Customer Participation is Crucial

“The act of providing feedback and suggestions helps align customers to a business, and “companies can even recapture defecting customers simply by contacting them and encouraging them to participate.” – Omar Merlo, Andreas B. Eisingerich and Seigyoung Auh

Getting to know customers is the first step to a great business. The most effective way to do this is by actively listening to them. A company can only listen when they aggressively seek and encourage customer participation through surveys, direct interactions and other forms of soliciting feedback. When companies seek customer participation, they make customers feel important and valued, making them more amenable to provide constructive suggestions and innovative ideas on the company’s offerings and customer service. Whether a business can see it or not, customer participation is always there. When customers connect to complain, or enquire or reach out to a company for any reason – they are participating. Unfortunately, most companies do not take note of these everyday things that customers share and still claim that they encourage customer participation. A company that remains focused on listening to customers will use every bit of information that customers provide and are able to reap huge benefits from customer participation.

Customer participation encompasses the behaviour and attitude of the customers towards a company’s service, products and commitment to deliver on promises. Such outward expressions of the customers contribute to a company’s ability and mind-set to provide stellar service and the best quality products. As companies incorporate the suggestions and feedback provided by customers, there is a rise in customer satisfaction and positive experiences. This encourages further customer participation and with time, companies are able to provide consistently exactly what their customers need and want. Customer participation therefore is crucial to the success of a company.  Encouraging the involvement of customers is a basic component of customer-centricity and service and enables them to feel more connected with the company.

The crucial mistake that a number of companies make is that they to seek to encourage customer participation only through referrals and spreading positive word of mouth. The guiding principle is that acquiring new customers is important and will be easier through customer referrals. While this is true, what companies tend to forget is that retaining customers is equally critical and without seeking their feedback and participation in the overall customer strategy of the company, retention could become a problem. It is great to have customers who are also brand ambassadors but without listening to and implementing some of their suggestions, customer participation would be incomplete. The prime objective of gathering information and suggestions ought to be customer participation and improving the services and product quality of the company.

As companies incorporate suggestions, they will do a better job at customizing the offerings for their customers. As customers gain more value from the offerings and consistently receive stellar customer service, they become loyal evangelists of the company. Hence, customer participation leads to customer loyalty and brand advocacy, which in turn encourages potential customers to do business. People tend to believe the words of existing customers since they would be perceived as unbiased and trustworthy – at least a lot more than what the company directly tells them through communiqués and advertisements.

While positive word of mouth is great for any company, it does not form the core of customer participation. Inputs received from customers that would help the company and its representatives know what they perceive as the strengths and weaknesses of the company, is the quintessence of customer participation and every company must first strive towards this.  Companies, it seems, would be afraid to hear ‘bad news’ from customers and hence tend to avoid customer participation that will allow them to provide constructive criticism. This is either because a company is convinced that they are doing a great job and or they do not the bandwidth to manage and implement suggestions. Companies must change their mind-set from only encouraging word of mouth advertising to customer participation in the true sense. Fostering and inculcating the habit of soliciting and welcoming customer input must become part of the company’s overall customer service strategy. Customer participation sought consistently gives rise to better products and services leading to brand ambassadors and loyalty.  It would be an expensive oversight to ignore customer participation and focus only on getting customers to provide referrals and positive testimonials.

Companies are anxious to gain more profits and earn their bucks quicker through their customers given the surge in the number of competitors, similar products and pricing structures. Given these reasons, they seem fixated on getting their customers to gain more customers for them through word of mouth advertising or through written testimonials. However, only engaged and consistently satisfied customers would be committed enough to highly recommend a company. As customers speak well of a company, they become even more committed and loyal to them and this in turn increases customer participation – completing the cycle and keeping it in motion.

While customer word of mouth is a ‘conversation’ between customer to customer (with the company having no say or interaction), customer participation is the customer’s way of speaking directly to the company. Companies can choose to control this conversation by asking for the participation and constructively using the feedback provided. Over time, customer participation will happen even without making the effort of asking – customers will know that the company would listen to them and incorporate their suggestions, thereby raising the standard of service and product quality. The positive impact of customer participation is not limited to any particular industry or sector. Research and studies conducted across the globe, have revealed consistently that companies that actively seek customer participation are more likely to gain positive word of mouth and an increase in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Companies exist because of and for customers and so it would be obvious that customer participation in matters that concern them would be required. Active customer participation and positive reinforcement of the company by listening to the suggestions would encourage repeat business, customer loyalty and brand advocacy. Notice how it is not the reverse – hence the focus must begin with involvement from customers.

Just as companies require customers to trust them, so also customers must feel trusted enough to provide positive involvement and participation in the customer focused operations of the company. Some of the most brilliant and effective ideas could come from customers but unless companies believe that customers understand the nuances and subtleties of their business, they would remain apprehensive of customer participation. There is also a worry about protecting the intellectual property of the company –fears of their plans and ideas disclosed to competitors via their customers. The other fear that companies have that would obstruct customer participation is if customers begin to expect some kind of compensation and or favours in return for ideas and suggestions. These fears and apprehensions could damage the relationship companies have with customers by ignoring the value of customer participation.

Companies must move beyond these fears and treat customers as value-added partners. Every member of the company should receive training and coaching to view customers as important and they must not ignore any opportunity to encourage customer participation.

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