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Customer Loyalty: How to Close The Perception Gap Between Us and Them

Posted on the 12 December 2014 by Shellykramer @ShellyKramer

Customer Loyalty How to Close The Perception Gap Between Us and ThemIf I were to ask a simple question–how well do you know your customers–most of you would probably say that you do. At least, that’s what most marketers like to believe. However, in reality, there’s a growing disconnect between us and them – marketers and customers – our perceptions and their realities. Not making time, not making an effort, and sometimes even not knowing what we don’t know all get in the way when it comes to understanding our target audience and delivering messaging or value that will resonate with them.

Let me give you an example. I did a presentation a few years ago to a marketing team at an agency on blogger outreach. This group of young ad pros wanted to know how to best connect with the mom audience. When I asked how many in the group of thirty were parents, two raised their hands. When I asked how often, in the course of developing a campaign, that those who weren’t parents made sure to run their thoughts and ideas by parents so as to get their feedback before developing them fully, nobody raised their hands. As anyone who is a parent knows, everything about your life changes once you have children. Your priorioties change, your interests change, the way you think about every single thing in your life changes. And in most cases, unless you’ve experienced that, you have no idea what will really resonate with parents, or moms, or your intended audience. This? A classic example of not really understanding the audience you are trying to connect with and compel to action. Yet it happens all the time.

Loyalty and How Customers Interact With Brands in Social Media Channels

This train of thought—we’ll call it the loyalty train–was inspired by a recent report from DotMailer on how to build customer loyalty through email marketing campaigns. One part of the report I found particularly interesting focused on why customers interact with brands via social media channels—which I think has a big impact on customer loyalty (and really, on winning and keeping and which does a great job of showing marketers the differences between what we think and what customers think—and want. Take a look:

consumer ranking vs business ranking

Notice that when prospects make time to interact with a brand in the social space they want what they want when they want it. Translated: they want to make a purchase, they are looking for a discount to help make that purchase more attractive, and they want to know what others think about that product or company. Conversely, marketers think that when prospects interact with them in social media channels that they are looking for information about new products, for general information, or to offer an opinion on products or services. In fact, most of the things that marketers think customers care about to a high degree? Well, customers really don’t care as much about those things as we marketers think they do.

What does this mean? Well, what they want is for us to give them a deal and a reason to buy. What we think they want is a bunch of general information. What I think is really fascinating is related to community management, no doubt because that’s one of the services we provide for clients on a regular basis. Notice that brands rate “being part of a community” high (61%) on the list of what we marketers think consumers want. Notice that consumers rate being part of the community the absolute lowest factor (22%) on their lists. If nothing else, that should inspire us all to reexamine our community management strategies. They don’t give a crap about being a part of our community. Again: they want what they want when they want it. And what they want, at least when they are connecting with us in the social media space, is the product or service we sell AND a good deal.

So, how can we marketers do a better job of paying attention to and listening to our prospects and customers, and then delivering what they want and, of course, compelling them to buy? Here’s what I think.

Listen and Nurture

One of the most important things for marketers and brands is to work to understand what exactly it is that prospects and customers (and these are different groups of people, by the way), want, and then give it to them. In order to do that, monitoring and listening has got to be a key part of your marketing strategy and the tactics you employ. Consumers are telling us everything we want to know, and more, all day, every day—it’s all out there, all we have to do is care enough to listen and pay attention. There are so many tools and platforms and ways to help listen and, equally as important, analyze and digest the information we discover as a result. All too often, however, we just aren’t listening. That could be because we’re cheap and don’t want to allocate money for monitoring and data analysis. It could be because that while we, as marketers, understand how important that is, that our senior management (or our clients) do not). It could be, like that group of young advertising pros, that we think we know what matters to them and what they want when, in reality, we really don’t. And it could also be because we’re just not there yet ourselves when it comes to understanding why this is so important.

Listening allows us to understand how our prospects and customers talk about our product or services, or other, similar products or services. It allows us to understand their pain points, their needs, and desires. Listening also allows us to segment prospects and customers into groups based on behavior, purchase patterns, expressed needs, and then it allows us to nurture those relationships and…you guessed it, give them what they want when they want it. I sound like a broken record, but that’s really exactly what we all want, isn’t it?

Don’t Assume

When you can ask, why assume? It’s ironic that all too often we assume we know what our customers and prospects want and build campaigns around assumptions. I can think of a million examples of that. Did you ever see a billboard or a print ad or a TV spot and say to yourself “Huh? What in the world were they thinking when they developed that campaign? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen?” I know I have, and I’ll bet you have, too. That often comes as a result of building marketing strategies and campaigns based on assumptions—pretty much the worst kind of mistake that we can make. Asking customers what they want or like or think is easy and it should become a part of your overall marketing strategy. But just like your dad told you when you were a kid, assuming is dangerous. And we all know that it’s the quickest way to make an a-s-s (out of) u (and) m-e – who needs that?

You can ask prospective customers questions, you can ask current customers questions, you can do all kinds of things to stay connected to your consumer base and get their feedback (which they are usually happy to give). And asking? What it really shows (beyond the fact that you’re a smart marketer) is that you care what your customers and prospects think. Once when you implement things based on the feedback they’ve given you (and even better, give them credit for it?), a major win.

Do Your Homework, Ask, Listen, and Adapt

Speaking about asking, it’s really all a matter of caring enough to understand the importance of research. That means you do your homework in advance, ask for feedback along the way, and modify and adapt based on that feedback and your results. You can learn customer preferences by doing buyer persona work at the onset, and by doing focus groups, conducting surveys, doing polls, and asking thoughts an opinions on ways to improve. Equally important is post-sale feedback, customer reviews, and ongoing email touches post-sale. Customers will generally tell you what they think, but they often aren’t going to make time to do it unless you’re working to make it easy and attractive for them to do so. Post-sale feedback is extremely important, especially if you’d like to establish a long term relationship with that customer, yet in all too many instances, we make a sale and move on to the next conquest. So resolve to do your homework, listen to what your customers and prospects are saying both before and after the sale, and adapt your tactics based on the feedback they give you. Totally makes sense, doesn’t it?


As mentioned above, post-sale feedback can be extremely important, especially when it comes to customer satisfaction and customer retention. Customers are highly motivated by rewards and incentives and every action they take is often defined by what they can get in return. As marketers, we should capitalize on this behavior and incentivize their actions. For instance, if you’re seeking referrals or reviews, attach some form of reward or takeaway that they will be interested in. I buy things all the time and get asked to leave reviews or give feedback, and 95% of the time I don’t make time to do it. If there was some kind of an incentive built in to reward me for giving feedback, ratings, a review, etc., I would probably be more likely to do it. What about you? Conversely, I buy really expensive underwear from a company that puts $20 into my account every time I refer a customer. So far, I’ve sent them five customers, because not only do I love their products, they reward me for telling people about it. Think about that, think about your own preferences as a consumer, and figure out ways you can incentivize your customers or prospects to give you feedback or, even better, to send you more customers because they love your products or services so much.

Change How You Think

Bottom line, if marketers think one way and customers and prospects think in other ways, we’re not going to be successful in doing what it is we ultimately want to do—which is to sell more stuff to more people. Closing the perception gap, working harder to understand what our customers and prospects are thinking, wanting, and needing is critical. Thereafter, crafting our messaging and other communication and creative strategies to suit (and serve) those needs and desires is how we’ll not only be successful as marketers, but how we’ll end up with happy, satisfied customers.

If you’re interested in this kind of thing, I think you’ll like the information about the perception gap contained in this report and how that might impact your marketing efforts . If interested, you can register and download it here.

Additional resources on this topic

Customer Satisfaction Surveys: How to Ask the Right Questions 
New Software Targets In Store Social Media Interactions
How to Create a Wave of Engagement Using Customer Data  

Photo Credit: frankrizzo805 via Compfight cc

This post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit  IBM’s Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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