|BACKED BY A MAJOR NEW study, the CMO Council is urging B2B companies to create marketing performance models based on “customer affinity,” a concept that the Council concludes is far more meaningful than “soft metrics” such as brand awareness/satisfaction or response rates to marketing campaigns.
The study, “Profitability from Customer Affinity,” was conducted in the B2B technology sector, but has far-reaching ramifications for many markets.
“We’re pushing to sensitize the marketplace to the reality that engagement and interactivity with customers is far more meaningful and valuable than just blasting out one campaign after another, or measuring communications effectiveness,” sums up CMO Council Executive Director Donovan Neale-May.
The study confirmed that customers rank brand perception low on the totem pole in terms of what drives their relationship and purchasing decisions, and the council believes that traditional brand measurements actually reinforce ineffective marketing practices and “severely limit the role and vision of the CMO.”
In contrast, companies’ ability to develop strong interaction/ engagement with customers has “enormous impact” on their returns, and may actually be the most essential competitive advantage and determinant of their overall business performance in the years ahead, stresses Neale-May.
What exactly is customer affinity? It is a set of disciplines that includes brand awareness, trust and credibility, but goes beyond “surface metrics” like customer satisfaction, loyalty or advocacy. Affinity “digs deeper into critical aspects of the customer relationship and lifecycle experience,” including product relevance, value-added services, co-innovation, responsiveness, business practices and policies, problem resolution, value of customer interactions, clarity and resonance of messaging, customer knowledge, communications quality and consistency, explains the report. Marketers, it stresses, “need to play a significant role in defining, orchestrating and activating all of the factors impacting customer affinity.”
B2B technology was chosen as the focus of the initial affinity study because of its size and importance (annual expenditures of $488.5 billion in the U.S. and $1.5 trillion worldwide) and its unique, complex set of customer relationship challenges, explains Neale-May. A major deliverable was the Customer Affinity Index (CAI), which measures how leading technology companies stack up in terms of customer equity and attachment.
However, the Council views this study as a first step. Going forward, it plans to continue to research what drives customer affinity, hone metrics and use the methodology created for the tech sector to conduct similar studies in a number of markets, including financial services, Neale-May reports. The ultimate goal: Give companies within a market the ability to create their own, hard performance metrics based on the customer affinity model.
In the tech market, the Council conducted extensive qualitative and quantitative research over a six-month period with senior-level IT buyers/specifiers; channel solution providers; marketers with IT manufacturers/vendors; and customer relationship, service and call-center executives.
The findings revealed significant disconnects between customer and vendor priorities and communications. For starters, contrary to traditional marketer perceptions, branding isn’t all that important to customers. Customers’ top five factors in evaluating and selecting a tech vendor are level of competency, caliber of service and support, level of commitment, compatibility with existing infrastructure and quality of thinking-again, reaffirming the alignment theme. Brand perception/promise ranked in the bottom five responses.
Customers and vendors/channel partners also disagree about what it means to be “customer-centric.” Customers say that the most important factor is strategic alignment of the vendor’s organization with the customer. Meanwhile, alignment is “neither a top priority nor a real competency” among vendors/channel partners, concluded the researchers.
Over half (52%) of customers said that “organizational, operational and cultural alignment around the customer” best characterize a customer-centric company, compared with just 40% of marketers and 35% of channel partners.
No shock, then, that only 21% of vendor marketers themselves, and just 3% of channel partners, view vendors as being “extremely well-aligned” with the end-use customer.
More of the telling data:
* 56% of vendors perceive themselves as being “extremely customer-centric,” but only 12% of customers agree. In fact, fewer than half (47%) rank vendors as moderately customer-centric, although 65% rank channel partners as falling in this category.
* 85% of vendors believe they’re getting better at responding to customer needs, but 45% of customers disagree (and 41% don’t view channel partners as getting better at responding).
* 52% of customers described their relationships with vendors as “dependent and captive,” “struggling for common ground” or “combative and adversarial,” and 45% described their relationships with channel partners in the same terms.
* Customers and vendors by and large agree on the importance of co-innovation and collaboration in product and services development and decision-making, but they differ somewhat regarding which co-innovation factors are most important.
Customers’ top three factors are help desk and customer support center feedback channels, field technician and sales engineer visits, and input sessions around new-product road maps. Vendors’ top three are executive visits and interactions, the help desk/customer support channels, and beta visits and interactions.
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We have all tried calling companies to complain or ask questions only to be put into endless electronic prompts or messages that lead nowhere as we get more and more frustrated.
All we want is to speak to someone and then the issue would eaily and quickly be resolved.
But how do you get a real person on the phone.
Here are the best ways to do it:
- Do not answer the prompts. Simply wait for a person to get on the line. Many times these electronic systems do not know what to do when no one presses any keys and then they transfer you to a person.
- Simply keep pressing the number zero while at the same time saying Customer Service over and over again. This will often transfer you to a person.
If neither of these works then keep along with the electronic system looking for an opportunity to connect to a real person.
Once you get a real person, right away ask them their name and extension and give them your number in case you get disconnected. This creates a dialog and makes it more accountable forcing the rep to pay attention and be professional. They do not want to get into trouble.
One other thing you can do with companies that really try to give you the runaround and avoid putting on a real customer service person is to write a review about them on www.Measuredup.com It is free and easy to do.
When you do this you are telling other Measuredup users and consumers about the issue and your review is indexed on Measuredup and on search engines where other people will find them when searching for a company. Doing this forces companies to pay more attention to you, revise their customer service and do a better job of interaction with consumers. Measuredup is a great way to complain or praise a company and their customer service in a public forum where others can read about the issue and make their own comments.