Small Business Challenges in Fostering Customer Engagement
Mark J. Komen, President
I asked a sample of small business leaders to describe their challenges with customer engagement, their approaches to it and recommendations. I defined customer engagement as how they promote customer investment in their brand and product offerings. A theme in their responses is the tight coupling between marketing, building brand and interacting with customers. Here are some of their thoughts.
Virginia Brophy Achman of race and event planning organization Twin Cities in Motion says that consumers have short attention spans and high expectations on any brand they interface with during all parts of a transactional experience. She goes on to say that “noting these challenges inspires us to consider how every member on the team can impact [customer engagement], directly or indirectly, and we all look for ways to elevate our organization.” Her approach to creating “loyal brand advocates” is to engage consumers with relevant, high quality social media content and measuring results with consumer satisfaction metrics such as Net Promoter Score as there is a definite ROI in doing so.
Susan McPherson of marketing communications company Creative Communications Consultants says that her staff focuses on delivering work that “lives up to our brand (detailed, well documented/explained, accurate, timely, and always “branding” our deliverables)” and communicating in a consistent manner.
Steve Lindell of precision machining company Twin Cities EDM and Manufacturing says his biggest customer engagement challenge is getting customers to trust him as it “takes time proving your company. The key is finding out how to help customers beyond what other vendors [are doing].” Getting personal with customers helps to build that trust. He actively involves staff in looking for solutions to customer issues. He recommends doing whatever you can that will make your customers’ jobs easier.
Kaeko Leitch of Abacus Engineering invested in building a brand to connect with larger architectural firms as her customers. Abacus has been advertising in well-known, high-end architectural magazines and hired a professional web designer to create a brand presence that is more fitting for larger companies. She also hired a professional photographer to ensure high quality photos were available for Abacus’ website. In addition, the company also started sending out newsletters to notify present and future customers about new, on-going and completed projects.
Mike Day of building automation systems company Humeratech recommends getting in front of customers on an annual basis because catching up is difficult if you aren’t current with them.
Randy Korus of Kolson Marketing recommends talking with your customers but respecting their time. He says, “We go for quick responses to issues and follow up.”
David Swanson of Reliable Twin Cleaning says, “We talk with customers on an ad hoc basis about how to improve our services. We show an interest in them by asking about their families and kids.”
Dick Lindell of Lindell Engineering makes sure that all drop-in visitors to his office get a personal welcome from his office manager.
“Focus on client goals,“ says Adam Meyer of StudioM Architects. Show them what they don’t see.
Steve Gilbertson of wire harness manufacturer Electramatic, Inc. uses an outside sales force to engage with customers and he suggests finding a niche in the market or creating one to serve customers who are facing time crunches, disorganized or needing your expertise.
Some closing thoughts:
How do you know if you have engaged customers?
- They stay with your organization despite other choices of offerings that are similar to yours.
- They are willing to make efforts to do business and INCREASE their business with you
- They are willing to be advocates and ambassadors for your products and services.
Some key elements of customer engagement include:
- How you market, build and manage customer relations
- How you manage complaints, customer satisfaction and customer feedback on your products and services across customer groups and market segments
- How you use Voice of the Customer processes to identify current and future customer needs and market requirements for your product and service offerings
There’s a big difference between “selling things and getting paid for them” vs. building relationships with customers. Therefore, customers are likely asking themselves questions like these:
- Do I consider your company competent, responsive and well-organized?
- Do I trust your company to “get it right?”
- Do I want to do business with you?
The Malcolm Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence identifies customer engagement as a critical component of organizational success. The ultimate aim is to position your company as responsive to customer needs and easy to do business with. Strengthening your customer engagement can only make your business stronger.
© 2019. Mark J. Komen. All rights reserved worldwide.