While recently reading a post entitled “Social Selling Beats the Collector Every Time”, I began thinking about a former position I held as a Credit Manager, and how the practices I employed then are very similar to those being used to build successful customer communities today.
The company I was employed by provided parts and repairs for multi-axle vehicles and heavy equipment via eight branches statewide. When I was brought on board as the Credit Manager, my main objective was to reduce their over 90 day delinquencies which at the time represented 30% of their outstanding receivables. They wanted the monies collected and terms tightened, while attempting to retain the customer’s future business whenever possible.
I knew that meeting these goals and objectives was going to require a balance of various strategies. A rigid, singular, “pay up or else” approach may have collected the receivables, but it would not have met the objective of customer retention and could have been potentially damaging to the company’s reputation in the marketplace.
Below are some of the practices that I feel not only enabled me to successfully reduce the over 90 day delinquencies by 20% in one year, but also were instrumental in preserving the loyalty of those accounts, even if it meant doing business on a C.O.D. only basis.
- Emotional Intelligence & Curiosity - My customers were hard working people, trying to make a living & build a name for themselves. I respected that, and could relate on an emotional and business level. I listened to their suggestions, concerns and struggles so I could understand their businesses and individual situations.
- Product Knowledge – I gained working knowledge of my company’s products & services, as well as the business climate for that industry.
- Approachability – My customers knew they could pick up the phone or come upstairs to my office anytime and talk to me about their accounts, their families, or the weather.
- Creativity – With the knowledge and understanding of their business needs and obstacles, I was able to come up with creative ways to assist them with getting the services they needed from my company while reaching payment arrangements amicable to both parties.
My role at this company was a pivotal one, much like that of an online or offline community manager. My primary function was to “sell” the customer on the idea of paying their account on time or bringing it out of arrears. I frequently assumed the role of customer service agent, at times advocating on behalf of the company and other times on behalf of the customer depending on the issue. Taking the time to foster healthy relationships within the customer community helped to build trust. The company’s commitment to providing quality work and their concern over satisfaction and retention, earned them a loyal, repeat customer base.
Progressive companies understand that today’s technologies allow them to connect with consumers like never before. Zappos, Tom’s Shoes and Whole Foods, are excellent examples of retailers who listen, experiment, adapt, and successfully leverage the power of social media. They have found the “balance” needed to build large, loyal and influential customer communities. Spend some time observing them and you will see that their strategies include many of the practices I outlined above. They make community participation an inviting, informative, fun and enriching experience, and by doing so bring value to their brand and customers to their stores.
As always, I would love to hear from you. What other practices have you implemented in your role as community manager? What other companies can we watch who are masterfully building and managing customer communities?
Related post: Understanding Online Community Management