And the Embassy that Celebrated Customers
I love to write. I love people. I love ideas… but more on these three strands in a minute.
The Customer Evangelists: St Jan and St Darren
Jan Walsh (BT) and Darren Cornish (E.ON) are two senior executives whom I have found to describe themselves as “Customer Evangelists”. I think this is a great way to send a message about how important the customer is to an organisation. Vast sums are invested nowadays on Social Media and PR to promote the ‘goodness’ of the organisation to the customers we want to keep and to the ones we want to ‘convert’. In fact ‘evangelist’ comes from ‘evangel’ – which means ‘good news’. St Jan and St Darren have good news for their customers – their organisations care and have good news to share.
From Evangelists to Ambassadors
A more frequent description is of our colleagues as ‘Ambassadors’ for the brand. This sounds magnificent – even ‘Stately’, and adds great dignity to the rôles of Customer-facing staff. (N.B. I think we are all ambassadors, regardless of whether or not our rôle is internally or externally facing. We all represent the brand and we want the internal ‘customer’ to be proud of it too. There must be utter congruence throughout the inside and outside of the company – a congruent continuum!)
The idea of the Ambassador inspired me, early this Sunday morning. You cannot have an Ambassador without an Embassy! And what is an ‘Embassy’? An Embassy is a permanent diplomatic mission, but to whom? I believe each organisation has an important diplomatic mission to the nations of customers!
Through PR and some Social Media, most of this mission is outgoing, like evangelism, but many organisations are missing an absolute goldmine of opportunity.
The Customers who want to give
When we open our eyes, ears, and hearts, we find that there are a lot of customers who want to give freely back to the organisation. People are naturally creative. The output of this natural creativity is ideas. People also love to share. It gives a giver great pleasure to share a gift that is well received. Ideas need to go somewhere!
Thus we come to the flow of ideas that often pour into organisations. Eventually, most of these ideas are responded to – usually as a secondary part of someone’s role – and usually it takes far too long. Too often, in my experience, there is no response! I believe this is a grave mistake.
The Embassy that Celebrated Customers!
This is where the Ambassador’s role comes to the fore. I would laud and applaud any organisation that set up an Embassy to the United Nations of Customers – an Embassy whose main diplomatic mission was to respond to those customers. It would be “The Embassy that Celebrated Customers!”
The rôle would be straight-forward and the impact would be enormous.
The Ambassador would have an appropriately senior position, and their mission would be to respond rapidly and personally to each and every customer idea. (I’m not talking about ‘Customer Services’ dealing with complaints – that’s another valuable opportunity for another blog. This one is purely about positive ideas and contributions given freely to the organisation.)
Every idea and contribution (e.g. photographs) would be acknowledge and responded to – and understanding of the ideas reflected back accurately – not just with a generic idea or form letter. If I was the Ambassador, my responses would be sent in a personalised greetings card, and signed. Why would I take such trouble? I would make such an effort because the customer has made a pilgrimage. It takes a lot of energy for a customer to have an idea, articulate that idea, and then send that idea in. That’s a lot of effort. It’s a personal effort that deserves, even ‘demands’ a personal response. Good organisations go the extra mile – so I think anything that shows ‘the personal touch’ is a great way to match and then exceed customers’ expectations. This builds brand loyalty and personal commitment far more powerfully than Facebook competitions!
I’m sure you can see how this is easily a full-time rôle, even for a small organisation. How would it pay for itself? Clearly, not all customers’ ideas are practical or actionable, but their loyalty is worth its weight in gold. For those ideas that are practical, an opportunity arises for the organisation to improve its performance and its credibility. By nurturing such customers, an organisation can even create devotion – becoming a ‘Love Brand’. I promise you that the vast majority of customers do not require any more reward for their contributions than the recognition of acting on their idea or publishing their photograph (and thus publically acknowledging it). I personally see no loss in also thanking the customer with products or services as a token of appreciation. This is low cost to the organisation, and high value to the customer.
The alternative is quite sad. I love to share. I have shared hundreds of ideas with organisations – free of any strings attached or hidden agendas – over the years. Many of those organisations haven’t even bothered to respond. The logical result is that I’ve stopped the flow of ideas to that organisation, and, wherever possible, shopped elsewhere! These very same organisations continue to send me emails and newsletters and catalogues, saying how wonderful they are, and how focused they are on customer satisfaction. Yeah, right… Which customer? Clearly not me!
The rôle of the ‘Ambassador to the Customers’ is a central rôle for PR. After all, isn’t PR all about ‘Public Relations’? The Ambassador’s rôle is to meet and connect. This is why I said at the start of this blog that I love to write, I love people, I love ideas. These are the Ambassador’s core skills. An Ambassador must be articulate in their response to each and every message from customers. They must love people, otherwise another message will leak through their prose. Also, the Ambassador must be a Creative – someone who can take an idea and really work it until it is proven valuable or becomes a stepping stone to a better idea.
An Ambassador is a Diplomat – and thus must be diplomatic!
An Ambassador must also play diplomatic tennis. By this I mean that a good game of tennis involves rallies – a back and forth – just as does a great conversation that builds rapport. I can say, hand on heart, that even the organisations that have responded to me in the past, have cut the rally off with their response. The door was not left open for partnership in developing the idea. Again, I can only authoritatively speak for myself, but I would have happily developed most of my ideas for free – just for the satisfaction of being creative and being acknowledged. (To the cynics who might be thinking, “I bet his ideas are rubbish then!” I would say that some of the organisations I have shared with have used those ideas without acknowledgement – at least proving the worth of the ideas.)
The rôle of the Ambassador would therefore include promoting a rally – a back and forth of exchanges to engage our brilliant customers into partnership with the organisation. This builds rapport. Outstanding customers could then be given a visa to join us!
Of course, this is what many organisations are trying to promote with Social Media – and I see Social Media as an important set of diplomatic channels for the Ambassador. My chief point today, however, is to harness the ideas and contributions that come from customers and are freely volunteered. The customers that share these ideas, if treated with respect, become ambassadors themselves – absolutely the best (and most economically sustainable) form of PR any organisation could wish for.
The bottom line is that many of your customers know your business better than you do, and they certainly know their own minds better than you do. We must listen, and respond rapidly, and become the Embassy that Celebrated Customers, if we are to harness this power for good.
An Ambassador in search of a new Diplomatic Posting!
If you drive a company vehicle that broadcasts the brand, don’t drive the company van like a devil!