Does Your Company Breathe ‘Customer Oxygen’?

Oxygen is all around us. Likewise, your company breathes oxygen in the data and knowledge it uses to make decisions. But does your company also breathe “customer oxygen” – making a customer-focused culture central to everything you do? In 2006, three months after I left Dell, I coined the phrase “customer oxygen” to explain how customer-centric change only happens when the customer’s perspective infuses all of the day-to-day business decisions you and your colleagues make.

A successful social commerce strategy impacts – and is integrated into – every part of your business, leveraging the voice of the customer (and resulting data) to improve not only bottom-line sales results, but also impact business decisions, marketing, merchandising, product development, customer service, and everything else your company does every day. Everyone in your company should have access to customer-generated content like ratings and reviews, stories, and comments – and use this feedback to do their jobs better.

It may feel daunting to think of putting processes in place to spread customer feedback throughout the entire organization, especially when your days are filled with profit and loss, administration, logistics, politics, and other internal company procedures that haven’t traditionally reflected the customer’s perspective. How, you are probably wondering, can we operationalize customer-generated content throughout the company when we’re so busy with our day-to-day business tasks? The answer is to begin integrating customer feedback in steps, keeping the customer voice in mind in every day-to-day task that you do. Companies like Rubbermaid and Nationwide Insurance have had success with an incremental approach to implementing a customer oxygen strategy. (Disclosure: Rubbermaid, Nationwide Insurance, and Land of Nod, which is mentioned below, are customers of the company where I’m CMO.)

Here are some tips to get started on integrating customer oxygen throughout the enterprise.

Traditional research is important, but not enough. Tried-and-true research such as usability studies, surveys, and focus groups still work to deliver insights into what your customers want. But, the learnings from these processes usually fade a few weeks after the studies are completed. Management and employees go back to the day-to-day grind, making decisions in functional blocks and operating without the all-important “customer oxygen” that came out of the studies. Instead, make sure customer feedback is more than a one-time thing. Put company-wide structures in place to continually collect your customers’ opinions and perspectives on your website, on blogs, forums and social networks, in-store, face-to-face, via call centers, or wherever else you connect with your customers.

Embrace user-generated content on your site. Customer-generated content about your products and services on your own website is the “Trojan horse” of a customer-centricity strategy. In my experience, most online marketers first think of consumer-generated content (such as reviews, customer stories, and questions and answers) as a feature on their website. Within six months, this content becomes a rich dataset that’s analyzed and acted upon by executives, managers, and employees to improve business results at every level. Customer-generated content represents your consumers’ authentic opinions about your company and products, and analyzing this information can lead to dramatic business change.

The Land of Nod analyzed every customer review on its website, and found that though a children’s table received an average of 4.8 stars out of 5 and was positively reviewed, a few people had a minor complaint that the tabletop scratched easily. Even though these critics were a small minority, The Land of Nod recognized their legitimate feedback, worked with the manufacturer to re-engineer the tables, and sent free replacements to everyone who had commented on the scratches. That’s a true example of customer oxygen at work.

Democratize actionable data. Make customer oxygen integral to every business decision by putting the content and the data in the hands of your employees, peers, and executives. Ensure that everyone who should be reading customer feedback is, and that they are acting on this feedback in their day-to-day work decisions. For example, if you share customer feedback with your call center operators on a weekly basis, make sure the operators read the comments, and then measure whether they are recommending products based on this feedback, offering guidance on products that have received lukewarm or negative reviews, and continuing to collect more feedback during customer service calls. Then, measure the impact this new policy is having on sales of certain products. Ditto for the executive team, HR, advertising, merchandising, marketing, technical support, PR, product development, and finance departments; measure how customer feedback tangibly impacts all of these divisions.

When your entire company is listening to and responding to customer feedback, all of your employees will start to breathe customer oxygen. And that’s the first step to putting your customers at the center of every business decision you make.

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