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The customer’s not a statistic, she’s your wife

At the end of this month’s MoM I’ve got a great little story about the ultimate bit of customer service. But first, let me ask you something.

How do you get your knowledge of your customers?

Here are some channels many marketers rely on:

  • Database reports
  • Market research surveys
  • Transcripts of focus groups
  • Analysis from mailing or fulfilment houses
  • What their advertising agencies tell them

Now, these are all very useful sources. IF you want to rely on second- or third-hand information. AND you only want aggregated data about your customers as a group.

But what do they tell you about individual customers? You know. People.

It’s all too easy to just sit at our desks piddling around with one Office document or another, reading stuff. Or, heaven help us, sitting in front of yet another P****Point presentation.

Some people (me included) prefer words. Others are happier with spreadsheets or databases. But the ‘insights’ you glean are jejune, far removed from the flesh and blood men and women (maybe children) who actually buy from you.

Here’s what I suggest instead.

Get down to the engine room

I’m willing to bet you work in an office, cubicle or open-plan desk-desert. Any customers up there? I thought not. So, put your phone on divert, leave an ‘out of office’ message on your email and go…

to one of your shops to your call centre to your customer service department to an exhibition to a conference to a client’s office with one of your sales people (or even on your own: ooh, scary!)

…and when you get there, start talking to your customers.

Observe them. Figure out (or simply ask them) what they want from your products, your company, even you personally. Then, next time you sit down to write some copy to one of them, you’ll have a HUGE advantage.

You’ve actually met them and spoken to them.

Keep it real

Now there are no more leaps of the imagination as you try to adopt the right tone of voice.

No more wondering if you’re pressing the right buttons.

No more lacklustre letters filled with stuff your reader doesn’t care about.

Instead, all you have to do is write down what you’d be saying to them if you were back in the shop, on the phone or at the trade show.

I recently finished the copy for a mailshot for a new women’s magazine. My research was easy. I asked my wife and my other women friends to write the copy for me. (Well, OK, I did the keyboard bashing, but they told me what to write.)

And because these are real people, I could see them and hear how they talk. I know what they wear, how old they are, what their concerns are and what’s likely to make them subscribe.

I also got to sit outside my favourite café in Salisbury’s Market Square with a cappuccino reading a pile of women’s magazines and watching the girls go by (all in the name of empathising with my reader, naturally).

Go ask Frank

I mentioned sales people a minute ago. These are one of your greatest resources as a copywriter. Unlike those of us who spend the greater part of our time chained to a desk, sales people (or the good ones, anyway) spend the greater part of theirs in front of clients.

So sales people KNOW what makes customers tick. Buy them a beer and they might even tell you.

And my point is?

Marketers face a real and ever-present risk of becoming detached from their customers.

In place of human contact we have bits of paper and other people’s opinions. Yes I know you’re busy but busy doing what?

Preparing quarterly budgets and forecasts is NEVER going to be more important than talking to customers. I don’t care what your FD says. Now for that story I promised you.

I got mis-sold a line upgrade by BT recently. The saleswoman omitted to tell me I’d need to dial nine before every call. If she had, I would never have signed the order.

So I then had to get all three office lines put back to their original status. I ended up emailing BT’s CEO to vent my ire. And guess what?

Ben Verwaayen (for it is he) emailed me back. Personally. In half an hour. From his Blackberry. He clearly rated talking (OK, emailing) to customers higher than whatever he was doing at the time. And so should you.

Categories: Customers and Maslen on Marketing.

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