Changing The Conversation

I recently participated in a webinar where the topic was “becoming a customer conversation centric company.” Customer conversations are a major focus for companies in diverse sectors, including finance, telecommunications, consumer, and business-to-business. This focus has intensified as companies strive to transition from marketing (mostly telling customers something) to developing communities where customers feel part of the company and want to provide input to it. Clearly, a community of customers based on shared mutual interest is stronger than a company whose relationships with customers are mostly transactional.

Your customers talk about you every day. The tone of the conversation is based on the experience your customers have when they encounter the quality of your service. Negative experiences create Detractors who talk poorly about you. They won’t recommend you, and your share of business will decline over time. They eventually defect to another retailer, taking years of potential profit with them. On the other hand, customers with positive experiences become Promoters, who enthusiastically recommend you and feel your success, and these are joined. You win together. These customers are loyal and give you a large share of their business.

I have two questions. Are you part of the conversation your customers are having about you? And if you are, what are you doing about it? Which brings us to the topic of this month’s column about changing the conversation.

I have been describing a process companies are using to listen to their customers, make changes based on this input, and then communicate these successes to encourage prospects to join their community of Promoters. This is the mothership of loyalty and income. AgKnowlogy’s retail clients are intent on joining, and then changing, the conversation with their customers. In this column, I am going to give you a glimpse into how one of these clients is moving past the initial listening phase to making changes that directly impact customer loyalty and share of business.

Learning To Listen

Like many full-service retailers, our client is concerned about growing the company’s seed business. Customer measurements we conducted revealed the client’s major seed competitors were well-established farmer-dealers. Growers in the trading area were very loyal to these farmer-dealers and were highly willing to recommend them to other growers. In other words, our client’s farmer seed competitors had more Promoters among their customer base than his company had. We knew the impact on market share and willingness to recommend was not just related to technology, as both our client and its competitors have access to high quality seed products. We recommended our client needed to change the conversation with the company’s customers and prospects to prime its seed business for growth.

Becoming more aligned with customers typically requires change at both the strategic (what’s our focus), and operational (how do we implement) level. Our client identified the company’s precision agriculture program could be used more effectively to sell seed. This became the strategic thrust of several planning sessions involving us and all levels of management. In the spirit of full disclosure, we have a corporate sponsor on this project of helping retailers become more aligned with their customers. This company participated in the initial two-day planning meeting following our customer measurements and has provided encouragement throughout the subsequent steps.

Employing The Strategy

Once our client identified the strategy of more closely linking its precision agriculture program and seed marketing efforts, a whirlwind of ideas and plans was released as the client evaluated all the elements the company currently has in place or needed to put in place to implement its strategy. Our client realized it didn’t have an easily understood value proposition for precision agriculture and front line staff lacked tools to communicate the seed-driven yield benefits of the company’s precision agriculture program. Changes were made across the organization, including providing more detail on invoices, a new precision agriculture training program, and an analysis of seed plots that showed the company’s DEKALB lines were out-yielding the targeted competitor’s lines by 11 bushels per acre over several years. Additionally, our client has made staff changes to address weaknesses we identified in our customer measurements. Many of the changes made are forward-looking, with their impact only beginning to be felt. Nonetheless, the client is immensely pleased — its corn sales are up almost 130% over this time last year!

One of the things I know to be true about learning and change in business is that if it was easy everyone would do it. I am delighted to see real progress being made by retailers who are using proven techniques to listen to customers, and then re-engage with them in a new conversation designed to improve loyalty and share of business.

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