Listen to Customers for Loyalty and Trust

The web-based training (WBT) principle “Write once, read many” applies to the marketing concept of mass personalization. Yeah, I know WBT designers didn’t make up that concept. We didn’t design paper clips either, but they work, so we use them.

Although this concept works, it’s not as easy to use as a paper clip. Before you write even once, you have to read a lot to define the differentiators among site visitors that will determine how the “read many” will be configured to address their individual interests.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software promises to automate that process, but based on what? You still have to write the rules for automating. To do that, you have to genuinely listen to all of your visitors if you want to turn them into customers. You have to keep listening and building trust if you want to keep those customers. Then, after all that, you can develop a set of customer profiles that mean something.

A new client said to me recently, “We’re redesigning the site. We’ve got a couple [of] different prototypes.” At this point, I’m holding my breath. “But we just decided to survey our customers to find out how they view the site’s value to them before we put up a new design.”

Wheeeeewwwwww! Good save there. I congratulated her. (Reinforce the desired behavior, same as you do with your clients.) I didn’t quote the Cheshire Cat. Humor risks being heard as criticism early in a relationship, and, ya know, she hadn’t written a check yet.

Involving customers in site-development decisions builds ownership and trust and that goal can permeate every aspect of your site.

Building trust is tricky unless you really are trustworthy. I recommend genuine trustworthiness because it’s easier in the long run fewer lies to remember, less customer disappointment to contend with.

Once you’ve tailored your site’s information so that visitors perceive it as valuable and reliable, the issue of convenience arises. That means dishing up different parts of your information smorgasbord to each visitor, based upon your information about him or her.

Dynamic content based on mining your visitors’ behavior data has proven to be more expensive and more complex than anyone predicted. Software that tailors important factors of the “site experience” to each visitor’s previous behavior is beginning to offer compatibility with various technical environments and easy installation and maintenance. It also provides you with meaningful reports and truly relevant content for each visitor.

While you serve up content selections narrowly, it’s useful to approach CRM holistically, using many media channels to get your message across and become known as a trusted source of information and as an “active listener” to feedback. You can get a lot of mileage by using your email newsletter to drive visitors to your site for content while they are en route to purchasing and to invite true two-way communication.

But you can do even better by diversifying. The brainpower you expend to organize a cross-media approach to branding that establishes your site’s responsiveness to visitors will likely decrease the amount of money you expend on customer acquisition. If every ad mentions that you listen and respond, then every page should invite comment, and every comment should receive a prompt answer. You might even post “thank-you’s” to people whose suggestions you’ve used to improve the site or your service.

Go the extra mile. Make your site easy to access for customers with disabilities. Announce it in your newsletters. With access increasing in the workplace and public venues, everybody knows somebody who will appreciate an accessible web site.

Recently, Barry Silverstein treated us to a lucid discussion of packaging useful information in various formats and reminded us that the higher the perceived value of the information, the more willing visitors are to repay you with information about themselves. He calls the concept of trading valuable information “marketing currency.”

Let’s apply that concept to learning activities tied to the content you’re trading for the data you want from the user. WBT activities can be tracked click by click, giving you a clear picture of what each user knew beforehand and learned along the way, and how many times he or she got it wrong before getting it right. From that knowledge, you can determine whether a user is more likely to appreciate the high-speed-lane version of your purchase checkout process or the handholding-at-each-step version.

Homework: Let’s get down to basics. Does marketing make your client uncomfortable? You know customers respond well to a trustworthy, empathetic “shopkeeper,” but he turns to stone when you try to get him involved. Next week, we’ll talk about how you can engage a marketing-averse key player in the process. 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 arms. Ya gotta pump more than keyboard, honey! Pump your funny bone, too try P.J. O’Rourke’s “The Commandments, Version 10.1” in Forbes FYI.

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