive chitter chatter clogging up the reading pipes.

  3. Ellie Johnston from Brandojo, January 18, 2010 at 2:13 p.m.

    When I was a BMW customer the "dialogue" felt disjointed. There was on the one hand the design/engineering, art directed version of BMW I saw on TV, heard about on the radio and felt everyday with my car. Then there was the dealership side of BMW which felt like wovles inviting a sheep over for tea. They did start increasing communication just as my lease was about to finish. Just like a friend that wants to hang out when she finds out you won the lottery. In short, I wasn't impressed.

    I felt a large disconnect between BMW the brand/image and BMW the dealership --which eventhough they had orchids was disappointing. My take away from that and your article is that there needs to be cohesion in the messaging.

  4. Ronald Stack from Zavee LLC, January 19, 2010 at 11:20 a.m.

    "I receive continual communications from BMW from all points, including the dealership asking me to assess my experience when I bring in my car for service. Ironically, they do this as a performance assessment for their service agents, usually preceded with a call from the agent asking me to give him/her a high ranking as her bonus is dependent on this rating."

    I believe that the dealership's allocations also depend on the survey ratings, where anything less than the top score is a big problem.

    Imagine how useless these surveys are as a true measure of customer satisfaction when the service reps plead not just for a good rating but for the highest rating - in every category. My dealer (not BMW) sends the survey by email but the rep always follows up with a call. The irony is that this kind of "outreach" make me even less inclined to fill out the survey, even when my experience has been positive, because I don't believe that anyone really cares what I have to say. Strongly customer-centric brands like BMW have many ways to engage with customers but those surveys are definitely not among them.

  5. Arthur Einstein from Loyalty Builders, January 19, 2010 at 12:15 p.m.

    Good stuff David. Technology that's installed everywhere to put snow on the slide for sellers, also creates a 'social distance.' The disconnect keeps growing unless sellers make a concerted effort to foster conversations. Both conversation and communication carry the prefix "co" which means both parties participate. Used to be easy. Now it's not. Your post is right on!

  6. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, January 20, 2010 at 3:17 a.m.

    If I got an email from my dry-cleaner every time they pressed my shirts, I would warn them not to let it happen again. :-)

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