Are you serious about your customers?

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Consumers are the lifeblood of our organization, and gaining new customers and maintaining relationships with existing ones should be the center of every direct marketing effort. Time and time again, we have demonstrated that prospects and customer response rates directly correlate to the relevant use of information in outbound communications. Are you taking your customers seriously?

The truth is, it's something all marketers, even the elite brands, could and should do a better job with. Taking your customer seriously is not only a basic business responsibility but a genuine business building opportunity for your company.

We conducted an online survey of 14 top marketers in July 2006 to determine just how important they consider their customers. We were pleasantly surprised when our results indicated that marketers are clueing into their customers more today than ever before. The following 10 tips, developed using survey responses, can help you find that sweet spot of customer satisfaction that will lead to steady growth and a heavy consumer retention rate:

1) Direct marketers that are serious about their customers proactively seek out consumers who are going to be the best fit for the brand. They invest in understanding the attitudes and behavior of the brand’s best prospects and look for innovative ways to reach and communicate with them.
2) Optimizing acquisition efforts means doing a good job of estimating how much a customer will be worth and determining how much should be spent to get them. Application of this “customer allowable” concept ties budgets directly to customer acquisition goals.
3) Most marketers can quote brand sales and market share. However, both of these metrics are driven by the same source—customers. Knowing the approximate number of customers you have in a month, a quarter or a year is a key part of becoming a more customer-centric organization.
4) Marketers often know the right questions to ask. However, without timely access to customer information, marketers are, at best, left with an accurate “rearview-mirror” view of what happened in the past or, at worst, conflicting “facts” from multiple sources.
5) The whole purpose of paying for the collection of information about your customers is to use it effectively to either predict or help cause a change in your customers’ or prospects’ behavior. Remember, customer data are perishable and can be your most valuable business-building asset.
6) “Relevance” is the key to affecting consumer behavior. In order for direct marketers to be relevant, they must understand who they are talking to, what to say to the consumer that will motivate behavior, how to deliver the message and when to deliver it.
7) Keeping current customers is generally considered the most important way to build your business, given the high cost of acquiring new ones. As such, gaining an understanding of the real reasons why customers leave is critical to both profits and growth.
8) An advocate is that customer who goes out for free and recommends you to his or her friends. Actively help them be your advocates by facilitating their selling efforts. Give them something to share with their friends.
9) All customers go through a buying decision process. Marketers need to understand the buying process for their individual brand. Consider your different customer segments and how the buying process may differ for each.
10) What is the nugget of actionable customer insight that you would never want to reveal to your competitor? Do you know the key benefit or feature of your product or service that differentiates your brand from your competitors? That differentiating insight is what can give you a significant competitive advantage.

David J. Scholes is president-CEO of Targetbase, a database marketing agency. Targetbase is part of Omnicom Group.

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