MARKETING

Marketing's Newest Weapon: Customer Service

Develop relationships with your customers and they'll be your greatest marketing asset.
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Traditional marketing is all about generating business leads by understanding what different groups of people want. But in today's people economy, there's a lot more to marketing than that. I recently read an article by marketing strategist Bryan Kramer, who makes the case that marketing is no longer just business-to-business or business-to-consumer, it's human-to-human.

Thinking of marketing as a human-to-human interaction takes effort on the part of any entrepreneur. It requires an understanding that marketing is about creating an ongoing relationship with your customers. (Marketing automation software like Eloqua or Hubspot can help you develop and grow those relationships over time.)

At dotloop, we treat customer service as our most important marketing tool. It has helped us develop strong long-term relationships with people who are willing to sing our praises without even being asked. Here's how to create a stronger business through this new way of thinking about marketing:

Create a Great User Experience

People are bombarded on a daily basis with marketing in the form of advertisements. Television, magazines, Facebook, even Words with Friends--they're all filled with marketing messages. Conventionally, you believe that ads can generate business leads, which can generate revenue. In some cases that's true, but it costs a lot and it's not guaranteed to work. I believe you can generate the same, if not more business leads, by delivering a great user experience.

A great example of this is Starbucks. A lot of unsuccessful coffee houses just care about selling you a cup of coffee. You come to the register, order your drink, they pour it and you pay. The end. At Starbucks, however, they care about making the experience of entering their store a great one. Chances are that once you've been to your local Starbucks just a few times, the barista greets you by name and probably knows what you want to drink before you even tell him. As a result of that, let's say you're out of town on business--where are you going to go for your coffee? Probably Starbucks, because there is a consistency in the way the stores look and feel.

In a Seattle Times article from a few years ago, Starbucks' top marketing executive said that a customer's relationship with Starbucks is based on the relationship with their barista. Starbucks has purposely focused on great customer service so that every time you enter any one of their stores you have the same great experience over and over again, and in turn keep coming back, probably with your friends.

Make a Connection

Establishing a connection is crucial to any relationship--personal or professional. Think back to the last time you went on a first date. What were you looking for? Some type of connection and something that drew you to that person. Well, the same holds true for business and the companies you want to engage with. Customers want to be drawn to you and you can do that by establishing a connection with them.

Whole Foods is an example of a retailer that has developed an impassioned connection with its customers. Whole Foods shoppers are willing to pay more for groceries, just so they can purchase them at Whole Foods. The Wall Street Journal reported not too long ago that Whole Foods' profits are continuing to rise, while other traditional grocery stores aren't doing so hot.

I believe that's because Whole Foods developed a connection with its customer base and understands what they are shopping for. Their shoppers aren't just looking for groceries; they are looking for a sustainable, organic lifestyle and Whole Foods delivers on that promise. Whole Foods also connects with its customers via social media and blogs dedicated to living a healthy life.

Weird as it may sound, imagine you're a person who is passionate about sustainable farming and you're going on a date with two different grocery stores: your neighborhood chain store and Whole Foods. Who do you have the immediate connection with? Who are you drawn to? Whole Foods, which is why you keep coming back.

Develop a Life-Long Relationship

For too long, marketers have focused solely on customer acquisition. No longer. Instead, they must focus on developing a life-long relationship with a customer--no matter where they are in the buying process--and then continuing to delight them long after the original purchase.

This can be tough, but I've seen it happen in many industries, including real estate. Most agents spend thousands of dollars a month on lead generation with websites like Trulia and Zillow. A consumer searches these sites, inquires, and the agent responds. But unless the consumer is looking to buy immediately, chances are that the agent forgets about them and moves on to the next lead. Instead, there should be a focus on creating customers for life.

Not too long ago, I was casually searching for property in California and checked on Trulia and Zillow. Instead of being thrown into the pile of people not serious about buying, the agent I connected with didn't ignore me, he got to know me. He asked a lot of questions and wanted to know my longterm goals, because as he saw it, eventually I would buy a house. After that, I would likely sell that house and upgrade, and if it was a delightful experience, I would refer my family and friends.

The takeaway is that investing in sites like Trulia and Zillow can be a good thing, as long as you don't look at every lead as an immediate sale. People are on different timelines, whether you're selling software or real estate, so treat them differently, but treat them all well. By my agent delivering great service, he developed a life-long relationship with me and in turn, generated new leads for himself by way of my referrals.

This Should Be Second Nature

The bottom line is that creating great experiences--by establishing connections and developing life-long relationships--should be second nature to all of us. That's because how you behave in your personal and professional lives shouldn't be too drastically different.

In today's people economy, customer service must become your best marketing tool. If you first focus on the success of your current clients, you will create a well-oiled referral machine--one that will ensure a successful organization and longterm sustainability.

Last updated: Feb 4, 2014

AUSTIN ALLISON | Columnist | founder and CEO of dotloop

Austin Allison is founder and CEO of dotloop, the fastest-growing technology company in real estate, and the co-author of Peoplework: How to Run a People-First Business in a Digital-First World.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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