For years, businesses have put in place various programs targeted at convening their customers: large events, tradeshows, focus groups are some examples. The challenge with these one-off transactional approaches is they do not engage your customers over the long term and the value is equally transactional in nature. Engaging your customers in an ongoing dialogue brings with it the rewards of feedback on changing customer needs, the surfacing of new ideas, co-creation of new services and solutions—and the consistency and reliability of deeper relationships.
An ongoing customer engagement strategy requires planning and an investment in the development of compelling content and enriching interactions that will keep your customers coming back for more. In considering your approach to engage more systematically and deeply with your customers, reflect on the following three questions to start:
What is the purpose of the engagement?
What is the purpose of your engagement activities? To gain advice? To jointly solve problems? This seems like a simple question, but too often we have clients that are wanting to bring customers together because they feel they need to have an event. Customers don’t want to come together to be sold to or to be a part of a series of sales pitches. They are looking for a place to gain new ideas, inspirational content, innovative solutions and an opportunity to advance their own influence and impact in their organization and their profession.
What do your customers want to learn?
One way to answer the value question is to find out what your customers are interesting in learning. What are their greatest challenges and areas of pain? Not just the technical challenges, but the broader challenges facing their businesses. Find out who your customers would be interested to learn from – whether it is other peers or leading experts – and bring them into the mix. You, in turn, will learn by convening around your customers’ key business concerns.
How will you action the advice received?
Successful customer engagement approaches are grounded in seeking your customers’ advice. If your business does not act on the advice received, your customers will not come to future sessions. They will perceive your business as one that is not willing to listen or change. Before engaging your customers, think through how you plan to act upon their advice. If you determine that your business is not committed to taking action it is best to not engage your customers in sessions where you are asking for advice.
Collaborating with your customers can provide profound opportunities for your customers, your company and your innovation strategy – it is worth the planning and the investment.