Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hunters and Gatherers

Taming the Search-and-Switch Customer: Earning Customer Loyalty in a Compulsion-to-Compare World


There are hunters and there are gatherers. With the advent of online commerce, hunters are now ascendant. And why not? Thanks to Google, anyone who can key in a name, even one spelled incorrectly, can suddenly gather information about a product, service or provider in detail that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier.

For those of us who tend to obsessively research prices and features before making a purchase, it's heaven, but the extra edge afforded by discovering testimonials (or cautions) from users is the real killer app. Some online retailers, most notably, recognize the value of this and encourage buyers to post reviews and ratings of products.

The same situation exists in the nonconsumer sector. In fact, the b-to-b segment is usually tougher in its ratings, since they generally employ more exacting requirements, and technical and legal standards may be involved as well.

It's great if you're a buyer, but if you're a provider, what the heck can you do to, at the very least, participate in the process? And can you control it?

Jill Griffin may not have all the answers, but I was blown away by her deep understanding of this complicated subject and her intelligent and actionable assessment of the necessary strategies. Having a firm grasp of the obvious is all too rare.

Rather than counsel obfuscation and deception, she recommends going at it full-bore. Of course, the internals have to be worked out first, though some of the tasks can be done on the fly. The first rule of promotion still applies: make sure the product (or service) is tight; if it isn't, then the criticism may be deserved. The whole point of Griffin's strategy involves doing the right thing and telling the truth. If the message emanating from you and your organization is bogus, you're sunk. If you start with honest communication and customer satisfaction as the primary goals, it's easier to formulate company policies and practices, even if they have to be made up as you go along.

Griffin suggests ways to genuinely connect with customers and prospects with an intelligent and proactive deployment of blogs, social networks and other resources to provide support and rapid responses to criticism, problems and concerns -- legitimate or otherwise. She also offers a guide -- several, actually -- to assess key aspects of the initiative. Customer loyalty is the ultimate goal, after all, and it's an ongoing process.

These elements usually require a fair degree of attention and consistency. But this type of behavior is now mandatory for businesses seeking to thrive in the context of the new reality.

Griffin covers a lot of ground in this book, but her organization of the material is excellent. It's not enough to have great ideas and to write well. If it isn't presented in an entertaining and compelling manner, making a lasting impression will be difficult. But if any business or other organization that sells or serves is serious and sincere about engaging customers, prospects and other stakeholders, they'll benefit from the principles, strategies and tactics of Jill Griffin.
published 5/11/09 in The Miami Herald

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