Consumer empathy – customer relationship management
February 17 2021
Sales don’t mean what it used to in the past. Yesterday, a company managed the market’s expectations by simply putting a product on the shelf. Today it listens to the market’s needs. Tomorrow every company that doesn’t cooperate with a client at every stage: design, development, and sales will be in trouble. Client relationship management is now the pillar of every business.
How to build a relationship with a customer?
Consumer empathy is a key factor for market success and one of the biggest competitive advantages. Consumer empathy is behind the success of many companies. It’s often related to the world of IT and software development. It’s also about the knowledge of user experience and user interface (UX/UI) specialists. Building client relationship on the internet is a standard procedure but the truth is, you have to think about it in every industry, with every product and service. By putting yourself in the consumer’s shoes, we can create a wanted and needed product. We can also provide better service.
Building lasting relationships with a customer – why and for whom?
The term “client relationship” should not be limited to people that have direct contact with the client itself. Getting into the role of the client should affect almost everybody:
- company owners and C-level executives
- team leaders and members of project teams
- Project Managers, Scrum Masters, Product Owners
- marketing and PR specialists, spokesman, social media specialists,
- engineers, industrial designers, architects
- lawyers, legal counsels, tax advisors,
- call centers and service centers consultants
If you look at this hard enough, the term “client relationship” will be important even for assembly line workers. It’s not an exaggeration, since empathy means two things:
- the quality of a product or a service
- the quality of service and contact with the customer, including post-sale support
Nobody will buy something they don’t want. Even if we take into account impulse buying, people still want quality. It doesn’t matter if the product is worth $1, $10, or $1000. What’s important is a feeling of a money well-spent and acknowledging that this particular item represents a real value. China understood that already; the country shifted from copy-paste to value economy. They don’t make low-quality products anymore, they often produce carefully made, high-quality tech, and other solid items.
The main reason behind customer-empathy being introduced into the organization is the need of serving the customer and delivering him or her real value. Selling is easy for many companies and their in-house specialists. But the sale itself is not enough, you need to establish a relationship with a customer. A client who buys something today, can return and buy something tomorrow. It doesn’t matter if the first buy will of low value and will not accommodate the manager’s expectations. What matters is the final result:
- attracting the customer to the brand
- creating a comfortable environment to generate a sale
- introducing consumer value that’s attached to the process and fact of buying a product
- creating and introducing arguments for coming back and buying another product
- creating lasting and positive emotions for the brand, and that means the need to talk about the brand and sharing experiences
It’s vital to remember that the key to creating a lasting competitive advantage is the customer. He should be the center of attention for any company. And his needs.
Once you go down that road, you can’t afford to lower standards. When choosing between two similar companies with similar products, a customer will almost certainly choose one who he trusts the most and has a relationship with. Even if it’s a fresh thing and the first purchase was made just yesterday. You never get the chance to make a first impression, so make a splash and then correct a course a little bit. Consumer empathy eliminates this problem as well – if you don’t know how to make a good impression on your customer (starting with a new brand, going with rebranding, introducing a new product line), focus on him as a whole.
Managing a customer relationship on an example
Kind service from airlines for a handicapped person, a patiently repeated message for a person that can’t understand it, designing a device for a niche that can utilize and appreciated custom solutions. These practical examples show that you don’t need that much to create or maintain a good image. What matters is creating a customer like a human being by any brand.
Creating a lasting relationship with a customer is not only a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. This type of process is mainly… exactly, a process, not software designed to gather information about clients. Sure, CRMs are created for building and maintain relations with clients and business partners of the company, but it’s not what it is about. They are only tools, a “hard aspect” of the phenomenon. What is really need is a “soft aspect”.
An example? Cold emailing and customers’ reactions to this form of a sales pitch. Writing this type of messaging is art. Servicing these relationships is an even greater challenge. Especially when a prospect (a potential customer) is silent or plainly says he’s not interested. Sometimes he’s coming back – even after weeks or months. He asks about the price and learns it’s different from expected. For example, there’s no promotion (B2B). What can you do, how can you react?
Building a relationship with a customer is sometimes the art of a proper response for an ultimatum: I won’t buy it, lower the price. It’s always good to highlight the product’s advantages and its uniqueness. You have to find everything that justified the price and makes the product special on the market. Promotion is only a hook, a true value lies not in the price, but functionality. Naturally, you have to use the right language, engage in a dialog with a customer, etc. Everything – language, argumentation, relying on the company’s tradition and product quality, has its roots in a phenomenon called the company’s culture.
I’m writing about it with a clear goal. I have worked for or with companies that had reservations when it came to dialogue. Email, phone, or personal. A sales manager can’t always build and maintain lasting relationships with a customer. A person in the call center can’t always properly handle a complaint. It doesn’t matter if the sale is for B2B or B2C – what counts is arguments, deep knowledge about the target group that buys our products, and finally, emotional management.
But primarily – focusing on the individual case. Customers like when someone pays attention to them. Once, in a B2C company, we had a problem with a script. It didn’t reflect the level of understanding when a call center operator spoke to the client. The customer had a complaint that the product wasn’t working, and the script wouldn’t allow us to show empathy on the needed level. We did upgrade it a little but in this case, the key to the situation was to throw away the script and speak to this human being like… a human.
Here’s another important tip – self-aware customers don’t like when someone throws their name too often in a conversation. Doing it every 10 seconds and assuring the problem will be dealt with works opposite. It creates an impression, and this is the fact, that this is prepared and rehearsed. It’s artificial, not a real conversation. The script helps but it can never replace an individual assessment of the situation by the person who talks with the customer. When dealing with a customer, automation works only when it comes to the operational side of things. For example, when you need to process some data. Every other situation can be dealt with empathy.
Elements of success
A customer has contact with a brand not only at the time of purchase. He enters the brand’s world every time he has to squeeze through shop shelves or deal with underinformed or undertrained call center operator. Consumer empathy should extend to all aspects of the brand’s activities and be important, but not the only one, aspect of a customer’s experience.
Here’s another important thing. Don’t sell. Seriously. First, create a brand’s image to let people know you have something interesting going on. A brand is created through trust and long-term relations with every possible actor on the market’s scene – customers, business partners, product providers, brand’s fans. If the customer can’t afford a product right now – he will gather the money and, in the meantime, the product will become a highly anticipated thing. The client will have an aspirational connection to it. If the customer is unconvinced – he will look for the information. If you don’t provide the content, he will build the brand’s image on his own. This is dangerous.
You have to control the narrative about your brand. Show arguments why people should trust you and what benefits people will have from that. Introduce in your company processes that support and manage customer empathy:
- run or base your activities on market’s research
- create and process databases; analyze and interpret data
- monitor social media actives and what fans are saying about the brand
- put a strong emphasis on customers that aren’t happy
- start every project by putting an end-user in the center
Let’s focus on the last two bullet points. Let’s remember that satisfied people are usually silent and don’t express their satisfaction with the product. They just use it. They can sometimes click on a golden star in the online shop, letting the company know that they’re happy. You should worry about people that are vocal and protest. Or should I say – you should take care of their satisfaction level.
Where does building of the customer relationship begin?
Supporting the customer and empathy doesn’t start when someone enters a shop and doesn’t end with the same person leaving the shop with the product. The post-sale support, customer care, and assistance in using a product should always be present. The brand is not the company’s headquarters; the brand is not a logo. A brand is an answer to a customer’s challenges and needs. That’s why social listening is a powerful tool – you can find out what people are saying about your brand but also what problems do they have. Also, what do they expect from the brand in relation to these problems.
All this will help to establish a relationship where feedback will become one of the pillars for sales. Customers can’t stand the situation where they are ignored. If they don’t like something, they expect progress in the next product batch. Modified ingredients, new model, sometimes the entire generation of new products. If they trust the brand, and this trust has been strained for the first time or the situation is very rare, people will wait. The most important thing is the brand’s reaction and drawn conclusions. The best way to do that is to give customers the message beginning with “we hear you”.
Empathy in coronavirus era is mostly about lasting relationships with customers
The entire 2020 is vastly commented on by company owners, marketing specialists, and customer relations experts. Most of them focus on saying that nothing will stay the same anymore. One thing is for sure – we have shifted towards values. Things customers definitely want and care about.
The number of marketing campaigns is shrinking, budgets are cut but the messaging for brands is very similar. In the center we have a living, breathing human being. With emotions. Fear and dreams. The coronavirus pushed advertisers, not to changed accents in the communication but transform the entire value of communication. Time will tell how long will this effect last but it’s a shift in the right direction. The coronavirus crisis showed that brands spoke in their campaigns about things unfit for everyday commercials. Advertisements became more humane, especially in the first 3-4 months of 2020. Commercials spoke less of products and prices and more about how products can help in everyday situations. We have observed a serious rise of image campaigns, focused on creating or strengthening ties, not sales.
For brands, the crisis is a chance to draw long-term conclusions. Put in the center a real customer, not a buying persona with more or less averaged character traits and needs. Organizations that will bet on authenticity – quality products, practical support, transparent communications, will win the race for sales. Those that will bet on customer empathy, crisis, or no crisis, will acquire the invaluable source of competitive advantage. Remember – one that has contact with a client, sells.