THE PROBLEM: You are a small company and cannot afford a full-blown Voice of Customer, (VOC) research program, yet you need VOC guidance.
THE SOLUTION: Create a Customer Council as a low cost way to obtain VOC feedback and identify opportunities or threats. Implemented properly, the insights will always improve bottom-line performance.
A Customer Council is an ad-hoc committee that can include your best customers, lost customers and prospective customers. It is important to include a cross-functional team representing key areas from your company. The most effective Customer Councils include the company's senior management plus some front-line service people who actually work with customers on a daily basis.
Chris McCann, CEO of 1-800-Flowers, emphasized the strategic importance of such a group in a recent interview with us: He said: "From its earliest days, this company has been founded on the principle of building the relationship first, and doing business second ... One of the things I'm proudest of has been launching our own customer panel. This group got its start when I asked for the e-mail addresses of our very best customers. I then e-mailed each of them, and asked for his or her help. I said, 'I am looking for something -- a group that I can turn to when I have questions.... You can offer me suggestions at any time, just by picking up the phone and calling me. Would you agree to do this?' People said 'yes,' and suddenly we had a customer panel." The panel has become a critical strategic resource for 1-800-Flowers, one that gives McCann (among other things) valuable, relevant, and rapid input on new product and service ideas. It also delivers referrals!
Another innovative, revenue-generating use of the Customer Council concept takes advantage of video and social media tools to share customer testimonials generated at these gatherings.
Visit the Ascend Worldwide site and you can find (and share) YouTube videos of actual C-level decision makers, all members of Ascend's Customer Council, offering their own personal experiences about doing business with the aerospace consultant. This is an extremely powerful marketing tactic. Don't be surprised when one of your competitors starts posting videos like this!
Follow Chris McCann's lead. Get the e-mail addresses of a group of your best customers. Reach out to them and ask them for help, guidance, and support on an ongoing basis.
Ask members of your Customer Council questions like this:
- How can we improve the quality of our service or product?
- How can we make it easier for you to do business with us?
- How can we increase the likelihood that you will do business with us again?
Ernan Roman is President of the marketing consultancy, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.
Recognized as the industry pioneer who created three transformational methodologies: Integrated Direct Marketing, Opt-In Marketing, and Voice of Customer Relationship Research.
Clients include Microsoft, NBC Universal, Disney, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.
Ernan was named to "B to B's Who's Who" as one of the "100 most influential people" in Business Marketing by Crain's B to B Magazine.
His fourth and latest book on marketing best practices is titled: Voice of the Customer Marketing: A Proven 5-Step Process to Create Customers Who Care, Spend, and Stay.
Ernan is also the co-author of "Opt-In Marketing: Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing" and author of "Integrated Direct Marketing: The Cutting Edge Strategy for Synchronizing Advertising, Direct Mail, Telemarketing and Field Sales."