“Customers don’t care about brands” headlines the research and business technology advise site TechnologyAdvise. This was based on Gallup’s report Guide to Customer Centricity , based on hundreds of thousands of in-depth customer interviews and a whopping engagement measurement of 18 million customers. The depth and number of respondents alone makes it worthy to listen to.
Gallup found that:
- 60 percent of B2B clients are indifferent – they don’t care – about B2B companies;
- 29 percent are “fully engaged”; and
- 11 percent are “actively disengaged”.
While Gallup does not give details as to what constitutes “engaged”, the term “actively disengaged” suggests fear of having any relationships whatsoever.
The Keyword Is “Trust”
While Gallup finds that 71 percent of B2B customers are either indifferent or actively disengaged with B2B companies, a 2014 study by the Alternative Board also reveals that only “6 percent of survey respondents said they are “very trusting” of information received from vendors, while more than half (57 percent) said the information they receive from vendors is too sales-oriented”. Clearly there is a trust problem here – a mistrust that appears to stem from company communications that reeks of too much sales. Customers feel like they are less being helped on things they care about – quality, on-time delivery and problem resolution – and more like being sold on products.
Gallup has identified three main barriers B2B companies face in getting successful with clients:
- those that limit a company’s understanding of its customer relationships;
- those that keep a company constantly playing defense; and
- those that prevent a company from growing organically.
The first barrier can be overcome by regularly talking to the customers (via reviews of key accounts) – not just involving them in a survey. The second barrier can be addressed by swiftly addressing customer concerns be it in quality, delivery and resolution (uncovered by talking to the customers). The third can be hurdled by, again, talking with the clients – having “dynamic and forward-thinking conversations with customers and to channel those conversations into growth”, the Gallup report says. Notice that all of these barriers come from not communicating enough and in the right way.
However, success should start at home. The Gallup report finds that:
“… before companies can build their brand externally, they need to build it internally – through their employees. If employees don’t believe in the products they are creating or the services they are selling, there is no reason to think that customers will. Leaders and managers must have conversations with their employees about the brand and help them connect their work to it.”
Before B2B companies can build trust in their clients, they first have to build trust for their own products in their employees. This is a challenge, especially in large companies where employees feel like replaceable cogs. Gallup recommends that “leaders and managers must have conversations with their employees about the brand and help them connect their work to it”.
To improve customer engagement, Gallup suggested these actions:
- Measure objectively – have a third party, together with account team members, assess customer engagement – educating customers about how the survey is done and how the results can help them solve their concerns and encouraging them to be open and honest in their answers.
- Measure holistically – have the assessment as a combination of quantitative and qualitative analyses. Quality insights can come from talking with the customers (customer interviews)
- Focus on the most urgent accounts – Focusing on your most important accounts gives the greatest return for your time and money spent. Low engagement on these accounts indicates that they are at risk of leaving.
- Activate the account team – From the results of the quantitative and quantitative analyses, the account team must act on the survey feedback to show sincerity while formulating moves to support customer engagement and impact.
- Put customers first – Put their needs first before yours. If you help your clients feel at home whenever they have concerns with your products and services, this will lead to better customer experience and, ultimately, more business.
Be it employee or customer engagement, the first step in solving trust problems is honest, sincere, and open conversation. Communication is the first step towards being helpful to customers. It is the foundation of likable, trustworthy brands.
(Be sure to download Gallup’s full report for more details on solving problems on customer engagement.)
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