A lot of people have been talking about the great social media revolution for the last few years. They’re not wrong. Social Media has changed a lot about how we think, certainly about how we communicate, and also how we frame our relationships with our customers and prospects. However, just looking at the social media piece of the puzzle is missing where the real revolution has taken place. A major shift has occurred in how customers expect to be treated by companies. This may have happened without Social Media, but Social Media certainly, at the least, enhanced this trend.    

I just finished reading an interesting book called The Hidden Wealth of Customers by Bill Lee (Harvard Business Press was kind enough to forward me a copy). In this book, Lee suggests that the old customer relationship formula – I make something, you buy it, you get product, I get money – has been replaced. Lee writes, “Companies need to ask themselves, Are we doing all we can to foster the hidden value that we can leverage from our customer relationships and that they can gain from us?” This same thought has appeared, in different ways, in books like Lou Imbriano’s Winning the Customer and John Jantsch’s The Referral Engine.

So, how can you take your company to this new level of business? How can you harness the power of your customers? Here are eight ideas.

  1. Get to really know your customers: This is something Lou Imbriano focuses on a lot in his book. Whoever is the “gate keeper” for your company, encourage them to keep notes about people they talk to regularly. Does this person like golf? Does this person like baseball? Customers feel better about doing business with you when they feel like you care about them. If you show that you REALLY care, you’ll have a loyal fan for life.
  2. Help your customers get to know other customers: This is something Lee talks a lot about in his book. Ultimately, customers care more about what other people think about your company. They can already guess what you think about yourself, and they’re gonna lean towards thinking you’re kind of biased. Create events where your customers can meet. If they get to know each other and get to learn from each other thanks to you, you will begin to build trust and loyalty with them.
  3. Help your customers become thought leaders: Your company provides products or services that you feel will help your customers, right? What if your customers have customers of their own that they want to help? Give your customers opportunities to show their own talents. Give them opportunities to write white papers for your company. Lee refers to this as beginning the process of creating a “rock star.” As you build a person’s confidence, you also build their sense that you are a partner, not just a product or service provider.
  4. Collaborate with customers to create new products or services: The best example of this kind of collaboration is probably Apple and its app store. Customers, who are madly in love with iPhones and iPads can create apps, make money (maybe), and gain notoriety (maybe). At the same time, they are driving more people to Apple products and Apple makes money off each app. How can you create this type of win-win situation with your customers?
  5. Know who your advocates are: Lee talks at length about the fact that companies often have no idea who their strongest advocates are. Consistently, customers who say that they would gladly recommend the company to others are never contacted about that commitment. Meanwhile, customers who are perceived of as being highly influential might not be the types of customers to actually make referrals. This is where ranking customers based on Klout scores can start to get you into trouble.
  6. Create an unforgettable experience: Jantsch recounts several examples of companies who created lifelong customers simply because of the amazing experience they provided. Whether it was breathtaking customer service, a nice unique touch, or, as Imbriano was able to create with the New England Patriots, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Give your customers a reason to talk about how much they love you.
  7. Help your customers reach their goals: Lee notes that if you are trying to reach those elusive C-Suite folks, one of the best ways to make an impression is to find out what they’re after. Are they looking for a monetary reward? Are they looking to create a career-expanding change at their company? How can your company help them get there? Partnering with people in this way can again create a partnership, not just a typical company/customer relationship.
  8. Reward customers who help you: Do you know the actual value of your customers? How many people have they referred to you? How many people bought from you because that one customer raved about you? It’s time to dig in to your data and uncover these people. Once you do, make sure you keep them happy and show them gratitude.

If you think some of this looks like a lot of work, you’re probably right. You need to be organized. You need to have a planned approach for how you will get tactics like this finished. But if you do the work, your company will most certainly reap the benefits.

How can you begin to harness the power of your customers? I’d love to hear your thoughts!