We’ve finally reached the part most businesses love – creating strong external bonds/relationships. As entrepreneurs, we understand that building from the inside out is important. That’s why starting with a strong mission and vision is vital, and why working on the support structures and atmosphere within the business is critical. All of that leads to attracting those outside the organization, our supporters and customers.
New customers and connections are the lifeblood of a business. It’s been said there is almost no problem a few new customers cannot cure (particularly if you are in the service industry). Thus, as business owners, we need to engage those outside our organization in a meaningful way. Invariably, when discussing this topic, a few buzzwords appear. Customer Experience (CX) is one of them. This describes the totality of the process involved in attracting, serving, and retaining a new customer. Wikipedia describes CX as “the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier. From awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation and advocacy.” Note that CX begins with awareness and continues all the way through to advocacy. Every step in the process is an opportunity to create and develop a strong bond with that customer. Your advertising, marketing, in-store/person customer service, and ongoing interactions all come under this banner.
Another set of closely related buzzwords is Customer Engagement (CE). According to Wikipedia, this “refers to the engagement of customers with one another, with a company or a brand. The initiative for engagement can be either consumer- or company-led and the medium of engagement can be on or offline.” Many of the same factors involved in CX affect CE. The key here is CE focuses as much on consumer-led initiatives as it does those implemented by the company. In our digitally connected world, this is critical. Check social networking websites like Facebook and LinkedIn to find pages and groups dedicated to either promoting or decrying specific brands. Your goal as a business owner is to insure that customers have a positive experience whenever they interact with your brand. In turn, those customer become advocates, recommending you to those within their circle of friends and acquaintances.
Yet it doesn’t stop there.
According to our working definition, any outside bond is a matter of engagement. “If we’re not discussing a customer, how is that even relevant?” you may ask. It’s relevant because the perceptions we create among people in general have an impact on our businesses. Whether or not they are customers, people have impressions about who we are and what we do. For example, you may not own a Subaru personally, but you likely applaud their zero-waste green initiatives at their factories and their zero-landfill policy. You can bet their neighbors around their manufacturing plant in Indiana appreciate it! That creates goodwill, which can often translate into advocacy – even from folks who aren’t customers yet. That’s just one example among many. Whether an organization gets involved in community projects (gardens, after-school programs, etc.), causes (i.e. runs to raise funds for cancer, heart disease, and other ailments), public awareness campaigns (funding public service announcements, for example), or any of a host of other things, it engages those around them in a positive way. This often turns those people into advocates. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say something like ‘I don’t use it myself, but I hear good things about Brand X.’ All of this is engagement, and is an important factor in future sales.
Where Do I Start?
Obviously, you can’t get involved in every possible method of engaging the public. Additionally, from a practical viewpoint, you can’t focus on reaching every sector of society either. So, where do you start?
The answer to that question is as unique as are you and your business. It would be irresponsible at best to give a formula that will work for all business in any industry. Still, there are some basic things you can do to help get yourself going down the right path:
- Decide what makes your business unique. There’s something you do that separates you from the pack. Maybe it’s bringing work in under-budget. Perhaps it’s your attention to details others might miss. It could be your on-time performance in the face of unexpected difficulties. Whatever it is, identify it.
- Decide on your optimal customer. Over the years, a profile of your target client emerged. If you’re relatively new, then you may have an idea of the customer you want to target. Define that profile as clearly as possible.
- Decide on the best medium for communication. Each product and service has features that determine the best method for advertising and promotion. List these in order, from the one with the best rate of return down to the least. Be as specific as possible. For example, if you use social media, which channel works best? More importantly, why does it work? This will help you keep up with changing trends and circumstances.
- Decide what you are passionate about. This is not necessarily related to your business, but it definitely has an impact. What things excite you? Define them, then decide on ways you can incorporate them into your business, even if it isn’t necessarily an income-producing endeavor. This can lead directly to methods for CE. For example, if you’re a plumber that loves hiking, then you may support a local hiking initiative. It won’t necessarily produce a customer directly, but it likely will increase awareness of your brand. That can indirectly lead to new customers. Even if it doesn’t, it will definitely make you feel better, and that’s a value beyond words – or dollars.
Once you’ve done the above, you’re ready to craft a CE/CX strategy. It’s time to do two more things:
- Follow your gut. Your instincts helped you become an entrepreneur in the first place. Don’t discount them now. Truthfully, there are no formulas, just certain basic activities and fundamental truths that govern all success. So trust your instincts. Tara Hunt, in an article entitled “The Secret to Great Social Content,” offered this advice from some pretty savvy guys, Dennis Roady and Roman Atwood (aka Serial Pranksters on YouTube): “If you start using rules, you stop using your instincts.” So follow your gut.
- Get help if needed. When you venture into uncharted territory (for you at least), it’s scary. This is the time to get help from someone who has gone down this road before successfully. So get help. To often as entrepreneurs, we equate personal responsibility with “doing it all ourselves.” I haven’t met any successful person who did everything on their own. Getting help isn’t abdicating responsibility; you are still the only person who answers for the result. However, recognizing that you don’t have the necessary expertise to complete a particular task is a manifestation of modesty, something we all need. Thankfully, there are many resources out here to help.
It’s a pleasure and a privilege to work with entrepreneurs and help you find ways to do what you do best on a bigger scale. Please post any questions you may have in the Comments section below. Get my contact information by clicking on the Gravatar at the end of this post and let me know there is anything I can do to help promote your efforts.