Marketers use the term case study for a more in depth or descriptive narrative of a customer engagement, from the problem the company helped solve, to the solution used to solve it, including glowing quotes from a happy customer. So why do case studies fail you with customers?
The short answer is that those were instances of success for others, and you cannot replicate exactly the same conditions that brought them there. In other words, you fail to see what was behind the implementation. Copying or relying heavily on something happened elsewhere in a different context is a waste of your time.
Chances are, your business strategy is either totally different, or totally misses the point on sustaining your business over the long haul. In that case, your energies would be well invested there. Customers might look at what you've done with others as information to make an inquiry, but it's the way you behave with them that will get you the business, not the success you had with someone else.
Check to see if this is true for you. People think what you've done in the past is nice, but wonder: what have you done for me, today? For example, have you:
- provided support on a timely basis?
- communicated clearly and proactively?
- over delivered on expectations?
Case studies may help you get new inquiries in the door where word of mouth from existing customers would be difficult to engage. Maybe your customers are geographically dispersed - although that is not so much a problem with the broader adoption of digital communications - or your business is very complex for a customer to articulate, or your offerings too diverse for customers to find others who might use your help.
Herein is the problem. You continue to prospect when your gold mine is with your customer base - both for cross sell or deeper service relationships, and for word of mouth marketing on your behalf. You decide if this is a lesson in communications, branding, or business. Here's some things to think about when it comes to case studies and customers:
Treat customers better than your prospects
Current customers are aware of the reality of doing business with you. Did you match their expectations of when they read case studies off your Web site?
There's a famous sales joke with many incarnations. The one I'm familiar with is a person being escorted through this fabulous resort with a golf course, amenities, and all around nice people and weather.
When the person chats with the host after the tour, she's sold as to the magnificence of the place and signs on the dotted line. The next day, she comes back to be guided to a place filled with ugliness and filth. At the probing question as to why, the host responds: "yesterday you were a prospect, today you're a customer."
Offer deals for recurring business
In addition to treating customers better with support, think about offers and deals over time. One of the things that simply stumps me is the great offers I get for starting a membership or program with a company I'm already doing business with.
Do you see the issue here? First off, why don't you know I'm already a customer? It's a rhetorical question, and we'll tackle the data issue in another post. Second, why would you not offer me a similar deal for being a customer for a number of years?
Once I even wrote to the President and CEO of one such companies. I never got a response. Guess if I'm still a customer and recommend the service.
Provide ways for customers to feel part of a community
This needs to be more than just lip service or a shiny new private portal or email newsletter. Although those, within your business strategy, would be a good place to start to integrate, depending on the company culture.
You need to put skin in the game, day in day out. Software automation tools don't have relationships with customers. They may serve up good content you've taken the time to research and develop, but they're no substitute to human talk and engagement - give to get is usually a good rule of thumb.
An online community manager is the right choice for this endeavor. However, you cannot do social without the support of the organization. To walk the talk, every group that touches the customer needs to be on the same service page.
These ideas are about making your customers feel special and valued. Case studies are a good way to get in new customers. However, the most successful project you have ever done in the past doesn't hold a candle to what you can do with the customer in front of you, today.
Not convinced? Then try asking your customers for referrals and participation in case studies. How many agree enthusiastically and go through the whole approval process with you?
Happy customers will spread the word about your product and service on their own or with very little prodding. Today you can help them do that by putting information they can use on your Web site, offering a real simple syndication (RSS) feed and share buttons, open comments in blogs, and by integrating online outposts in your content strategy.
In fact, while in the past some of these options were available only to companies with big budgets, today they're within reach of any business any size with the right desire to be helpful and friendly.
What steps can you take to make sure you don't rest on your case study laurels when it comes to customers?
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