Commit Yourself to Your Customers

To wrap up this series on “basic training” for e-business, let’s see how the Golden Rule fits in. No, not the “He who has the gold makes the rules” Golden Rule, but the other one.

If the original Golden Rule is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” maybe we can go one step further. How about the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they want to have done unto them.” (Now that I think about it, if our customers have the gold, they do make the rules.)

Last week, we got our heads around the idea of being true to ourselves. Just when we’ve got that figured out (well, maybe), we realize that we also have to pander to… um, be true to… our customers. Of course, we already know this and that it works. In fact, we know it so well that we take it for granted. But we forget to view situations through this set of reality-colored glasses and apply the principle in our marketing plans.

Fortunately for e-biz, much of finding out what our customers want can be automated with satisfaction surveys and scanning feedback for keywords.

Then there’s behavioral targeting. Tracking logs produce raw (bleeding, indigestible) data, not information. To get information that can help you market to individuals, you have to apply intelligence. Human wetware – that expensive, messy stuff – must analyze your site’s structure and content, shuffle those considerations with “basic rules” of consumer psychology, and come up with patterns that actually mean something in the context of your site, your products, and your customers.

I put the phrase “basic rules” in quotation marks because not all experts define those rules the same way – and when they agree on definitions, they disagree on interpretation. You’re responsible for the site, and you have the most at stake for its success, so use your own common sense about what’s “true” in the realm of consumer motivation and behavior.

If you have an expert advise you on the meaning of your tracking data, select somebody whose definition of “the rules” stretches your own and makes you feel smarter about why they work – not somebody who contradicts you at every step. Somebody who negates your own sense of your customers may be applying rules from a market space so different from yours that its rules of motivation don’t apply to your customers.

The right attitude? Nick Usborne describes it as: “Wow, here’s a chance to balance a relationship that’s been out of kilter for half a century. Let’s give our customers the service they really deserve and enjoy the loyalty that will surely follow!”

Or as I put it, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Greg Sherwin and Emily Avila remind us of the significance of getting in touch with the feminine side of ourselves as we deal with our customers, since women are a rapidly growing presence on the web, and they tend to place great value on trust in all relationships – including e-commercial ones.

The good news is, we can use the web’s communication power to get women themselves to answer the age-old question “What do women want?” They will tell you! Men will tell you what they want, too.

The other (not really bad) news is that once you know what customers want, you’re responsible for providing it. Your reputation will remain untarnished if you set customer expectations where you can achieve them.

When it comes to the process of visiting your site, the message is:

  • You listen to their needs and respond accordingly.

  • Your site makes navigation and buying easy and fast.
  • Your customer service is helpful and acts quickly.
  • Products arrive on time.

As to your products themselves, Naomi Klein says that your advertising should be careful of what your “brand promise” promises. She cautions us that “acting as if companies deliver ‘meaning’ practically invites consumer disappointment.” While your product probably does not create meaning in your customers’ lives, your site can certainly deliver some meaty content to help customers figure out what the product’s value really is.

Homework: This column’s value began with 10 training tips you can apply to marketing. Next week, we’ll progress to more specific news-you-can-use topics: responses to questions you’ve sent and commentary on the growing market for web education. Meanwhile, if you need coaching, you know where to find me.

Recess: If it’s later than 10 a.m., you need to take a break. Deskercise of the day: your neck. Prairie-dogging over the cubicle walls doesn’t cut it.

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