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The Mindful Marketer

We Need to Start Hiring Our Customers!

February 01, 2013

Social Media (SM) is one of the biggest opportunities facing Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) today. Organizations are struggling to find ways to create stronger and more valuable relationships with their customers. And firms need to boost productivity to maintain or improve their competitiveness, especially in a globalized business climate. I have an idea how to use the power of SM to assist on both fronts.

As the Chair of a network of CMOs (on behalf of The Conference Board of Canada), I am a curator of new ideas and approaches of interest to my members. As curator, I am in a position to connect the dots between the latest thinking offered by subject matter experts and the perspectives of my members, whose job it is to implement these ideas in their organizations. 

So what’s my idea to maximize the potential of SM to improve productivity? It’s this - you need to start using the power of SM to HIRE your customers! But you won’t be paying them a wage or salary. They will work for other tangible and intangible benefits. And, if you treat them right, they won’t cost you much because they love your brand, your service and your product(s)! And isn’t that what boosting productivity is all about – getting a higher return and/or using lower cost inputs?

Let me give you some current examples of how this is being put into practice right now:

Customers as your Service Dept: Check out ‘Apple Support Communities’ on the web. If you ever encounter a cryptic error message on an Apple device, you will likely find the solution to your problem on this site. It is hosted and supported by Apple but they rely on customers to provide the solutions for other users. What do the problem solvers get in return for their efforts? They get recognition and instant forum credibility in the form of Apple Status Points.

Customers as Product Developers: This year Frito Lay is giving customers, via Facebook, a chance to create their newest potato chip flavour. The reward is $1 million or 1% of the net sales of this new product in 2013. Besides getting some great ideas for new flavours, Frito-Lay will also receive instant consumer feedback as customers vote on their favourite concoction. Better still, think of all the free publicity they will receive in the form of Facebook Likes, Tweets and Retweets, news coverage and simple word-of-mouth promotion!

Customers as your Advertising Dept: Big marketing spenders like GM and Pepsi are asking customers to create ads for this year’s Superbowl for a fraction of the cost to produce them using traditional methods. As in the previous case of ‘Customers as Product Developers’, broadening the program to let the public vote for their preferred clip also eliminates the dollar and time costs for formal consumer research. 

Customers as your Research and Quality Control Group: Companies that want to make service a priority recognize that social media lets customers tell you what’s working and what isn’t – instantly! VIA Rail responds to over 150 comments per day on Twitter and other SM sites as well as formally and periodically reviewing them for new ideas to run their business better. Who needs a costly customer survey program or expensive quality control audits when this kind of SM initiative helps you evaluate which processes are breaking down and which branches or departments are not living up to your values?

Customers as your Sales Team: Zappos (a leading on-line shoe retailer) understands the sales referral power of a highly satisfied customer. That is why they often give surprise upgrades to overnight shipping and will even direct customers to competitive websites if an item is out-of-stock. What do they get in return? They get Zappos ambassadors who actively promote the retailer via comments on blogs and shopping forums, and various other clothing-related web sites. 

These are just a few of the situations where critical functions in your organization can be supplemented with direct customer participation. Now think about the function(s) you run for your organization. Do you see an opportunity to hire customers right now? Engaging them in these ways can result in better outcomes AND significant cost savings. As the tagline from the old Certs breath commercial used to say, “It like two, two mints in one”!