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The Importance of Connecting with Customers

by Tom Bonine

As technology becomes more and more advanced, many businesses are losing sight of the importance of connecting with customers. When processes such as product ordering become automated, valuable avenues of connection disappear—and both businesses and individuals suffer.

Just how much is lost when businesses forego the personal touch? Consider the following reasons why personal contact between the vendor and the customer is so important:

Customer Loyalty
When thinking about the importance of connecting with customers, businesses need to examine what behaviors breed customer loyalty. At one time, when businesses dealt directly with customers, strong interpersonal connections were formed. For example, when a business used one vendor over another, the chosen vendor went the extra mile to ensure that the business remained with him or her, leading to solid customer loyalty. In fact, that loyalty could be so strong that if a customer considered switching to another vendor, he or she often went to the current vendor to see if there was any way to remain in business together.

Social Media
Anyone who doubts the importance of connecting with customers needs only to examine social media to see what happens when customers decide to voice their dissatisfaction in the online world. What starts out as a simple mistake can quickly escalate into an all-out public relations nightmare. This was evident when an American Girl employee refused to put a ribbon in the hair of a little girl’s doll, since it was not an American Girl doll. The mother of that hurt child posted about the incident online and people are still commenting about it years later.

However, social media also provides an excellent opportunity for a company to connect with a customer in a positive way. If a customer posts about an unfavorable experience with a product or service, the company has the ability to contact that customer to see what can be done to make it right. Many times, simply acknowledging that a mistake was made changes what might have been bad publicity into a positive experience when the initially dissatisfied customer posts favorable comments about the company’s handling of the situation.

Innovation
Yet another example of the importance of connecting with customers is seen in the area of innovation. Software companies understand this better than anyone. They provide an excellent way to connect with customers by hosting online forums where customers discuss the product they are using, as well as submit a “wish list” of features they want to see in the next version of the product.

This tactic accomplishes three things. First, it allows customers to experience a taste of what goes into creating a successful product. Second, it confirms that their input is important. And third, it helps the manufacturer discover what the product users actually want. Since the company is using its current customer base as a large “focus group,” the comments and insights are exceedingly useful when making decisions about product manufacturing.

Of course, some feel the importance of connecting with customers is overrated. Steve Jobs, for example, was confident he knew what customers wanted before they did, and he had quite a successful run at Apple. Therefore, if you discover you are cut from the same cloth as Steve Jobs, you might decide that you are the only one who determines what your customers want.

Remember, though — a Steve Jobs comes along once in a generation.

Tom Bonine is president of National Metal Fabricators. The Chicago area firm, established in 1944, offers custom fabrication, angle rings, welding, and bar milling services.

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