In the Cluetrain Manifesto, David and Chris and Doc wrote that “markets are conversations”. Much has been made of the importance of listening to your customers, and engaging them rather than talking at them. Remarkably, even when the perils of ignoring customer feedback have been made abundantly clear, companies that go the distance in this realm are the exception, not the rule.
Yesterday, in a keynote presentation at a web 2.0 conference hosted by Hothouse, an Australian consultancy, Ross Dawson used my experience with Lenovo this spring as a case study in how a company can get it right. Ross writes that to fully benefit from the web 2.0 ecosystem, marketers must:
- Listen to and learn from conversations
- Speak… honestly and transparently
- Provide compelling content in accessible formats
- Go where lead consumers are going
It’s exceedingly straightforward advice, but I think too often companies are concerned about doing it wrong and end up staying on the sidelines. Ross’s advice is useful, and it’s in the right order: if you aren’t engaged in a conversation about your product, company or industry today, start by simply listening to the conversations that are already happening. (They almost certainly are out there, you just have to find them.) Go to Technorati, search on obvious terms. Bookmark the sites, or, better yet, subscribe to their feeds in Google Reader, and use the “share” function to generate a link feed so that you can share useful posts with your team. Encourage them to do the same, and you’ll start exposing your key people to conversations they should be aware of… before long, they won’t be able to resist the urge to speak up and join in. At that point, the ball rolls downhill all by itself.
One last comment on the value of engaging consumers. When David Churbuck reached out to me — directly and immediately — he earned Lenovo a customer for life. (Despite other alternatives, when it came time to buy a new laptop this month, I didn’t bother looking at any other manufacturers: I wanted another ThinkPad.) But even more importantly, what the PR vets call “earned media” can pay for itself over, and over, and over. Consider a few of the places David and I are discussed, as a result of one phone call and one blog post:
- Forbes on Tech
- Michael Sampson
- Social Media Club (slide 28)
- Net Savvy Executive
- Forrester Client Boot Camp
- See also the comments at David’s blog here
This kind of ripple effect is very similar to something I observed when working with the tech team at the Dean campaign in 2003 and 2004. As much as the blog, MeetUp, and petition drives helped drive online contributions, the fact that it was indicative of a different approach to campaigning earned the Dean campaign a ton of “free” media. That meant increased exposure on CNN, in a ton of papers, eventually on the cover of all three news magazines at the same time. So the online engagement drove offline awareness, which drove online activity, which… well, you get the idea. When it’s done right, every part of your marketing strategy feeds the other pieces, and the ripples in the water get bigger. I think we’re clearly seeing that with David’s one phone call: over 6 months later, the people calling attention to that simple act are growing more numerous, the audiences who are hearing that message are getting bigger, and it only reinforces a few key points: Lenovo cares about its customers. Lenovo customers are passionate about Lenovo’s products. And in this age of decreasing customer loyalty, you can’t put a price tag on that.
We take customer service very, very seriously at FeedBurner. And it’s not about waiting for the phone to ring or the inbox to fill: that’s way too passive these days. We have nearly 300,000 users around the world who use our service, and nearly 30 million people subscribe to feeds that we manage. Questions, concerns, praise — it can come from anyone, A-list or ZZ-list. Thanks to services like Technorati (not to mention Google), their posts all have equal authority: they’re all discoverable, and they all have the potential to influence someone’s decision. Like it or not, the conversations are happening. We made the decision early on to engage in those conversations, and the results are remarkable. When Aaron Brazell, the tech wizard at b5 Media, posted some positive feedback the other day (mixed with some constructive suggestions for improvement), 16 comments showed up in 2 days, with my favorites being: FeedBurner rocks!, I can’t speak highly enough of FeedBurner’s customer service, and all the help I’ve received from the team, especially Matt Shobe., I love feedburner, and I had an issue with one of my feeds not being recognized and the customer support I received was stellar. They tried to help me in every way possible, even though the issue ended up being a DNS error with my hosting provider. Makes me glad I decided to go with them.
Get in the conversation. You’ll be glad you did.