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Using Voice-of-the-Customer Relationship Marketing to Drive Sales

by Ernan Roman
October 6, 2010

Voice-of-the-Customer relationship marketing is a proven, five-step process for implementing powerful, socially responsible marketing that achieves consistent double-digit increases in response and revenue. It has been battle-tested by marketing leaders such as Microsoft, NBC Universal and IBM, and growth companies such as HMS National and Songza Media. The following are tips for each of the five steps drawn from the DMA2010 preconference intensive workshop "Five Relationship Marketing Best Practices," to be held Oct. 9-10 in San Francisco.

STEP 1: How to Use Voice-of-the-Customer Research to Drive Your Relationship Strategies
Voice-of-the-Customer Relationship Research (VoC) is specialized-depth research to understand customer/prospect needs, decision making processes and expectations of the optimal experience via web, social media/community, email, offline media, and customer service call centers. These insights enable development of customer driven relationship marketing strategies and action plans.

Key Tips:

BulletGenerate an in-depth understanding of the value customers expect from your company throughout the major points in their life cycle of experience with your company.
Bullet Identify gaps between the customers’ brand expectations and their actual experiences with your organization.
BulletUnderstand how to establish and maintain relevance across your multiple channels and points of contact.
BulletDetermine the effectiveness of your media mix. Are customers getting too many communications, and with not enough relevance?
BulletIdentify how you can better personalize the customer experience, whether online, in person or over the phone.

STEP 2: Create VoC-Driven Opt-In Relationship Strategies
Opt-in engagement is a VoC-driven process for engaging customers and prospects to opt-in and self-profile their preferences to create accurate opt-in databases. It's about getting customers to take an active role in defining the relationship—per their needs. This enables you to understand how you can be relevant to them at an individual level: The right message and the right offer sent to the right people at the right time via their medium of choice. This information will form a powerful and accurate opt-in preference database.

Key Tips:

BulletMake sure the value of opting in to a relationship with your organization is obvious and differentiated.
Bullet Personalize the experience according to the unique self-profiling information of the customer.
BulletFind ways to remind users how you are customizing their experience.
BulletDon’t promise value during the opt-in process that you can’t deliver, because the penalty for not delivering once you have raised expectations can be huge.
BulletKeep the customer engaged after the initial contact—otherwise, the data you have collected will quickly become irrelevant, and the relationship will deteriorate.

STEP 3: Create a VoC-Driven Multichannel Mix
Preference-driven multichannel marketing is the VoC process for deployment of the social and traditional multichannel media mix per individual preferences.

Key Tips:

BulletThe optimal deployment of media should be driven by VoC learnings to ensure relevance and effectiveness.
Bullet Key elements of the multichannel mix must be deployed per the individual opt-in preferences of customers and prospects.
BulletThe channel mix must provide customers and prospects with choices so they can communicate with the marketer via the media mix of their choice.
BulletThe channel mix must perform the items above in accordance with the timing and frequency determined by that individual’s opt-in preferences.
BulletThe channel mix must offer a completely integrated experience. All the elements must complement each other, support each other, and send coordinated messages to customers and prospects.
BulletThe channel mix must be responsive. If the organization alienates or abuses a consumer, you can expect to hear about it in a public forum if you do not resolve it privately.

STEP 4: Create a VoC-Driven Social Media Presence
Use VoC research to understand how customers and prospects define a deeper, ongoing relationship with your company, and how that should be experienced via social media.

Key Tips:

BulletFind out where your customers and prospects are going to discuss your company and other related firms. Listen, learn and participate in the dialogue if appropriate.
Bullet Once you identify your customer, the relationship is precious. Follow through promptly on the conversation with that person—and remember that social media has turned customer response time expectations into minutes and hours, not days or weeks.
BulletForget about the hard sell and focus on connection and conversation. Personalize your message, keep it authentic and make it easy for people to respond. Provide information and resources that are directly relevant to your audience's lives.
BulletBuild loyalty through engagement. People who participate in an effective online community return to a site nine times as often and five times as long. Supporting conversations with engaged members of your audience is vastly different than selling your products and services; learn all you can about “crowdsourcing.”
BulletTry to weed out impersonal, transactional or generic customer experiences so they don’t cause users to feel disconnected from your organization.
BulletHarness the power of narrative. Tell a story about your organization or someone connected to it.
BulletEncourage people to follow individual personalities who are strongly associated with your organization’s mission.
BulletView SEO and SEM as a numbers-driven science that allows you to target consumers effectively and to capture the voice of the customer in real time.
BulletSynchronize PR and social media. Send the same core message through all channels. Use social media to demonstrate transparency, accountability and mission commitment to your critical stakeholders—and everyone else.

STEP 5: Invest in Eexcellent Customer Service
Reposition service as a competitive advantage that creates “customer stickiness,” reinforcing the company’s value proposition and generating customer loyalty.

Key Tips:

BulletGreat customer service should be everyone’s job, including the marketing department’s. Get your people to believe that their goal is not to close a sale, but to win an ongoing relationship with the customer.
Bullet Set up a Customer Council. Get senior-level involvement!
BulletCreate multiple VoC input points. These should include face-to-face or phone interviews, tracking surveys, email contact and website feedback. Benchmark how effective the customer feels you are against the metrics you’ve created.
BulletCreate “end-to-end” customer scorecard metrics that tie the call centers, the Internet, mobile, distribution centers, quality assurance and merchandising together with the overall accountability for improving things like product ratings and reviews, product satisfaction and quality.
BulletUse Twitter and other methods to keep track of what customers and prospects are saying about your organization online. Respond quickly to online complaints, even if you don’t have an instant solution.
Bullet“At the end of the day, companies don’t change because of data. They change because of VoC stories.” Evangelize the VoC-driven customer service process with everyone in your organization, including senior management. Make the case that excellent service correlates statistically to repeat business. Share compelling customer stories with top management to win attention to areas your organization needs to improve.

New Book Release: Voice Of The Customer Marketing
"This is the definitive playbook for this new customer-driven era."
—Frank Eliason
Senior Director, National Customer Operations, Comcast
"Thank you, Ernan, for tuning us in to the inner voice of our customers! A deep understanding of our customers' needs and preferences is essential for our future growth."
—Karen Galley
President, Patient News Publishing